California Love: Part 2

Saturday, July 15 2017 Jeff Marshall EVP, Customer Solutions Categories:

Using hometown loyalty to break free from negative narratives


Last month, I wrote about the California Milk Advisory Board, and explained how connecting brands with local values can make brands stronger. For the organization in that piece, tapping into the dominating Narratives meant aligning Californian milk with Californians’ (figurative) thirst for “realness.” The message resonated and it worked out very well for the organization. But what do you do if your business isn’t inherently aligned with the local belief systems? What if, in fact, your primary audience is your hardest sell? Believe it or not, local identity can serve a function there as well.


Organic dairy is a fairly easy sell to the typical Californian, but non-renewable energy is not. Several years ago, an energy company headquartered in California approached us with a request: how can we break through existing negative Narratives about energy in our home state and get consumers to give our business a chance?


With some investigation, Protagonist discovered that the company in question didn’t participate in many of the negative practices that its competitors in other states did. In fact, the client was much gentler on the environment than many companies with more glowing reputations.The problem was that in order to demonstrate those differences, the company needed to catch the public’s attention.


Through research, we revealed that the California landscape was relatively set in its conceptions around energy. Clearly, this was why early marketing techniques had failed to make much of a dent in the business’s success with locals. However, it also exposed an opportunity that the company hadn’t considered: an appeal to Californian local pride.


Californians feel a strong sense of loyalty to their local communities, and are particularly driven to support innovation and entrepreneurialism. Our energy customer was a relatively small, ambitious company that had operated in the state for decades, but hadn’t emphasized that fact in their marketing. Protagonist recommended that the client start by aligning itself with the California Narrative. The strength of that loyalty and community Narrative would strengthen the business’s standing, and give it the platform it needed to distance itself from the many negative Narratives about energy that didn’t apply to its current practices.


By positioning itself first as a dedicated local business, then as an energy company, and then as an ethical energy company, aligned with the values of the locale, the client was able to gain traction in the state’s mindspace. Ultimately, through this repositioning and alignment with their local buyers, they established a connection, and it meant more customers, and more revenue.