All advertising is local: connecting with customers when it matters most

By Cathy Colliver

USA TODAY NETWORK

Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Connect      

In the United States there’s a saying that “all politics is local.” And, almost as often, the corollary “all news is local.”

INMA member news organisations are all familiar with the idea that whether you look at a national news organisation or a local news organisation, the fabric of what we do is based on what is happening in the communities where people live. At times, that local community news becomes national news.

Using geofencing, local businesses can keep residents updated on offerings and availability.
Using geofencing, local businesses can keep residents updated on offerings and availability.

Amidst the current social distancing movement due to the coronavirus pandemic, local businesses are hurting — especially those in retail outside of grocery. Many states/cities have ordered restaurants to offer take-out or drive-thru only. Schools are temporarily closed or shifted to online learning. Daycare facilities are being closed with exceptions for health workers. “Non-essential” retail that cannot operate without social distancing is being asked to close.

Many more people are working from home than normal. People are losing jobs, especially in the service sector. There is major economic uncertainty even for those who have not lost their job.

Local audiences need information

We know our local audiences are turning to news media companies for trusted coverage to help them understand the COVID-19 virus. They want to find out what its impact is on school closures, businesses, and day care. And they want to learn what local and state governments are doing to address testing, treatment, and work being done to decrease the spread of this virus.

Our news teams are working overtime to rapidly report on a seemingly ever-evolving set of circumstances, which will move even more quickly as more testing becomes available in the United States.

Even with all of that, people will still be trying to figure out what businesses are still open if they want to get take-out, need emergency dental services, or even spend extra time on a home improvement project. It sounds mundane and prosaic while the rest of this is going on, but doing something that feels normal can be really important. Know that when things are chaotic, sometimes really basic, ordinary things like ordering take-way from a favourite restaurant can motivate people to get through the day, the week, the month.

Take an all-advertising-is-local approach

Marketing amidst a pandemic may feel pointless, but remember that local businesses provide a valued service or product. Their customers are going through a lot right now, and if they need what those businesses offer, they’re going to be trying to figure out how to get it.

There are some smart and appropriate ways to tackle this:

E-mail communication: While everyone’s inboxes have already been flooded with coronavirus updates from pretty much any business for which they are on a mailing list, an update that a restaurant is open for drive-thru, curbside, or carryout service can be a big lift.

If a veterinarian wants to make sure patients’ owners know they’re still open for important procedures, emergencies, and vaccinations, use an e-mail campaign with that update and any revised hours or protocols. I know I appreciated hearing from my children’s dentist that if we had an emergency, they would still have staff able to see them.

Geofence display ads: Geofencing is a perfect example of an all-advertising-is-local approach in normal times. But with the current situation, geofence ads can provide a super-efficient way to advertise to people who live directly near a business about hours or curbside service.

Some grocery stores are even advertising special low-traffic hours exclusively for customers 60+ so they can shop without worrying as much about exposure since they are in a higher risk group. Many restaurants are offering discounts on gift card purchases to use either at a later date or for take-out service.

Contextual targeted display ads: Many of our healthcare clients, grocery stores, restaurants, and even bottled water delivery service clients have opted to run contextual display ads around coronavirus-related content to provide helpful information. Alternatively, you can do negative targeting to make sure ads are not running by this content coverage if a product or service is not a direct match and the business wants to show sensitivity.

Many museums and arts groups are stepping up to offer virtual content that parents and educators can use to complement online learning. This could be a great way to stay top-of-mind while museums are closed to in-person visitors and live performances are cancelled or postponed. Encouraging a donation as a call to action can help those non-profit organisations weather the storm as they lose revenue due to closures.

Newspaper print ads and online news site digital ads: With U.S. election primaries still on the schedule or being postponed, local, county, and state governments may want to run advertisements in addition to making press announcements — especially if polling locations are moved due to closures of community centres and similar facilities.

It’s also a census year for the United States, and there is a tight deadline to meet mid-year counts ahead of turning in final numbers at the end of the year for the constitutionally required process. Given coronavirus concerns, some in-person census work is temporarily paused but will continue at a later date on a compressed timeframe. This may require awareness campaigns and even campaigns to hire additional census workers to complete more work in a shorter timeframe.

In this together

News media companies can make a deep community impact in a rapidly changing environment. We have a history of providing much-needed local news from our trusted journalists and useful information from the local businesses our readers love and patronise. We continue to support local news and local advertisers now during these uncertain times. And we will do so in the future when social distancing is no longer necessary and people return to “normal.”

“Support Local to help small businesses

In recognition of this important support, Gannett has launched Support Local, a platform enabling communities in the United States to rally behind small businesses all across the nation. Our greatest strength as the nation’s largest media company is our collective voice and network of 260-plus news organisations. We are using that to make a public statement in support of our small businesses.

The site provides free business listings, allows readers to search by city as well as filter by categories such as restaurants, bars, cafes, and bakeries. Businesses and consumers alike can add new listings and all businesses are verified using Google Places API to ensure proper and accurate business information.

Support Local currently promotes the purchase of restaurant gift cards and in the coming days will be adding additional features like special hours, remote access, delivery services, and special offers as alternative means to provide support.

About Cathy Colliver