At the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic, every level of government rallied together to beg the Canadian population to shop local. The survival of Quebec businesses was at risk, we needed to lend our support by loosening our purse strings. Several local brands jumped on the bandwagon, advertising their local status in the hopes of attracting conscious consumers. In just a few months, the label “Quebec company” proliferated on packaging, in ads and even in the way brands talked about themselves.
Companies are often criticized for being too slick, for promoting unrealistic standards or simply from being disconnected from reality. It’s clearly essential for companies to move with the times and show consumers that they aren’t living in a bubble far removed from people’s priorities and goals. However, in their attempts to develop communications that are adapted to the times, brands often make a serious misstep. Many managers behave as though their brand is at the center of the consumer’s universe, when the reality is entirely different.
Consumers are not thinking explicitly about how a brand can help when a change appears in their lives; they are simply looking for a solution. Brands are just one of many tools a consumer might use to solve their problem or achieve their goal. No, the end of a long lockdown isn’t a great time to “spoil yourself and buy a new TV.” No, applauding Quebecers for their solidarity and in the same breath offering them “favourable terms on the purchase of a new SUV” is neither relevant nor coherent.
Let’s be very clear: opportunism isn’t a strategy. The obsession brands have with insinuating themselves into the center of every conversation is frankly exhausting, and only serves to amplify consumers’ cynicism.
As buying local becomes the flavour of the month for marketers, and seemingly overnight a host of companies have proudly begun advertising themselves as “local” or Quebec-based, this once-meaningful label is becoming almost commonplace making it much more difficult to stand out from the crowd.
These types of self-proclaimed statuses by brands arouse doubt in consumers. If a brand suddenly starts focusing its communications on its status as a Quebec business or its selection of local products, there will inevitably be consumers who will ask questions and demand proof. Nothing surprising about that: every message broadcast should be well-founded, documented, incontestable. When they come knocking at your door to learn more about the local character of your business (its identity, its values, its practices), will you be able to adequately respond to even the most skeptical consumers? Le Panier Bleu was just embroiled in controversy regarding the presence of Chinese products being sold on its platform… By Quebec businesses.
The first question to ask is simple: does the attribute that you want to highlight really hold value in consumers’ eyes in the category you represent? If there’s only a small amount of perceived value in being local, your communication may not have the desired splash.
Above all, don’t lose sight of your competitive advantage, that’s the reason your customers choose you instead of the alternative. That’s what needs to be front and center in your communications; the local aspect (or any other passing trend) shouldn’t supplant it. You aren’t the only ones trying to take advantage of a trend, and you might simply go unnoticed if you put all your eggs in the same basket.
Every brand has its own superpower, the little thing that makes it unique. When a new trend crops up, ask yourself this question: what is unique about my brand that might be relevant and bring value in the eyes of the consumer? Answers are easy to find when you ask the right questions.