Local marketing: how the pandemic reinforced digital and local


Dan Burton
Dan Burton

Unfortunately, we can’t read the tea leaves of medicine and government data but it’s safe to say that COVID-19 and its recessionary impacts may be around for a while. The market may take years to recover, but it’s not all bad! Some businesses have actually grown with the pandemic and the recent quarantine and travel restrictions have changed our habits in ways that may benefit our future.  

In the face of the economic turbulence, marketers are anticipating lower budgets and higher goals. We may be looking at a “swoosh” recovery, akin to Nike’s logo, dropping fast but coming back up again slowly and steadily. Which begs the questions: will marketing and brands be able to survive this new reality? Is the new status quo going to remain indefinitely?  

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is impacting every part of our lives, from the places we can visit, to the priorities we have and the way we spend our time and money. What we see happening here in Switzerland is also happening around the world to various degrees and scales. Some of these changes may indeed be here to stay, perhaps accelerating trends that were already on their way, or redefining how we act as consumers.

Online, online, online

Digital is the obvious winner in this shift, especially considering that the amount of people deemed safe to gather in a single place dwindled from thousands, to hundreds, to five in a matter of weeks! With restaurants, bars, gyms and events ordered to close up for months and office workers faced with the challenge of working remotely full time, the online world has never been more important.  

During this period of isolation and uncertainty, people’s buying habits changed drastically.  

The lockdown forced every household to entertain themselves from home. These past few months, video streaming more than doubled and subscription services trended upwards in both revenue and conversion. Almost 16 million new Netflix accounts were created during the lockdown, which is almost double the sign-ups it saw in the final months of 2019.


With COVID-19 officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, people also responded by stocking up. In Switzerland, sales of rice and sugar rose by 108.6% and 80% respectively. And let’s not get started on pasta and toilet paper… Household items rose by 75%, followed by a 64% increase in alcohol sales and 54% more bread and cakes. Demand for local products exploded, even tripling on some farmers’ websites.   

As people have adapted to social distancing as a way to slow the spread of the pandemic, items that might have otherwise been purchased in store are now being bought online in order to avoid contact with others. The coronavirus has increased Internet orders to an all-time high. Online stores and postal services struggled at first to keep up with demand. Those that fared best were quick to adapt, offering more digital services and getting up to speed in remote selling to meet the growing requests of the millions of consumers who have embraced online shopping for just about everything.  

A majority of people admit to shopping more frequently than they did before the pandemic and indicate a preference for online retailers that offer home delivery. Just ask Uber Eats, one of the rare brands to go on a hiring spree during these uncertain times. Revenue at Uber Eats doubled to US$1.2 billion, generating more from delivering food than its core chauffeur division.  

The online craze has also helped some companies acquire new clients by “chance”. A lot of us have had to try different brands because products offered by our go-to brands were out of stock. This led consumers to adopt new favourites, rather than return to those they were using before

Go small and go home 

In Geneva, the local fruit and vegetable producer Aux Petits Oignons is a perfect example of this, as he is still home delivering 400% more personalized baskets than last year. He managed to keep 25% of the new “COVID-period” clients after the end of the lockdown. This shows a real shift in behavior that goes beyond sanitary measures and trends. People are starting to realize the import role regional producers play in the event of a real shortage.

Tribune de Genève
Tribune de Genève

So it may come as no surprise that second on the podium, right behind digital, is local. In late August, PayPoint released survey results showing that between March and July, 56% of respondents said that they had visited their local convenience store for the first time.

This could have been for many reasons: the closing of borders, reluctance to travel on public transport, avoiding busier grocery stores, or a willingness to support local businesses. Even though this attraction for local was endorsed by the lockdown, 51% of people claim they will continue shopping local after the pandemic has ended.

Countless initiatives emerged to help local businesses, such as Qoqa’s DireQt platform that sold discounted coupons to use at participating local merchants (in-store or online) and an offer from the Geneva tourism office for free 25.- CHF gift vouchers to local restaurants

As the #supportsmallbusiness movement grows, there is an ongoing push to choose local businesses over big brands. We also took part by sharing our team’s favorite local restaurants on Instagram – no sponsored content, just a genuine appreciation for these quality establishments and their delicious food!

The Consultancy Group
The Consultancy Group

 What does this mean for your marketing strategy?

With people willing to consume more locally and benefit from online services, search optimization and digital presence are more crucial than ever.  

Many local businesses used to keep things offline. They were content to offer a service to their immediate community and didn’t see the importance of an online presence. But the lockdown forced them to reevaluate. Taking advantage of the growing interest in local products and the need for digital, small and big brands alike were quick to promote themselves and their offers via social media, newsletters and more, in order to connect with their existing clientele and attract new customers. Merchants added home deliveries, for example, or the ability to place orders via WhatsApp.  

Whether they knew it or not, they were engaging in local marketing, also known as “location-based marketing” or “neighborhood marketing”, which is the process of optimizing your website and online advertising to help drive foot traffic and awareness in localized regions.  Local marketing isn’t just about tagging location-specific keywords on to product descriptions. It’s about adopting a more targeted approach with an audience and doing it in a personal way. Local SEO tactics help businesses appear in “near me” searches. Since Google’s algorithm uses a searcher’s location to suggest relevant businesses, even if the user isn’t searching specifically for a service provider near him or for a product at a local shop, those local results may appear anyway. For instance, if you’re looking for a beach in Thailand, Google may still recommend the new Plage Publique des Eaux-Vives on Geneva Lake, a “nearby place” that could help you forget all about that exotic beach destination you were aiming for in the first place.


There are different ways of engaging with a local audience, such as optimizing the company website with the right keywords, providing online customer service, like a chat feature, localizing ads, posting on social media, sponsoring a local event and targeting local press. Marketing is all about staying top-of-mind with your audience. Even if a business doesn’t have a physical presence in its targeted region, there are many ways it can get involved in the local community. And being local doesn’t mean only local – it’s possible to have a presence in different locations, thus being “globally local”.  

COVID-19 has brought about a lot of changes, some less pleasant than others, but it’s important to seize the opportunities that appeared because of it. An increasingly digital lifestyle and focus on local consumption may be two of them, as they are anchored in deeper beliefs and ways of living. It is important to take these two key objectives into account when developing a marketing strategy to insure relevance in today and tomorrow’s world.

A The Consultancy Group article, written by Justine Gilliot

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  1. This is really inspiring, Chuck. I believe people should be able to succeed against all odds. I wrote something on that. Your readers too may want to see it.

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