We are not a number

Brands can only benefit from gaining a much more detailed picture of their local and regional audiences, says Robert Ray

Understanding regional business and audience data is, and always has been, critical for retailers. What’s my catchment? Where is my competition strong or weak? What opportunities are there to increase my pool of primary and secondary shoppers? The answers to such questions affect store location, product range, pricing, promotions and communications mix or execution.

Brands should look to optimise their local strengths or opportunities. However, this often seems to be confined to trade, promotions or direct marketing activities.

Clients, ask yourselves this: do you really get down to the regional or local detail of your brand with your creative or media agency? Not simply at a TV region level, but in terms of distribution, competitor presence, share/potential share and, critically, consumer behaviour and attitudes.

Agencies (I won’t differentiate between media or creative, as there’s a collective responsibility), ask yourselves this: do you really get the regional nuances and underlying business opportunities on your clients’ brands? Do you have a ‘one size fits all’ communications/creative strategy, or do you capitalise on the opportunity to lock in local business strengths? Have you the understanding of what makes your clients’ existing or potential consumers tick in different parts of the country? Do you communicate with them accordingly? When was the last time you both spent time as a client or agency brand team looking at how a focused regional or local effort could affect market share – beyond the basic ‘we’re strong or weak in TV region X or Y’? For international brands operating in several countries, the decision to support different markets (with correspondingly differing consumer behaviour and attitudes, competition, distribution and so on) will have a material influence on the marketing mix. The media/communications strategy and creative solution will be tailored to the market. Obvious stuff, really.

Yet it strikes me that brands are missing a trick by leaving the regional/local opportunity untapped in the UK.

As marketing director of the Newspaper Society, which represents the UK’s 1,300 local newspapers, 800 websites, 600 niche magazines, 28 radio stations and two TV channels, you might well expect me to have a mission to get brands to think more about their regional dynamics. Or, to put it another way, to focus on opportunities to defend or grow market share.

We were talking with an agency last year that had got to the stage of identifying it could squeeze more business by adopting a more focused local strategy. We were happy to give input at a strategic level, but met a blank when we pushed for brand and rivals’ business share data. It existed, but the agency didn’t have it and could have happily continued spending its clients’ money communicating a consistent message, despite having identified very differing consumers in its various areas.

Another agency I spoke to ran a test?? a couple of years ago in a large conurbation. But no one in the communications planning team had actually been to the conurbation while planning this detailed (and high capital expenditure) communications mix across several media channels. In addition, the creative work it ran failed to take on board the attitudes of those in their audience who lived there.

It matters not who the agencies or clients were. The point is there are opportunities to drive business by understanding where the business opportunities lie and getting to grips with the nuances of the audience.

The opportunity to build relevant and meaningful communication at a local level has never been stronger. More than 40 million people engage with the regional press every week, and the sheer breadth of regional and local press gives advertisers a hugely powerful range of platforms.

We know from our customer research projects and wanted ads that these readers are highly receptive to advertising messages. They don’t skip or avoid ads in this environment – and, crucially, they act on what they see. Our work with Ipsos MORI has recently shown how responsive people can be to local messages from ‘national’ brands such as Foster’s, Innocent, Thomas Cook, Dr Oetker, Heinz Tomato Ketchup and Lavazza.

More and more brands are exploiting localised communications strategies. Beyond the dilemma of whether to focus on strength or opportunity, the real challenge is understanding that the UK consumer is not an homogeneous mass and communicating to them accordingly.