Municipalities are built of many departments that help keep communities safe, informed, and operating smoothly. A solid marketing strategy and city branding can make all the difference in forging trust and a sense of unity, especially during times of uncertainty.
It wasn't long ago that municipal marketing was primarily focused on advertising a city to visitors as an exciting vacation spot. These days, cities use marketing campaigns as a way to keep in touch with their own residents, but many might not be utilizing the digital out-of-home (DOOH) space to their full advantage. If you're unfamiliar with DOOH, it's basically a digital form of outdoor advertising that appears in places that are accessible to the public.
In this article, we explore what municipal marketing looks like for local governments in the United States, common problem areas, and how DOOH can add value to a city's strategy.
Municipalities use marketing as a way to share crucial resources with their residents as well as more light-hearted messages about events or activities in the city. A few common strategies to help raise awareness and increase participation include:
-Engaging on social media
-Developing mobile apps
-Using traditional billboards and signage
-Running ads on local TV stations
Depending on budgets and funding, cities may have an expansive internal team or a smaller group that reaches out to contract workers and agencies when needed for large campaigns and projects. In either scenario, it's beneficial to occasionally get a fresh perspective from someone who works on marketing or advertising outside of the "government bubble."
A tale of two branded cities
Dallas, Texas is an example of a large city that has established branding and consistent messaging throughout its communications. The city has its own distinct logo and set of brand colors that are found in most of their materials, which builds their reputation among residents.
Their voice and personality are also recognizable— informative, reassuring, and ready to crack a joke when the right moment arises.
Like many cities in the U.S., Dallas was faced with the responsibility to keep its community safe and informed during the pandemic and subsequent uncertainties. Texas metropolitan areas were especially impacted by COVID-19 outbreaks. The City of Dallas actively shared safety updates, relief programs, information sessions, feedback opportunities, and much more.
The sheer amount of communication that happens between their city departments and the public is hard work on its own, but there's also the fact that Dallas has a wide range of residents with various backgrounds and dominant languages. This is an area where DOOH can come in handy.
The issue: Effectively reaching different populations across the city
Solution: A strategic mix of large format DOOH and digital in-store
Municipal marketing campaigns in cities like Dallas have to consider messaging and tone adjustments depending on which audience it's addressing. By arranging digital content on street furniture or billboards plus screens in places like gas stations, shopping outlets, or grocery stores, your team can tailor each message according to what works best in that area.
Audiences have positive reactions to targeted content that speaks to them, and you can increase engagement by making campaigns contextually relevant as well.
For example, if your city wants to inform people about vaccine rollouts in local grocery store pharmacies, launching an ad on a digital in-store network like Grocery TV would be a compelling way to get the message across.
Roswell, New Mexico is another example of a municipality that has created a memorable and consistent brand identity— drawing from their unique history and association as the site of an alleged UFO crash. Although their overall marketing goal as a city resembles other towns across the country, Roswell has a much smaller population with its own outlook and set of community concerns.
Their content online tends to be more personal, with frequent updates featuring images of their staff members, but still keeping each message straight-forward and focused. During the early days of COVID-19, they utilized multiple channels - like Facebook ads, email updates, text updates, and newspaper ads - for their residents and partners to keep up with the latest news.
In small towns, odds are you might run into some funding issues along the way even without the added complications from a pandemic. Thalia Pantoja, Marketing Coordinator for City of Roswell, shared with us, "With a reduction in our budget, we were looking for new ways to continue advertising to our citizens in Roswell."
Spreading awareness of local programs and learning opportunities was important to her department, especially to increase engagement. Many of our partners first encounter the Grocery TV network while they're shopping in stores themselves, which speaks to how effective outdoor screens can be at capturing attention.
The issue: Advertising with a reduced or limited budget
Solution: Affordable digital screens when and where you need them
When you add traditional forms of advertising such as a TV spot or large print billboards into your strategy along with paid social, the costs can add up quickly. With DOOH or digital in-store, there's a lot of flexibility with pricing depending on where you're advertising, what time of day the ad plays, and how often you want the ad to play.
Thalia's team chose Grocery TV as one of the channels to advertise a set of their city resources and events, including the reminder below about Roswell's "FixIt Form". By selecting a few local stores around the city, they were able to get their campaigns in front of residents right at the center of their community while staying within their budget.
"I think Grocery TV is good for reaching that middle ground," Thalia stated. "We're really getting families and community members involved."
Common marketing struggles in all cities
We discussed some of the road bumps that cities can run into depending on their particular situation, but there are also shared issues that pop up regardless of your size, resources, or location in the U.S.
One of which is a problem that will only continue to grow, and serves as a reminder of how much persistence and creativity are necessary when executing a new campaign.
The issue: Overload of online content and paid ads
Solution: Outdoor impressions and experiences
These days, online advertising is so oversaturated with content that it can be hard to grab someone's attention through a Facebook ad or a social media campaign alone. By incorporating DOOH or digital in-store screens to the mix, you're adding a compelling, brand-safe touchpoint along the marketing funnel.
DOOH offers people a change of pace from the content on their phones or laptops. Interactive and auditory screens are an example of developing technologies that present engaging ways to connect your brand with residents out in the city.
The next topic deals with something we can all recognize after the past few years— rapid news updates and unexpected changes left and right.
The issue: Adjusting ad content while it's live
Solution: Flexible DOOH platforms
If you decide to utilize an outdoor display to really catch people's attention, such as a PSA campaign on health safety guidelines, there's a chance that the content will need to be changed if new information surfaces.
Editing physical media is a time-consuming process, and would also require a crew of workers to remove and replace the existing signage. On the other hand, the digital nature of DOOH offers a simple and efficient way to update your creative at any point during a campaign.
Although municipal marketing is familiar with traditional OOH displays, there's a huge opportunity to make an impact using DOOH's creative capabilities and tech-friendly platforms.
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