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Local advertising – from bottom of the barrel to community hero

As the coronavirus continues to reshape our home lives, Nextdoor's Paps Shaikh says it's time for marketers to reappraise the power of local advertising.

It has never been more critical to connect with customers right where they are. We are now all living more locally as consumer behaviour and mood has shifted so dramatically and so quickly. So how do advertisers and media planners successfully respond to this change?

Media planning is out of step and out of time. Often denigrated as the bottom of the barrel – due to antiquated ways to activate along this channel – local advertising should be the hero part of a marketing strategy. This is particularly true as the pandemic spikes postcode by postcode, putting community advertising to the forefront of any media campaign.

Think globally – but act locally

Advertisers and agencies must turn conventional thinking on its head. Often the approach is to buy ad space from premium publishers to deliver targeted and tailored messages and engage audiences at scale.

Scale is of course critical but in the post-Covid world, communicating with real people with their interests at heart, in a truly authentic way is even more important than it should always have been.

Relevance not reach should be the new mantra.

People are both living and working at home and as a result of the pandemic they have become even more aware of the importance of being more community minded. This fundamental shift in human behaviour will become entrenched in our society.

It’s therefore important for advertisers to think globally and act locally. This may have been a business cliche before, but now it is business-critical thinking. When the UK went into lockdown, we saw how companies pivoted to help communities; from BrewDog producing hand sanitiser for the local NHS to Lush offering the public free handwashing facilities.

Mass consumer behaviour doesn’t change that often but when it does, brands can’t afford to be caught out. The pandemic is one of those times and brands that continue to plough a global path without noticing their customers' dramatic refocus on their local communities will increasingly be out of tune and out of step.

Rebranding local

In fact, local advertising is due a digital rebrand. It has always been powerful, but it has often been the overlooked part of the plan. Now it should be front and centre, particularly as marketers look to communicate with purpose and place, as consumers increasingly shop locally. A recent survey with our members showed 63% of consumers will frequent local businesses more often.

A better term, perhaps, is community advertising: encompassing so much more than the drab local press campaigns of the past.

Community platforms have been an enabler for neighbours to offer time and support to each other and find those who need help. For example, those who are vulnerable and may be isolating have been able to enlist the help of their neighbours with tasks such as taking the dog for the walk or picking up shopping and medication.

Low mileage car insurance provider, By Miles, is a great example of a brand which tailored its messaging at a local level and is reaping in the rewards. With many people working from home and therefore driving less, demand for fairer and more flexible car insurance increased significantly. By making changes to the tone and messaging of its ads, it was able to communicate with consumers who were using their cars in different ways than they were before lockdown began.

It is as affordable as it is effective – which is so important in straitened times as marketing budgets were slashed to their lowest levels in a 20-year history during Q2 2020 according to the IPA Bellwether report.

Leveraging local

As and when marketing spend and confidence returns, it's time to reconsider where the ad dollars go.

Now businesses and brands need to flex. They should be asking: does the media plan solve the business problem on a local level and what is the unique creative messaging for a particular region or area?

Local has always been important but underloved and underinvested in. The brands that will succeed in the future will be those that believe community matters and leverage the unrivalled power of local.

The pandemic is an event we’ve never in our lifetime experienced before, but its impact will last and the human behavioural shifts it has engendered are already starting to catch brands out. Those that understand the move to local and stop paying mere lip service to the value of local communities and what it means to their customers will be the ones to reap the rewards..

Paps Shaikh is commercial director EMEA at the neighbourhood social networking service Nextdoor

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