How to turn a retail brand into a local hero

By December 18, 2020 No Comments

How to turn a retail brand into a local hero

Rachel Hall, Group Director Pintarget by The Specialist Works


The celebration of local heroes

When Andy Burnham fought hard against the Government to protect local businesses from tier three COVID restrictions in Manchester, he was dubbed the “king of the north”. In his honour, a local brewery produced a limited-edition beer after him[1], he was the subject of Vogue’s article ‘Suddenly, Inexplicably, We All Fancy Andy Burnham’[2] and renowned artist, Stanley Chow, produced a cartoon of this local hero[3].

Politics has gone local with local councils being relied on to provide updates on lockdown restrictions, monitoring COVID levels and providing local testing centres. There has also been a transfer of power from central government to local authorities, with huge amounts of money and resources being transferred to the latter to support local businesses, schools, and hospitals.

We’ve seen local heroes in a variety of guises, from local politicians, community volunteers and brands adapting quickly to provide free services to NHS workers.

The new economic context

Local economies have seen varied and significant shifts since March, most notably impacted by local lockdowns, with the demography and geography of local areas also affecting the economic impact.

Undoubtedly rural areas have fared better than city centres. According to CACI data footfall in city centres fell between 20% and 50% of pre-COVID levels throughout pandemic period[4]. While some rural high streets have actually seen increases in footfall versus pre-COVID (prior to Lockdown 2.0 footfall was up 32% and spend up 10% in some towns (Centre for Cities – October 2020 data).

Shopping locally is a more convenient and seemingly safer choice, with people using stores near their homes, avoiding public transport and crowded spaces. The latest figures from Centre for Cities (shown below) includes data right up until lockdown 2.0 and shows a less positive story all round, though it is still the rural towns which are performing the best.

Source: Centre for Cities, high street tracker for period 13th February – 3rd November

The post-COVID consumer behaviour predictions

With a vaccine due to be rolled out, the question is, will consumer behaviour revert to what it was in 2019, or will some of these new habits be carried forward?

In May this year, Kantar identified three global significant behavioural changes that they predict will remain in a post-pandemic world[5]. Using interviews with over 45,000 people in over 50 markets, they’ve identified the following:

  • An increase in online spend from both established and new online shoppers
  • A greater focus on value due to economic uncertainty
  • A surge in localism (on a global scale)

The seismic shift to online retail looks like it is here to stay, with eMarketer predicting that online shopping as a proportion of total retail sales will reach 27.5% by the end of the year (up 6% points since 2019)[6].

CACI data also shows that people are intending to buy more online, with an increase in online shopping intent across every category. Moreover, 31% of consumers said that they would only buy electronics online in the future, whilst 25% would only shop online for fashion and clothing. With even the most reluctant online shoppers being forced to change their behaviour, this shift to online is significant across the retail sector and is likely to have long-term impacts on the high-street[7].

The loss of big brands and closures of stores such as Debenhams, and now potentially the Arcadia group, is presenting the high street and city centres as less attractive and less useful destinations to consumers. High rents have also not helped their cause. We may therefore see a shift to smaller sites, with new purposes which may differ by location: to showcase products, serve as ‘click and collect’ sites, or provide a place for easy returns.

My predictions:

  • City centres: likely to change irrecoverably, acting as ‘local shopping centres’ primarily serving businesses in proximity
  • Local high streets: those that have fared well during lockdown will continue to thrive once lockdown restrictions are lifted and may well attract people from a longer drivetime
  • Retail parks: should see growth as people prefer the ease of driving and parking to places where they can find all the brands they want in one place
  • Local brands: consumers will continue to engage and support independent local shops and services

The opportunity for brands to grow

In May, Kantar recorded the fastest rate of growth since comparable records began in 1994 in the take-home grocery sector, with sales rising by 14.3% during the 12 weeks to 17th May. Independent and Symbol (e.g. Nisa, McColl’s) food stores specifically saw a sales growth of 63%[8].

While that rate of growth has moderated, it was still up to 20%, according to the latest data released in October.

Of course, the grocery sector is one of the few that has remained unscathed this year – they’ve stayed open for business throughout. There are, however, still opportunities for other sectors to find room to grow, particularly if they are willing to adapt to changing consumer behaviour.

A McKinsey report on the future of US retail sector said: “By some estimates, we have vaulted ten years ahead in consumer and business digital penetration in less than 3 months”[9]. There is a similar story in the UK with CACI reporting that “in the first 2 weeks of April the UK consumer accelerated 5 years forward in their behaviour. Existing trends that were underway; more online transactions, more flexible working practices, valuing community, engaging with local and independent brands, sustainable lifestyles – all took a step-change forward after a period of gradual evolution”.[10]

So, while these may be times of difficulty, they are also times of potential opportunity for retailers to respond in positive ways to meet the new demands of current consumers and be in a position to become future market leaders.

How to turn a retail brand into a local hero

For almost every brand this means talking to the consumer in their environment in a relevant way. It means understanding how consumers interact with brands and interact with their individual retail environments.

Here are the five steps of using location marketing to turn your brand into a local hero in the eyes of your consumers:

  • Harness the power of your own customer data

There’s a plethora of data available to retailers, not least their own. With an increase in online shopping comes an increase in customer data, and customer data means greater customer understanding for brands. This should form the foundation of your planning.

  • Utilise location data services

Your own customer data should be utilised in conjunction with other location data sources to provide a better understanding of who your customers are, where they live and how they shop. Retailers need to understand the full impact of location on audiences and stores. Where are the audience hotspots? Where are more people likely to shop online? Where is it worth driving people in store?

This data is readily available and can provide live, fast, and accurate insights, even taking into account ever-changing local lockdown restrictions. Using the right data sources can be quite a challenge, with digital mobile data claiming to account for movement within 5 metres of a single postcode location, but bringing together real customer data, mobile data and specialist GIS (geographical information system) data can provide invaluable consumer insight.

  • Use addressable media

Using audience and location insight, advances in addressable media solutions make it possible to run campaigns targeting specific audiences in specific locations across all media – these include Sky AdSmart, multiple audio solutions such as DAX, Octave, Spotify and Acast and local community offerings such as Nextdoor.

  • Adapt your creative

Adapting creative to location is now easier to do than ever before and is a crucial part of the process. Locally focused campaigns will have widespread benefits: delivering relevant messaging to specific audiences, supporting stores, engaging with local communities, and resulting in higher ROMI.

  • Address safety concerns in your comms

The recent news of vaccine approval in the UK will undoubtedly be welcomed by the retail sector. However, it will be some time before this makes a significant impact and safety will continue to be a paramount concern for consumers. Research by CACI in November 2020 showed that concerns around safety, ethics, loyalty, and brands being ‘locally-sourced’ with “visible COVID safety measures” had overtaken value as the key motivators for a purchase decision[11]. Brands will need to continue to address these concerns well into 2021.