Thoughts from The Garage ( www.co-garage.com )

Whatever you think about local community marketing, (LCM) you probably have it wrong. All the rules of national marketing don’t apply. Research companies have no clue, so unless you immerse yourself in the local scene, you won’t either.

Disruptive Thinking is all about thinking differently, and to be successful at a local community level, you need to think different. Very different.

Most big brands, especially retailers, are good at mass marketing from big media (TV, press, radio and outdoor) to below the line – POS, digital, CRM and door drops. But that’s all ‘push marketing’. When it comes to building and engaging their brand at a local level, you need ‘pull marketing’.

However, some brands don’t get it at all. For example one big retailer spends millions on TV, press, radio and outdoor but nothing supporting it’s franchises on a local level. And even stops them doing anything themselves. Insanity? Or just corporate stupidity?

Retailers of all kinds, from supermarkets to coffee shops, fear the power of the small local brand. Brands like Harris & Hoole seem like a genuine local coffee shop chain set up by Mr Harris & Mr Hoole until people on social media revealed they were part owned by Tesco – this created a negative reaction by locals and boycotts. The same reaction we saw with other unholy alliances – Pret and McDonalds, Innocent and Coca-Cola and Body Shop and L’Oreal (part owned by Nestle).

Consumer prefer local over corporates, they trust them more (though that may not always be wise) and would rather use the pound in their pocket to support local than feed fat cat share holders. Basically, most consumers are champagne socialist – enjoying the fruits of capitalism but preferring to buy their fruit locally.

So before you push the brief to promote your store to the locals in Bexley Health, Wesley Wood or Crouch End to the junior marketing person with a ten bob budget, think again. Then think different.

Local engagement has proven to be more important than national levels. When Tesco ran “Computers for Schools” it engaged locals across the UK in a way no other brand has ever achieved. Parents raved about Tesco’s. But that is now history, and today Tesco is anything but loved, in fact protest groups now try to stop them opening locally.

Here is some advice from an experienced marketer but also a founder of the UK’s biggest community arts festival, “Whatever you learn on the big stuff, the small local stuff is a different set of rules.“

FARMS 8-15 CCD - Copy

12 useful points to consider in local community marketing:

  • It’s not WHAT you say but WHAT you do. Positive actions local speak louder than words and if you get the actions right, the words will spread around the community.
  • Spend more than you imagined. Just because it’s local doesn’t mean you should spend next to nothing and expect results. But once you are established you’ll need less to maintain your engagement. So invest at the beginning.
  • Don’t put the juniors in the marketing dpt on it – it’s more complicated than you think and requires a different way of thinking. They mean well but won’t do a good job.
  • Ignore your social media expert with the hipster beard, especially if he has an address in Hoxton. Hijacking local social media can make you very untrusted unless you get it right, and most don’t. Be smart, do stuff that get locals to do that for you.
  • Have a purpose, values (especially ethical ones) and a value to the community. Think ‘value exchange’, ask what are both sides getting from this relationship? Is it balanced?
  • Engage schools, community groups, faith groups, societies, clubs, old and young and especially mums.
  • A lot of community minded people want money for projects – be a small funder/sponsor – they’ll then come to you. You can then publicise what you’ve helped do – clean up an urban space, repair a church roof, fund a reading group.
  • If you have a store, use it as a venue, meeting place, stay open late one evening for a creative evening or cause related like a fundraiser, poetry evening, music.
  • Use your store to tell the story, your customers must already have a positive view of you to be shopping there so convert them to advocates, encourage them to tell others. Remember, simple psychology, 20% will do what you ask.
  • Respond positive to criticism. From fair comment to trolls, you’ll get criticised so be humble. Even invite people to meet the manager.
  • Be human. Consumers hate corporations, especially faceless ones. Make sure the consumers know the real people behind the business. Even the boss needs to meet his customers. Go into local schools and tell them about how your do business, about job opportunities, about stuff.
  • Understand your consumers, forget anything head office says until you have checked it yourself. Corporates tend to hire research companies that deliver generalisations and assumptions. Each local area is different. You need to know your audience and the bet is, it’s nothing like HQ, the research company or central marketing is telling you.


Example: Andrew Thornton – Budgen’s Crouch End. 


Andrew is passionate about ethics and community. He took over a failing Budgen’s in trendy Crouch End, known as London’s Creative Village, and turned it around. He became a hero of the local community as well as an example to other retailers of how to do it better.

  • He introduced more ethical brands and products because his shoppers wanted them. He stopped selling cheap dodgy foods. Ethical products in the basket went from 5% to 15%.
  • He helped a lot of new ethical brands start out by trying them out on his customers, which they loved. Then endorsing them to other retailers.
  • He supported other local businesses by selling their bread, cheeses and produce.
  • He would often walk around his store, watching shoppers and talking to them about how to improve things.
  • He created a roof garden where locals grew their own vegetables and herbs.
  • He supported local charities, schools and community groups.
  • He went into schools to talk about food retailing, food ethics and values.
  • He allowed locals to use his store for small events and fundraising.
  • He put in stalls in front of his store for local crafters to sell their crafts.
  • He made the store a “shop with a purpose”.

What he didn’t do was hire a social media person to flood local Facebook and Twitter accounts with offers or bad copy – so often the case. Yes he still does traditional offer led local marketing but his real sales force are his customers.

Andrew has now since created Heart in Business and is encouraging hundreds of businesses to think differently.   www.heartinbusiness.org ?@heartinbusiness?


Chris Arnold is founder of Creative Orchestra Advertising and The Garage. Author of Ethical Marketing & The New Consumer. And founder of the UK’s biggest community arts festival. chris@creativeorchestra.com