America's Heartland - Ignore Them At Your Peril

By Ben Hale
Account Director

The small but very vocal consumer that makes up 14% of our nation’s population in small towns or rural areas is flexing its spending power and influence.

This Heartland of America was pivotal in electing our current president, and that fact alone is Exhibit A for how important this group is for marketers. While this segment of our society is often overlooked and sometimes completely ignored by corporate marketers, these folks have shown they shouldn’t be ignored.

There is a real opportunity to connect with them on a level other brands may have missed and demonstrate that they are valued. However, it is important to understand that this market looks and acts differently than consumers living in big cities, or even the suburbs. It’s important to understand those differences and to adjust your marketing plan accordingly.

Here are some thought starters, perhaps myth-busters, as you think about being inclusive for this audience.

Brand loyalty is king

It’s well known people in the Heartland are very brand loyal, especially when it comes to American-made and more especially when it comes to car ownership.

This loyalty extends to companies that feel like they are part of the community.

Strategies such as partnering with local organizations (schools, local organizations, chamber of commerce) can go a long way in smaller towns. The financial infusion can mean a great deal. Understand and communicate how your product or service makes their life better.

Media selection is critical

If you are a national or regional brand, understand that national trends may not always apply to rural America. Instead, a more hyper-local approach may be the better play. It requires more work, but can be much more effective.

Local radio and print are alive and strong in these areas. Many small communities rely on their local paper or radio station for relevant info on what’s happening in their town. In areas where farming is a way of life, both mediums provide important agricultural or weather information. Popular formats include county, public radio and religious radio. It should also be noted that the Latino population now makes up a significant portion of the rural population, according to the U.S. Census.

According to a recent study commissioned by innovative systems, only 4% of rural America has “cut the cord” by eliminating their cable or satellite service. In addition, these folks are likely to have satellite TV and radio, making partnerships with DirecTV, Dish Network, Sirius Radio and other satellite partners an important part of a communications mix.

Think strategically with digital

The rural audience does tend to skew older, with less access to broadband internet. This combination makes the audience less technologically savvy than other audiences as a whole. But this isn’t to say they don’t own a computer or mobile phone, in fact many do as a way to be connected to the rest of the world.

However, Heartlanders are not first adopters of technology or digital platforms. While they may not be Snapchatting at a record pace each day, they absolutely stay connected with friends and family on Facebook. Digital ad programs can effectively target this audience, but placements need to be in the right place (as with any audience).

These are just a few of the differences you need to consider when targeting rural America. Their lifestyle is different based on the environment around them. Just as with other audiences, if you understand the wants and desires of these 46 million people across the United States, you can build lifelong customers who are just as important as those big city folk.

Ben Hale is an account director at Nashville-based Bohan

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