For years, consumers have been vulnerable to one-sided marketing messages that fail to resonate. But, as behaviors evolve, it's not hard to see that it takes more than catchy taglines and celebrity endorsements to engage today's customers. Instead of turning to big brands, consumers are looking to local retailers for the goods and services they truly desire."Consumers want to place their faith and money in the hands of a brand that is going to do good by their values and support the local community," explains Amish Tolia, co-founder and chief of strategy at Pear, who notes that such brands support consumers' growing desire to give back, as well. "They place a high value on authenticity and prefer personalized experiences from businesses that understand their needs. Traditionally, it's been that local businesses understand local audiences and have been able to connect with consumers on a more genuine level than big brands. This preference has only been amplified by trends, such as the 'locavore' movement and Small Business Saturday, which motivate consumers to purchase products crafted or grown in local communities, rather than heading to a chain store."
Deep down, consumers want to be understood. Shoppers want to feel like their chosen brand cares about them as an individual. But, for big brands, humanizing customer strategy isn't as easy as it may seem. For most larger companies, however, grassroots initiatives are the best place to start, as they can learn from local retailers directly. Local partnerships and sponsorship programs help cultivate brand ambassadors by enabling the brand to align itself with the interest of local community groups. Ultimately, consumers want brands that will personalize their outreach, follow through on their promises, and speak with them, not at them, for it's this type of dialog that nurtures loyalty and advocacy.
But, as Tolia emphasizes, marketers must first ask themselves one question before diving into the local market: How can I add value to my consumers' lives? The key to any successful grassroots campaign, Tolia adds, is to put the brand on the same playing field as their target consumer. "Incorporating grassroots marketing tactics allows brands to understand the values and personal interests of their target market and connect with those interests in a genuine way. Consumers are more likely to think positively of a brand that gives them things they have a need for, such as cash, catering, or custom t-shirts. Big brands win when consumers find not only a brand's product to be useful, but the company itself."
While most big brands have yet to take full advantage of this beneficial trend, some large companies have already incorporated the local mindset into their everyday operations. U.S. Cellular, for instance, provides funds for local youth organizations, such as Little League. These teams can earn up to $1,000 in exchange for engaging with U.S. Cellular via specified digital and social interactions. Local groups get the support they need and U.S. Cellular stays top of mind for families when choosing wireless carriers. Target engages with local communities, as well, by providing educational field trip grants and allowing REDcard holders to donate one percent of their purchases to their local school of choice. Target thereby creates meaningful connections with consumers and cultivates brand loyalty in the process.
Though relatively small gestures, these initiatives ultimately add up, for the more people that participate, the more money these local communities receive. Thus, big brands looking to develop outreach programs of their own must tap into the human element at the heart of all local retail if they wish to engage, grow, and prosper among such communities.