How SMEs can unite to 10x marketing spend through strategic collaborations in their communities

lojo festival community

Source: Chege Mbuthi Photography

After three years of battling the pandemic and its economic aftershocks, small businesses are still struggling to regain their pre-pandemic footing. I firmly believe that tough times makes for better business. Ahead of the continued economic turbulence, urban retail and hospitality SMEs must proactively weatherproof their businesses. The answer: strategic collaborations, community experiences and local government and council grants.

One of the most underutilised resources for startups with physical premises in Australia is the local council funding programs.

A prime example is the City of Yarra’s Pandemic Recovery Grant, which provided an excellent opportunity for local businesses to come together as a collective and deliver projects that activated, promoted and enhanced their services. In 2022, my agency, True Tribe, collaborated with local traders on Johnston Street in Abbotsford to lead the way in repositioning the precinct as a lifestyle destination and increasing visitors to the area.

In close consultation with the traders, our team delivered a multi-pronged strategy including a campaign that reintroduced the precinct as a food, music and art destination aptly named LOJO. Partnering with local illustrator Lynn Bremner we created a brand identity to reflect the vibrant and diverse community through various digital and print assets including tote bags, window decals, posters, a website and social media content. We also held a day-long festival that attracted almost 2,000 visitors, 5,500 unique web visitors and over 500 email subscribers in a 4-week campaign period. In 2023, the festival was funded again and more than doubled last year’s numbers. 

lojo festival

Some moments from the LOJO festival. Source: Chege Mbuthi Photography

There are so many ways that local businesses can unite to create a splash in the community, some other great examples include:

The benefits of these campaigns have been overwhelming. By collaborating with other businesses in the area, traders can create a one-of-a-kind and engaging experience that entices visitors to stay longer and support the local economy while instilling a sense of community pride. Additionally for traders, learning from one another, diversifying their offerings and helping boost their team’s morale can sustain their business in the long term. Many of these campaigns have gone on to receive ongoing council support, like LOJO.

It’s clear that a collaborative effort between local traders and innovative strategists can breathe new life into a retail precinct. That’s why I’m calling on SMEs to apply for funding opportunities, and if that’s not an option — lobby for them. In today’s ever-changing retail landscape, local marketing campaigns should be at the forefront of any economic recovery and business support strategy.

Are you a brick-and-mortar business looking to kick-start your own campaign? Here’s a guide on how you can work together with the local council to create an experience and revive retail precincts.

Find your collective

All it takes is a shared vision between two or more businesses to get started. You can come together based on a common theme in the goods or services you provide or simply geographic proximity. Unsure of who to approach? Hit the pavement in your neighbourhood and get networking. You’ll be surprised who you haven’t met yet.

Hold a bluesky meeting

Begin with a brainstorming session to get everyone’s goals and ideas out into the air. Then arrow down to the most suitable concept that you could execute with your combined resources. And if you had the opportunity, could you scale your idea with additional funds?

Develop a proposal

A good pitch cuts straight to the chase. Keep it under 10 slides with these basics:

  1. Problem – What challenges are you as traders facing together?
  2. Solution – How will your campaign create value for traders and the community?
  3. Project plan – What activities you will carry out and when? Will you be using local suppliers?
  4. Marketing plan – How will you promote your campaign? 
  5. Budget – Where will funds be allocated?

Reach out to your local Economic Development Coordinator

Call your local council to get in touch directly and introduce yourself and the traders involved then send through the pitch with a request to review. Remember, nothing is immediate. If they’re interested in hearing more, you will be invited to elaborate further or apply for an existing or upcoming grant which aligns with your proposal.

If at first you don’t succeed, DIY

If your proposal is declined — that’s okay. Request feedback on where you could improve and build from that. You can always resubmit your initial proposal once you have the results and data to back your solution.

Clarissa Harris is the managing director of True Tribe. 


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