Communities Are Coming Together (at a Distance), and Brands Should Support That

What we can learn from neighborhoods across the country

Neighbors are uniting under a shared anxiety and want to find ways to help one another. - Credit by Getty Images
Headshot of Maryam Banikarim

As any customer-centric business knows, it’s not about us. Really—it’s not.

While this pandemic extends across the globe, this mindset has never been more important. The brands that understand how to put their customers front and center are going to be the ones that thrive on the other side of this crisis.

This is a moment. It is also an opportunity to start a movement about showing up for our customers. Here are some lessons we’re learning from neighbors around the world:

There is power in proximity 

Good neighbors have never mattered more as we shelter in place. Instead of turning to national governments or big institutions, consumers are looking no further than their neighbors for their everyday essentials.

Customers are shopping nearby for urgent supplies. They are making trades with neighbors. They are looking to and connecting with people nearby for the things they need most.

No matter what business you are in or how you are affected by our current crisis, being in touch with your customers is still critical.

This hyper-local connection is necessary. And as consumers begin to reacquaint themselves with age-old neighborly norms, they are also flexing consumer habits of shopping close to home (from a safe social distance, of course). On our platform, we have seen a 17-fold increase in conversations about supporting local business in the past two weeks.

We are on the cusp of a neighborhood renaissance, even as we hunker down at home.

Make utility your purpose

While some feel helpless in these uncertain times, many are choosing to be helpful. Neighbors, in droves, are raising their hands to help. Since January, we have seen a 262% lift in members talking about helping each other.

We have seen a seven-fold increase in people joining groups on our platform, whether they are searching for shopping tips, collaborating on homeschooling help or rallying to sew medical masks. Millions of our members have viewed a map tool where they can raise their hand and offer to help neighbors, and 44% of them return back at least once a week to see if neighbors need them.

According to Kantar’s Global Impact of COVID-19 study, 77% of consumers expect brands to be useful, in turn. We’ve seen this shift toward practicality as gym workouts become “work-ins,” distilleries pivot to making hand sanitizer and fashion designers forge the way as face mask suppliers.

Brand value propositions must be rooted in utility. That is, in fact, the current mindset of their customers. Ask first how your brand might add value right now. Customers are asking themselves that same question every day.

Trust is paramount

Customers are relying on trusted brands for accurate information about the crisis we’re facing. Misinformation can cost lives. The World Health Organization calls it an infodemic, “an overabundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.”

A Kantar COVID-19 Barometer Report cited this moment as an opportunity to build trust by better understanding the needs of consumers and showing them you are a reliable source of what they need most: the truth.

But this is also a time to know your guardrails. Most brands are not experts on the health ramifications of COVID-19. And yet you can still play a role here by being the conduit.

If you are not an authority, defer to a public agency that is. Partner with experts so you can send customers to the accurate information they need. Also, be ready to pivot on a dime. This is a fast-moving epidemic, and the ground is shifting beneath us every day. This is a key time to tap into a network of trusted peers, people you can learn from and share the most up-to-date information with as the situation evolves.

Kindness is trending

Customers are eager to lend a hand and connect with neighbors, even if from a six-foot distance. Look no further than the Italian opera singer giving his quarantined neighbors hope or the citywide sounds of New Yorkers clapping for first responders to know that customers are searching for connection.

Customers want to help those on the frontlines: healthcare professionals, postal workers, grocery store clerks. They are searching for ways to support their most vulnerable neighbors. And they appreciate brands that are showing that same kindness to others.

Many brands are tracking with this kindness trend. U-Haul is offering displaced college students free self-storage. Crocs is donating 10,000 pairs of shoes daily to healthcare professionals. Disney has fast-tracked the release of Frozen 2, much to the delight of exasperated quarantined parents everywhere.

This is the time to lead with kindness. Thank your customers. Help your customers thank others.

Your customers need you, and you need them

After the 2008 downturn, brands that slashed budgets on ad spends saw declines in their brand metrics. Millward Brown research showed that 60% of the brands that retreated and had no TV ad spend in those hard economic times, saw “brand use” decrease by 24% and “brand image” decrease by 28%.

Now is not the time to do nothing. No matter what business you are in or how you are affected by our current crisis, being in touch with your customers is still critical. Customers want to hear from you if you have relevant information and can deliver it with the right cadence.

From the small yoga studio moving classes online to the nearby restaurant changing its hours for takeout, these are helpful pieces of information worth sharing. With big brands—banks, cable providers, grocery chains—customers need to be reassured that these businesses will continue to serve them as we get through this together.

It is easy to turn up in good times. But showing up when things get tough is what customers will remember most. Many consumer brands are striking the right tone and reaching out at the optimal intersection of empathy and utility.

If we make the right moves in this moment, our customers will move with us into the future when it comes time to get back to business.


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@maryamb Maryam Banikarim is head of marketing at Nextdoor, where she leads the marketing, communications and policy and International teams.