The new decade started on a wave of optimism. Advertising was changing – for the better. How different it feels today in a third national lockdown, our liberties necessarily curtailed.
After quarters of decline, the IPA’s final Bellwether report of 2019 told us all we dared to hope: budgets were up, and set to continue into 2020 and beyond. Little did we know what was ahead: soon the industry – the world – found itself in flux. The report for Q3 2020 showed the second-quickest decline since the survey’s inception in 2000, only superseded by the reduction in the second quarter of the year. Brands pulled budgets and consumers were urged to stay “at home”.
This was nothing any of us had expected, and we had no way to prepare. Nor, were we assured, did we expect it to continue for more than a few weeks or months. Yet today, in February 2021, we face our most stringent lockdown measures.
The pandemic has brought out the best and worst of us. As family members, friends, communities and as brands. This has been the ultimate leveller. At Nextdoor – the neighbourhood hub – we’ve been privileged to have a front row seat and see how this crisis has brought everyone together for the greater good. We’ve remembered the value of kindness. We’ve seen consumers offer help and the springing-up of community groups to ensure nobody felt isolated, and with this, the release products to help enable it.
More than half of UK CMOs believe local communications has become more important in their communications strategy since the pandemic.
It’s why we quickly looked to integrate tools and groups to help facilitate this: for instance our Help Map, introduced in March, offers a way to coordinate aid between those in need, such as the elderly and at-risk, and those willing to offer some form of assistance to them. Nextdoor Groups was introduced to aid the organisation of neighbours wanting to help, having seen a number of them form organically and spontaneously.
It is also why we have seen critical advertising messages delivered by both the central Government and the National Health Service. With so much flux and so much crucial information needing to be delivered, our local platform was a key part of their communications. Some of the published articles were standalone, others proffered links and calls to action.
Going beyond brand purpose
More surprisingly, the pandemic has brought that groundswell of genuine support from brands. There has been rapid reinvention as businesses began to look at not who they could ‘get’ but what they could ‘do’.
They remembered their customers as people and, in doing so, found true purpose beyond the ‘purpose’ marketing of just a year ago. And, as lockdowns and social distancing restrictions kicked in, they remembered the importance of local – of home.
In fact, research Nextdoor commissioned in conjunction with CensusWide reveals that more than half of UK CMOs (54%) believe local communications has become more important in their communications strategy since the pandemic, and a further 38% state national communications has become less important.
Some 52% are putting greater emphasis on supporting local communities, stating this is very important to their business.
I believe it’s part of a bigger picture – one that started pre-Covid – of practical personalisation and of messaging not being so global as to be irrelevant, or so personal that it’s creepy, but at a level that feels both familiar and useful. The pandemic accelerated this, particularly in the early days when confusion reigned, stockpiles happened and people found themselves cut off.
All of a sudden, our neighbours were our new heroes and digital platforms such as ours helped to deliver that – and for advertisers to deliver true CSR at speed.
Embrace purpose and do better
Of course, brands today that want to be ‘kind’ need to be commercially viable, too. Doug Gorman, of GlobalWebIndex, wrote in December that the pandemic had been a “baptism of fire for brand purpose”, citing the consumer need for “meaningful support”.
People need reassurance and brands need patronage. By tailoring communications to consumers at a neighbourhood level depending on postcode, brands have the opportunity to harness the power of local in a simple and effective way.
So, rather than just talking, brands need to be doing. They have seen how they can help in this crisis and enhanced their roles; from the banks who reach out to help out small businesses to the supermarkets that prioritise pensioners, there is a humanity in marketing that we’ve possibly not seen since the reforming ambitions of the Quakers et al.
As recent research from GlobalWebIndex found, consumers are expecting more from brands since Covid-19, with 56% stating they want brands to support people during the pandemic, demonstrating kindness as the new currency for 2021.
I can only hope that once this crisis is over we remember the good that has come out of it. For brands to remember their real purpose over an invented or rebranded one. That they remember the power of the doorstep over the global campaign. Of course, there are shareholders and stakeholders, and as a recent roundtable debate concurred, commerce and profit are important too, if only to stave off redundancies and keep people working.
We find ourselves at a crossroads: will 2021 prove that the necessary pivot of 2020 is here to stay – that it was not just a mere crisis communications exercise as part of an extraordinary year?
If our platform shows nothing else, it does spotlight a new marketing reality: real people talking to others and helping altruistically. For brands that really want to embrace purpose and do better, I can think of no better place to be. Marketing has come home.
Paps Shaikh is EMEA commercial director at Nextdoor.