This originally was published on Social Media Explorer on June 4, 2019.
The “buy local” trend is here to stay.
Across the United States, consumers’ preferences for local goods and businesses have been consistently on the rise — thanks, in part, to growing distrust around large global brands. Case in point: A.T. Kearney’s 2017 “Global Future Consumer Study” discovered that the number of consumers with little to no confidence in corporations rose from 36% in 2012 to 55% in 2017.
In response, global brands continue to make localization a key focus in their marketing efforts. The hope is that by tailoring their messages to smaller, more unique audiences, they can retain the loyalty and connection with local consumers that smaller chains have cultivated.
Of course, not all regions and audience segments are created equal, so you might be thinking that creating a pathway to localization is easier said than done — or is it?
From operations to technology to the structural design of an organization, localization poses an obstacle for brands, at least in theory. But how do modern consumers actually define “local”?
According to Millennial and Generation Z consumers, local commonalities have little correlation to geography. In its “The OmniLocal Consumer” study, public relations firm Mitchell reports that 74% of Millennials and Gen Zers don’t claim their communities based on physical location. In fact, more than half said community really depends on perspectives and interests.
This is likely a result of consumers’ increasing use of digital services. Shopping experiences are a combination of online and offline browsing, and consumers are on the lookout for an experience that feels consistently “local,” whether they’re browsing your social media accounts or scrolling through your app. Sure, local know-how is a plus (“The OmniLocal Consumer” found that 63% of Millennials and Gen Zers are attracted to brands that display local knowledge), but the local experience is more about feeling.
The trick for your brand is to find opportunities to create a consistent experience between touchpoints that creates and maintains that local feeling. A smart, nuanced approach — preferably one that’s easily tailored — is the most appealing path. But what does that path actually look like?
Small Steps, Big Impact
How do you get out of theoretical discussions and into practical applications of local strategies? These martech-enabled strategies should steer you in the right direction:
1. Think micro.
Influencer marketing is a hot commodity these days, with major brands paying $250,000 for a single post on Kim Kardashian’s Instagram page — plus tens of thousands of dollars for other influencer posts. But influencer marketing isn’t just about blasting a superstar’s 132 million followers with your branded messaging.
Microinfluencers — social influencers with smaller followings who are more closely intertwined in their interests — are far more valuable for making local connections. Despite reaching fewer people, these more intimate connections lead to greater engagement from fans. Smaller-scale influencers have a 60% higher engagement rate than most celebrities, according to influencer agency HelloSociety. Followers trust these niche experts because their interests are local.
To source microinfluencers, start with a tool such as Followerwonk, which enables you to analyze your Twitter audience and find niche influencers who can reach a new audience. Scrunch supplies similar demographic and interest analyses across social platforms, allowing you to filter by influencer location, interest, and audience size.
Keep in mind that influencer marketing is rooted in its differentiation from blatant advertising. Just as you expect your microinfluencers to do on your behalf, you must first woo them to engage with your brand. Follow their social accounts, and start building relationships. Once you’ve successfully courted them and have your chosen influencers under contract, you can use a self-service marketplace like Tribe to create campaign content together.
2. Partner with the community.
Communities have unique needs that tug at residents’ heartstrings — and no one understands those needs better than local nonprofit organizations. By teaming up with nonprofits, your brand can not only help move an important organization’s mission forward, but also bolster its own credibility among locals.
Natural gas provider Gas South offers a perfect example. Its long-standing partnership with The Salvation Army of Metro Atlanta includes volunteer programs, financial support, and emergency bill-pay assistance. As a result, Gas South has been able to cement its reputation as a community-minded brand while helping local families in need.
Give your regional directors and subsidiaries the authority to forge partnerships with nonprofits in their respective areas, and your brand will receive the local branding boost that comes with doing charitable deeds. Direct your leaders to cause marketing agencies like For Momentum and Engage for Good for free resources and podcasts. Soon, Facebook will allow brands to partner with community groups and nonprofits on its platform. In the meantime, consider a SaaS partner platform like Partnerize to manage any nonprofit partnerships.
3. Cater to the locals.
Though the philanthropic world offers great opportunities for local partnerships, your brand should also extend its support to local businesses. Take modern furniture and home decor brand West Elm. Though the brand has stores that span the nation, it incorporates local flair in each location. When it opened a store in Cleveland last year, West Elm designed the storefront to pay homage to the city’s deep history in manufacturing, and it even stocked goods from eight local brands. Other locations — from Richmond, Virginia, to Los Angeles — got similar treatment.
These art displays make great social media fodder, but they also underscore local loyalty. West Elm’s local art curation offers local assistance beyond store aesthetics. Small business partnerships like this can help you boost your local SEO ranking. When your brand showcases local businesses, you are more likely to build prominence through mentions with backlinks and citations (name, address, and phone number) from those business owners.
Hosting unique events at different branch locations will also afford you plenty of citations. Use local SEO tools like Whitespark and Yext to audit your citations, centralize your data, and improve your local search rankings.
Consumers are on the hunt for local flavor — but that doesn’t mean large brands are confined to the sidelines. By making smaller, more thoughtful connections powered by your martech stack, you can make a huge impact in any market.
About the Author: Tiffany Delmore is the CMO and Co-founder of SchoolSafe.org, a company helping to develop safer educational environments through the use of technology.