The CEO of Loqiva, Marcus Chidgey, recently spoke at a Big South London event on the topic of Living Locally – A Greener, Healthier Future. We sat down with him to find out a bit more.
Q. You started off your presentation by saying that “Strong, healthy local communities are a good thing”. But does it really matter in 2022?
MC. More than ever. For so many reasons. Community is essential for our sense of belonging, our sense of togetherness and positivity. After two long years of waving at grandparents through the window and meeting work colleagues only on video calls,, I think the importance of real social connection with our friends and relatives is more obvious than ever.
Q. What do you think has changed in our communities since the pandemic?
MC. In a nutshell, everything! But for starters, shopping habits, community engagement and work culture. Some of the changes are fairly obvious, like the fact that we’re spending a lot more of our disposable income on utilities and food that we used to, and a lot less on transport and parking. But others are more subtle, like the value we place on our sense of community.
Q. Give me some examples.
MC. Well, my favourite example is this piece of advertising by a company called Jackarts. In April 2020, a thousand of these posters were put up in 10 cities around the UK. For me, it really summed up the tough times we experienced during the pandemic. I love the the idea of working together as a collective in a mutually beneficial way to make sure people were ok – be it for really practical reasons like food or harder to spot issues like mental health.
Another change in our world has come from where we source our information. I believe that people aren’t generally well informed about where they live, and about what’s happening in their local region. Regional newspapers are struggling for readership and advertising revenue, so they are gradually disappearing from our society. And the new, largely online, sources of news are notoriously unreliable.
Q. You mentioned that work culture has changed. You’re talking about working from home?
MC. Hybrid working is a key component. But it’s more than just the practical aspects like greater productivity and shorter commute. It’s the idea that the pandemic has made us reconsider what’s important in our lives.
The Great Resignation wasn’t all about quitting the city life to become a kale farmer. The stats show that most people who quit their jobs actually stayed within the same industry. So basically they found similar roles in better companies. Or with better, more flexible conditions. I saw recently that the Head of Machine Learning at Apple packed in his job because he was being forced to work from the office 3 days a week. Like I said, priorities!
Q. So all this additional working from home should benefit local economies, right?
MC. Yep. Less commuting should mean more money being spent in the local community.
Q. So the local high streets should be thriving?
MC. Well, not exactly. E-commerce is having a massive impact on the high street, along with the changes in consumer behaviour. People don’t go on ‘shopping trips’ as they once did. The concept of ‘Shop till you drop’ is just not that attractive.
But, for me, perhaps the biggest change is this concept of brand loyalty. People aren’t wedded to certain brands anymore. We buy based on a whole list of attributes – experience, ethics and value. In fact millennials and Generation Z want exclusivity – which is why limited edition shops and pop-ups have become all the rage in recent years.
What this all means is that we need to rethink town centres and cast them as community hubs. Provide retail and social experiences in ways more compatible with what people expect in 2022. Not 1992.
Q. This all sounds a ‘new age’?
MC. Ha! Well, in terms of taking care of each other and that sense of community, maybe it is a bit. But since we’re living in the digital age, it’s more about data.
Q. What does data have to do with our towns?
MC. It’s all about ownership of the data. Right now, a collection of US tech companies know about 100 times more about us than our local economy does. That can’t be good, can it?
Our high streets are disconnected from consumers and are data poor. They have very little means of engaging with their actual customers, and social media has been shown to be an ineffective channel to reach them.
The vast majority of town centre custom comes from customers within a few miles radius of the shops themselves. As a community, why don’t we know more about these customers upon whom our business relies?
If you take convenience stores for example, more than half of people who visit them live within a 1/4 of a mile – most of them prefer to walk than take the car. If we can keep people thinking local then the knock-on benefits are things like less congestion, reduced air pollution and carbon emissions.
The bigger question is why don’t local towns and businesses have real-time access to who is local to them, what footfall trends are day-by-day and harness this information to generate more sales and footfall.
Q. How would they do this?
MC. By implementing a digital town hub, such as Loqiva, so that place managers, local businesses and residents can collaborate to create thriving town centres.
Our hubs are installed and branded for each location on a Software as a Service (SaaS) basis. Residents benefit from a personalised phone app with real-time messaging; local businesses receive access to a web dashboard with innovative marketing tools; and place managers enjoy a comprehensive publishing and analytics suite.
Each hub aggregates data from residents and business activity to generate a unique dataset for each location. This empowers town stakeholders with the right information, at the right place and time, to make informed decisions that drive growth and prosperity.
Q. In your presentation you said that town should build their own digital “walled gardens” – what did you mean by that?
MC. The concept is that technology is so vital to high streets that we need to build our own “walled gardens” around our towns and own our own data – right now there’s nothing. The door is wide open for multinationals to price gouge, change algorithms at will, increases prices and frankly conflate the benefits of organic and paid-for content so people don’t actually know what’s going on anymore.
So what we do is we build town level networks comprising of cloud software, mobile phone apps and IoT devices to leverage place.
Q. And you expect communities to be better places to live because of this?
MC. I do. I genuinely believe that technology can bring better connections to the place we live. A greater sense of belonging. More community spirit, support for the local economy and care for the environment around us.
Q. So, it sounds like you are optimistic that we are heading towards a “Greener, Healthier Future”?
MC. I’m an optimist by nature so of course I’m bound to say yes!
What I would say is that there are a lot of promising signs. We hear more and more every year about terms that I had never heard of growing up, like circular economy, sustainability and corporate social responsibility.
The citizens of 2022 are demanding. And they know that their voice is powerful and capable of influencing change. They expect local government and businesses to be fully transparent, and to be making a positive impact on the world. When I see the UK government announce its largest ever Research and Development budget, it suggests to me that there is appetite in this country for innovation and technology within our society. So I am hopeful that resources and positive intentions are being funnelled in the right direction.
What we’re doing at Loqiva is a small part of this big jigsaw puzzle. We have already implemented our platform in multiple locations across the country, and I hope to see the same in every town and city in the country, creating prosperous and connected places, and making a real impact in local communities.