Escaping the London echo chamber and tapping into regional identity should be a priority for brands
A view from Rachel Forde

Escaping the London echo chamber and tapping into regional identity should be a priority for brands

New research shows that people in the UK are more attached than ever to their local areas, and smart brands will reflect this in their marketing, writes Spark Foundry's chief executive.

As marketers, we’re constantly battling the danger of being trapped in a city-centric bubble, assuming all consumers think, feel and want the same.

While it’s an intrinsic part of the human condition to be drawn to like-minded people, the political events of Brexit and the election of Trump have revealed just how entrenched we are in these filter bubbles.

Our echo chambers reverberate everything from our social views and interactions to brand preferences, buying habits and political attitudes.

It was in this context that we set out, in partnership with Trinity Mirror, to understand how people around Britain feel about their identity in a post-Brexit world.

We looked at consumer identity and feelings toward brands within small towns and villages in the UK to help marketers understand audiences outside London, beyond just simple demographic and regional targeting, and illuminating the regional UK divide.

Our research revealed more than 60% of the UK feel brands should be doing more to show commitment to local areas.

Even though I’ve lived in London for almost 20 years, I’m a proud Northerner with two children who are Southerners, and was surprised to see these terms become considerably less meaningful to people.

People now identify instead on a more localised village, town or city level. Nearly three-quarters of the UK public feel it’s their local community that defines who they are. At the other end of this spectrum sits London, with Londoners being one-third more likely than the average Brit to identify themselves as a "global citizen".

There is a strong opportunity for regional marketing here. Our research revealed more than 60% of those in the UK feel brands should be doing more to show commitment to local areas.

Both O2 and Tesco stand out as offering strong regional advertising campaigns through understanding local communities and engaging them with appropriate images and language.

Tesco’s "Food love stories" campaign, for example, stars students from Bo’ness Academy in Scotland. Their school receives surplus food each week from the Tesco Bo’ness store and turns the food into cakes and snacks for its community café.

Tesco also supports students from King’s College London in their efforts to reduce food waste, by turning "ugly" fruit and vegetables into crisps. But the UK public feels there is more other brands could be doing.

Our research uncovered serious uncertainties over the strength of future communities. Only a quarter of those in the UK believe that Brexit will strengthen the identity of their local area, despite the 52% "Leave" majority in the EU referendum.

There’s a window here for brands to help strengthen community identities through grassroots, location-appropriate, engaging ad campaigns that tap into local consumer psyches.

With so many more rich insights to be gained through data partners, it’s now become easier than ever to mine these insights and act on them, both from a targeting and dynamic creative point of view.

Regional advertisers should tread carefully, however. Nearly half of the people we spoke to are sceptical of businesses supporting local communities, believing brands’ commercial interests are often at odds with the welfare of the local community.

If Brexit has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t know nearly as much as we thought we did about audiences.

It’s worth remembering several of these communities may have lost a prized local grocery store or bookshop to a major chain that drove them out of business, so consumers might already have mixed feelings about nationwide corporations.

Villages in the countryside were the least sceptical, with just 11% of residents mistrustful of big brands trying to make a difference. Towns were slightly more sceptical, with one-fifth of residents saying the same.

City centres proved the most sceptical, with well in excess of half of residents uncertain of brands’ intentions as they look to support local communities.

This wake-up call demonstrates how essential it is to craft grassroots regional campaigns carefully, and with local consumer nuances front of mind. Only then will brands overcome the challenge of scepticism from locals.

If Brexit has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t know nearly as much as we thought we did about audiences, and, as our nation evolves post-Brexit, insights such as this will become increasingly essential to target different areas of the UK effectively.

Marketers must be mindful of regional attitudes and how consumers differ, and they must target audiences effectively to build trust. The key is understanding different consumer demographics through quality insight to create innovative campaigns, and not simply relying on past experiences or bias.

Rachel Forde is chief executive of Spark Foundry UK

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