October 8, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic and extreme social unrest have created a volatile and unpredictable environment for economies, businesses and society. And perhaps to an even greater degree than after the great recession of 2008, we are now experiencing the beginning of a paradigm shift in how brands and companies reach stakeholders and how and where policies that affect them are made.
In this unprecedented landscape, how can brands and companies create authentic, long-lasting connections with their customers without being opportunistic or tone deaf? How can they help reassure customers and communities that the struggles they’re currently facing will lead to a more equitable world – one where they and their loved ones can thrive and pursue their dreams? By going hyper-local, with purpose.
Research has shown that Americans are more confident in state and local governments to handle the COVID-19 crisis. They are throwing more support behind locally-owned businesses as a result of the crisis. Local media matters more than ever, with a majority of Americans now consuming more local TV, radio and weekly newspapers, driven by the need for reliable, updated, local reporting on the COVID-19 situation.
But the pandemic has also increased the need for brands and companies to live their values. The Drum reported in March that that companies helping during this crisis are getting far more attention than any clever marketing stunt could bring. And that sentiment has increased with the U.S. surpassing 200,000 COVID-19 deaths and a disproportionally high pandemic impact on underserved populations, all amplified by reignited anger over long-standing social and economic racial inequality.
“The twin crises of coronavirus and systemic racism in policing have suddenly turned the national spotlight on local governments and are forcing local leaders to make many of the most important decisions in the country,” reports Axios. “Everything is local again.”
ALL POLITICS IS LOCAL
Speaking from experience as a former Obama Administration appointee, I’ve seen the power of building local coalitions firsthand. The success of programs like the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top initiative and the White House’s auto bailout were in large part driven by going to schools and factories ahead of time to meet local stakeholders, build momentum and bring policymakers from both sides of the aisle along.
The power to move policy at the local level is by no means limited to the federal government. At Direct Impact, we leveraged the power of local to bring positive state and local legislation across 14 states, 650 elected official briefings, 1,000 stakeholder activations, 250 op-eds and letters to the editor and 94,000 client and coalition likes, shares and comments – for just one client. And the work enabled and advanced business wins in counties and cities across those states.
IMPACT THROUGH COMMUNITY PURPOSE
Success isn’t limited to influencing policy; the possibilities are endless across all sectors. Direct Impact earned coverage sustained over a year in almost 100 media markets, including more than 13,000 local media placements, for a company seeking to increase customer engagement by investing in community programs.
Taking this a step further, a brand wanting to show its allyship to consumers or policymakers could announce an investment in Black and Brown communities through press releases and a bunch of national ads. Or it can garner a great deal more positive brand sentiment – and, more importantly, maximize its impact – by directly working with the communities it seeks to lift up.
My advice to companies looking to harness the power of local:
- Create partnerships with local organizations making a difference on the ground. Get to know the influencers in the community.
- Spend time in towns, neighborhoods, churches and city corners.
- Activate a refined stakeholder ecosystem that uniquely influences these communities through inclusive grassroots.
This “bottom up” approach can have far reaching and long-lasting ramifications. It’s the power of local. It contextualizes your brand where people live, work, worship, and go to school, and it leverages these factors to influence policy, improve brand sentiment and increase consumer engagement.
Sam Myers, Jr. is the President of Direct Impact, the nation’s leading grassroots public affairs agency and a part of the BCW Group. He has built coalitions all across the US around the policies and ideals of six presidential campaigns, two presidential administrations and advocacy organizations. He credits meeting people where they live their lives, armed with a deep understanding of the factors that define who they are, as central to every winning campaign.