Making Local Feel Authentic


During a brand evolution project for Fremont Bank, we took the time to evaluate what makes “local” feel authentic. Fremont Bank is a truly local community bank with only a handful of branch locations throughout the Bay Area. Their headquarters are in Fremont, and their history as a strong pillar of the community is well-known by local residents. When we conducted the discovery and audit phase of the project, we looked at the competition and researched other brands who’ve succeeded at authentically connecting to their community. Here are five best practices to ensure your brand’s expression of “local” is as authentic as it can be.

Localize the retail experience. 

One Medical, a San Francisco-based organization dedicated to vastly improving the primary care experience, has done a great job of designing each of their doctor’s offices to reflect the vibe of the particular neighborhood they are in. They still maintain some brand consistency throughout the offices, but the flavor of each neighborhood is reflected in everything from the furniture, to the lighting, to the art. The net result is a big, multi-state business that feels like a neighborhood gem. 

Bring your brand out into the community.

Many people are familiar with the Seafood Watch Program, but most don’t know about Monterey Bay Aquarium’s involvement in it. In fact, lots of people are unaware of Monterey Bay Aquarium’s incredible contributions to ocean activism. To increase the visibility of their activism efforts and connect with their community, Monterey Bay Aquarium created a sustainable seafood food truck. For months, the food truck traveled to different parts of the Bay Area, serving the locals delicious food and education on how we can eat more mindfully to protect our oceans. Considered by many to be the best aquarium in the United States and a travel destination for people around the globe, Monterey Bay Aquarium, through this experiential program, was able to express its commitment to its backyard community in a unique, smart, and memorable way.

To be part of a community, give back consistently. 

Lots of businesses claim that they give back to the community, but if you dig a little bit, you’ll often find this “giving back” was a one-time gesture, or connection to a group not doing all that much. Fremont Bank is a great example of a business that is constantly giving back through their foundation. Established in 1995, Fremont Bank Foundation is a private, independent, grant-making organization funded solely by Fremont Bank. The foundation invests in local, non-profit organizations dedicated to community improvement, whether that’s $1,000 for a shed for children’s riding toys or $1,500,000 for a critical care pavilion. By continually supporting the community, they’ve become a trusted partner and anchor within their community.  

Represent other local businesses within your space. 

Many boutique hotels have done a good job of this, but there is no reason other businesses can’t follow suit. Whether it is the coffee you serve, the snacks you offer, the soap in your bathroom, or the paintings on your walls, the more you can support other businesses in your community, the stronger those businesses will be and the more true, local flair your business will have. Umpqua Bank is a strong example of this, leading the charge in rethinking what the branch office experience could feel like, and how to more impactfully celebrate the local businesses they support. Capital One followed their example by opening the Capital One Cafes. In both instances, these companies were able to make an emotional connection with the public in a way that no traditional branch office could and, in doing so, they opened up an entire new channel of customers and revenue. 

Highlight real people and places from the community. 

There are few things that drive us more crazy than brands claiming to have local cred and then using stock photography to represent that community. Rickshaw is a well-loved San Francisco brand, most known for their messenger bags. A quick visit to their website and you will see recognizable landmarks and real San Franciscans interacting with the product. No lifestyle stock photography here! Let’s face it, the phone in your pocket can take pretty amazing photos with enough resolution to make it up on a billboard, and there are plenty of real locals who would be more than happy to have their picture taken to appear in your next ad. By doing this you might gain new customers (and future brand evangelists) who will bring you the local cred you deserve.

While this work was done pre-COVID, and some of these best practices may be a bit difficult to implement right now, we believe that the essence of each is still relevant. And it’s an exciting challenge to think about how to bring these ideas to life in the more digitally-based, socially-distant world we currently live in.

(Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez)


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