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5 steps to building your regional Scotland Loves Local Gift Card: insight from East Ayrshire

One of the most successful, and innovative, local gift cards in Scotland is the East Ayrshire Gift Card. Over £250,000 of East Ayrshire Gift Cards were sold in 2021. Tracy Murray, Town Centre Regeneration Officer and Catriona Cochrane, Communications Officer at East Ayrshire Council, shared their 5 steps to building your regional Scotland Loves Local Gift Card.

  1. Work out your primary messaging and collaborate

“The first step is to get together with relevant partners, such as business associations, project leads and communications teams, and work out your primary messaging, so it can become a consistent across your communications. For us, this has involved marketing the gift card but also the businesses, as part of our wider love local and community wealth building messages, helping people to realise what’s on their doorsteps. Collaboration has been key for the success of the East Ayrshire Gift Card. By working in partnership with our business associations, we’ve had a stronger impact, with a shared vision and goal.”

  1. Be creative in your marketing

“Through Love Local funding that the Kilmarnock Business Association received from STP, we were able to create several videos about the gift card which also highlighted businesses too, as well as banners featuring well-known local businesses. One way that we used the power of word of mouth was by using the gift card for random acts of kindness, giving away £20 gift cards in the town centre. People would then go away and post about the gift card on their own social channels. We also worked with Kilmarnock Business Association on a fun promotion, hiding 10 gift cards in businesses in the town that people had to spot, this gave the businesses a bit of publicity too.

“If there was an opportunity to promote the gift card, from winning advertising space on a digital billboard to advertising in the Ayrshire Magazine, local radio or social media, we did it. Since the launch, we’ve created a distinctive and friendly voice for the gift card, focusing on creating content that people want to engage with, and finding a hook, whether that’s shopping for school uniforms, putting your feet up now they kids are back at school, or creating a whole team of animals to ‘run’ the social media accounts. Be as creative in your approach as possible, make it fun and engaging and look for every opportunity to promote the gift card.”

  1. Don’t forget the internal communications

“It’s vital that you work closely with your communications department, to enable your colleagues within the council to understand what the gift card is. Yes, you need to communicate that you have a gift card to the community and the public but you also need to communicate internally, and regularly. For us this was about twice a month, but it was sometimes up to four times a month. If an email was being sent to colleagues about something else, we’d also include an advert about the gift card too. It helped to consistently remind staff about the fact they had this local gift card they could use in their activities, but also as individuals too. As the East Ayrshire Gift Card is bright and cheerful, it enhanced every communication. It got to the point where colleagues started to contact us, asking if they could use the gift card for initiatives like employee of the month and for competitions.”

  1. Think about the wider uses of the gift card for your local authority area

“Elected members and senior officers realised quickly that there could be a bigger role for the gift card in East Ayrshire. A big project was the use of the gift card to those in receipt of free school meals. In addition to the Scottish Government hardship payment, the council put in additional funding and added a £20 East Ayrshire Gift Card for the children within the Christmas food boxes. The beauty of using the East Ayrshire Gift Card was that it removed any potential stigma. Families had the choice of where to spend the gift card, rather than just a single shop or a few shops, and there was nothing to mark them out for using the gift card. Dignity, empowerment and choice were keywords of this initiative and it was successful. Almost immediately after being issued before Christmas, the cards were being spent on items for Christmas lunches, in toy shops, and sports stores, even by children buying a present for their parent. It enabled families to have a good Christmas dinner, or to buy school clothes for the New Year, and even now, it is quite emotional to think of the impact the gift card had for our families in East Ayrshire, and also for our businesses. We made sure to contact the families who had received the gift cards too, reminding them and encouraging them to use it.”

  1. Get feet on the ground to build your gift card offer, building the number and variety of businesses

“Building a gift card with a good number and variety of businesses was a priority for us and enabled projects like the Christmas food boxes to be a success and people could spend locally. For example, if someone who lived in Dalmellington received an East Ayrshire Gift Card but there were no businesses where they could spend it locally, they’d have to get on the bus, spending £14 to enable them to spend that £20 gift card, which wouldn’t make sense. We have some quite rural areas in East Ayrshire, so we engaged part time staff for a period of time, got them fully versed in the gift card, and made it our mission to hit everywhere. Face to face is always better as you can explain the gift card in person. It is hard work but it pays off. Don’t think that it just has to be shops either, as the variety of businesses really helps to sell the card and make it useful for a number of projects. One of our most surprisingly successful gift card businesses is a local garage.

“We launched in August 2020 with 80 businesses, and we’re now at over 200. The message to businesses has always been, this is a free initiative and it’s just another way to accept payment. With the disbursement of funds project underway, there was an extra incentive for businesses to sign up. We’d explain that there was money there waiting to be spent, they just had to sign up and tell customers they accepted the card to get a slice of it. To maximise where people could spend the East Ayrshire Gift Card we also linked it to our Digital High Street which is delivered by ShopAppy, this allowed people to also shop locally online.

“For us, the East Ayrshire Gift Card has made a huge impact and in 2022, we’ll continue to grow and develop our gift card, benefiting our people, our businesses and our local authority area.”