How to get closer to your audience with innovative brand experiences

We explore three local format strategies - walk-to, drive-to and on demand - to help brands thrive in a new era where thinking and acting locally reaps rewards.

Jess Jones
By Jess Jones
Posted 07. 08. 2020
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As part of our #CreativityWins campaign, we’ve been asking ourselves some key questions about how we can turn pandemic barriers into brand opportunities. This week, we’ve been discussing how brands can rethink the way they deliver experiences in order to serve customers and communities on a local level as we all adapt to the new normal.

Consumer habits over the past few months have changed drastically - and perhaps forever. Unnecessary trips across the city or country are out, with many limiting movements to remain in their immediate neighbourhood, or even to stay at home if particularly vulnerable. With a lack of commuters travelling into city centres for work, local high streets and community areas in the suburbs are seeing higher footfall as workers find new lunchtime favourites close to their homes. As a result of this localised shift, audiences want experiences that are nearby and accessible to them - and, in some cases, the closer the better.

In our latest innovation session, we defined three alternative format strategies for brands, landlords and organisations to explore in order to serve customers for ultimate convenience at a distance that suits them in this newly changed landscape.

Experiences that… you can walk to

Any experience that’s accessible via fresh-air rather than a crammed bus or lengthy journey is going to be preferable to the cautious consumer, and local neighbourhoods are a great place for brands to make new connections amongst the community. Smaller formats are proving popular, particularly with customers relishing the comforting feeling of nostalgia that local stores provide - now is the time for brands to think and act locally.

In order to combat social distancing restrictions, high street tenants could consider temporarily expanding into vacant units to increase space and maximise the number of visitors they can serve, providing customers with a safe place to browse and interact all within walking distance of their home.

There’s also huge potential out there for large brands and organisations to operate on a more local level. A cute book-sharing initiative set up by residents of Rye caught our attention recently. This simple local ‘Lockdown Library’ idea should serve as inspiration to prominent book retailers - it would be great to see the development of a similar scheme amongst high-street bookshops for larger-scale local engagement.

Of course, brands are at an advantage if they already have a local foothold. But if you don’t currently have a brick-and-mortar link to a local high street, you can still make an impact by going to where your customers need you. Sassy wine brand Babe answered the prayers of straggly-nailed New Yorkers with a mobile manicure van providing free cuticle care to local neighbourhoods whilst salons remain shut. By basing yourself in the heart of a neighbourhood, you’ll be constantly on your customers’ radar and will be enabling them to easily interact with your brand.

Brands could also think about how they can utilise local open-air space in order to serve communities. London-based fitness studio Frame recently launched a range of al fresco classes, with the Kings Cross studio offering high-energy outdoor workouts to locals in Coal Drops Yard. Retailers could take inspiration from this. Open air markets could become the new version of department stores - similar to Selfridges’ latest venture - and could even extend to charity initiatives with cashless payment solutions and with proceeds going to help the most vulnerable at this time.

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Experiences that… you can drive to

There can be limitations in offering experiences that are only a walk away. Brands could also consider repurposing vacant spaces in and out of town in order to expand their experience offer. We’ve already seen car parks being used for elaborate queuing systems - are there other ways that these spaces, along with others such as retail parks and brownfield sites, could be utilised by brands to create new customer touchpoints?

Walmart has recently announced plans to transform 160 of its car parks into outdoor cinemas this summer. There are other forms of entertainment and engagement that could take a similar approach - such as drive-in comedy shows, theatres and music festivals - all of which offer a plethora of brand partnership opportunities.

Thinking further afield, we love the idea of a park and ride cycle hire system, particularly now that we are being encouraged to walk and cycle as much as possible. Brands could evolve this idea, for instance by introducing a food and drink offer to play into the velo cafe culture or by setting up specialised repair workshops to introduce a full-service offer.

There’s also huge potential for brands to explore expanded click and collect options, repurposing unused spaces to allow customers to drive to pick up items they might not want to visit the store for. Branded shipping containers could be rented out to create pop-up collection stations, or even dedicated return or fitting room units whilst permanent stores are limiting footfall. We love this example from Sezane, who launched a new service format in tactical locations, intended for shoppers to collect and return online orders for a more convenient experience.

Town and city centre spaces may be limited as a result of social distancing, but brands could stand to benefit from thinking slightly further afield and using unused spaces to their advantage in order to create new, exciting experiences for their audiences.

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Experiences that… come to you

In the height of lockdown, people were spending the vast majority of their time at home. Even as restrictions have lifted, we’re likely to see a lasting impact on consumer behaviour, with higher demand for at-home activities and experiences. How can brands react and pivot in order to serve customers in this new way?

All that time spent at home got us thinking about the potential for brands to go on wheels in order to reach their audiences. When a supermarket van is out doing the rounds, delivering to the Chosen Ones who managed to secure a slot, they should consider carrying extra stock of essentials so that it can act as a portable corner shop for opportunistic locals to pop out and grab a pint of milk or loaf of bread when they see it coming down their road. Canadian-based Grocery Neighbour have already gone some way to achieving this with their mobile supermarket - other food and beverage brands should take note.

We’ve already seen Muji offering a ‘to go’ service to isolated areas of Japan. Other brands could follow suit - whether it’s Magnum serving up luxe ice cream from a dedicated van, or Boots bikes delivering emergency paracetamol. Restaurants based in central London missing out on their usual clientele could consider touring the suburbs with food trucks in order to re-engage with their home-based audiences. There’s a whole host of opportunities for brands in all sectors - by offering a mobile service, you’re guaranteed to get inside of customers’ homes at a time when they might be apprehensive to come to you.

But it’s not just about commercial gain. Travelling to where your customers need you can also combat other challenges such as helping to alleviate loneliness amongst the shielded and vulnerable. We love the idea that brands could team up with charities to launch a series of mobile coffee mornings, travelling round to different neighbourhoods and bringing communities together over a cuppa.

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With significant recent shifts in consumer behaviour, we believe the potential for walk-to, drive-to and come-to-me experiences is huge - brands should embrace alternative format strategies and think and act more locally in order to reach their audiences in new ways and thrive in this changed landscape.

For help rethinking your local format strategies, or for more information on why we believe #CreativityWins get in touch at creativitywins@dalziel-pow.com

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