News & Opinion

Brands can tap local concerns

Trinity Mirror's Andrew Tenzer and Publicis Media's Heather Dansie draw on research to outline how brands can contribute to the community. 

In the wake of Brexit, fake news and an increasingly centralised commerce, the UK is (understandably!) suffering from a community crisis. This has far reaching implications for everyone, including brands and advertising. A real danger is that brands will be caught in an echo chamber, stamped as ‘establishment’ and not seeking to understand consumers. Recent data suggests this is an increasing problem. A six percentage point increase in the number of people saying advertising doesn’t portray the lives of people in their local area (56% in 2016 vs. 61% in 2017) suggests we need to be more thorough in our understanding of local communities and more overt in our portrayal of them.

With this in mind, a week after the general election, Spark Foundry and Trinity Mirror Solutions teamed up to understand what community means and what communities need. Surveying 3,000 consumers, we aimed to burst some filter bubbles and enrich our view of Britain today.

As a starting point, we wanted to explore the nature of identity. Through the use of implicit techniques, we discovered the ways we see ourselves and each other, is changing. Despite a raging nationalistic outlook, the term ‘Britishness’ means something – it’s progressive and culturally defining. It’s not only the highest in terms of importance to identity (82%); it’s the term people are quickest to select – being British is a given.

The North/South divide is commonly referred to, but it’s not as important to our identity as many would assume (48%). In fact, consumers were slowest to select the term, suggesting a weak emotional attachment. Postcode also means little (44%), with communities meaning more than just our surrounding streets. However, most interesting of all is that consumers have a much stronger emotional relationship with their city/town/village than they do with their nationality. People recognise that their identity is inextricably linked to their local community.

So what does this mean for brands? We believe that when brands understand what communities have and what they lack, they will be able to contribute in the most meaningful way. A programme that works well in a city, might not deliver to a suburban community, much less a rural one. We found that city centres excelled in delivering experiences of discovery (66%) and challenges (61%), yet they scored much lower on creating a feeling of belonging (52%). Rural communities delivered the opposite, and town centres were far more likely (29%) than either villages (15%) or city centres (18%) to say community spirit has declined.

So when we tested what community initiatives would appeal the most, the results made sense. Open and hungry for new experiences, city dwellers wanted freebies (54%) and entertainment (58%). Villages wanted grass roots initiatives that would make a visible difference on the ground (60%), and they could actively participate in. Suburbs wanted information which puts a sense of pride back into their area (59%).

Our qualitative research via Spark Foundry’s online community ‘The Street’ wrestled with many of the conflicting desires communities face. The need for connectivity and friendly folk goes hand in hand with the negative aspect of gentrification, house price hikes and outsiders. These tensions only demonstrates the need for brands to listen and connect with people on the ground, rather than a top level ‘Build and they will Come’ approach.

In practice, there are a number of brands who have already tapped into the differing needs of communities. This year, John Smith's ran a campaign to find the UK’s best landlord. Trinity Mirror and the John Smith's team were overwhelmed with the numbers of contributions. By celebrating the inclusive focal points in a community it champions people that represent the brand on the ground. Since the EU referendum, the government is seeking to decentralise many of the arts. The city of Hull was ahead of the game. In securing the UK city of Culture, it’s not only encouraging tourism, but also bringing like-minded people together as a real celebration of Hull’s local culture.

Brands have to tread carefully though, half of consumers (49%) are sceptical of big brands who say they want to help local communities, even though six in ten (62%) believe big brands should do more.  We propose five simple rules to escape your filter bubbles to connect meaningful with communities.

  • Explicitly geo-target. Let people know you are talking directly to them
  • Tell anecdotes not reasons to believe. Evidence is better than theory, and authenticity is crucial
  • Get out of the office; widen your own experiences and contacts
  • Take a bottom up, empowerment approach. Communities need to contribute if they are to care
  • Local presence is a hygiene, it is expected.

For more insight into British consumers and their fears and hopes and what they think brands should be doing, take a look at our research with Tapestry and Flamingo here


We believe that when brands understand what communities have and what they lack, they will be able to contribute in the most meaningful way.

Andrew Tenzer, head of group insight, Trinity Mirror
Heather Dansie, associate insight director, Publicis Media 
by Andrew Tenzer and Heather Dansie 09/11/17

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