Billboard reading "Marketing to Rural Audiences"

Reaching rural audiences in marketing is no easy feat. In fact, it takes a lot more feet on the ground than you might expect! The MHP/Team SI Family of Companies is well-versed in engaging with rural communities, and our track record proves it. From telecommunications to agriculture, we’ve rolled up our sleeves and put in the good old-fashioned work needed to plant the seeds of effective rural marketing and watch our clients flourish.

Many of us at MHP/Team SI were born and raised right here in the South, so it’s in our DNA to understand rural marketing. Over the span of several years, we’ve worked with farmers across several states and developed a rural branding playbook around grassroots and traditional marketing. We’ve taken the time to actually go where the farmers are—often coffee shops around 5 a.m. before heading out to the field—to learn from them and build relationships. Our localized approach has set us apart from larger agencies that don’t quite understand what actually works in rural communities.

Developing a Rural Marketing Strategy

We recognize that in order to appeal to rural audiences, brands need to: 

  • Be approachable
  • Be believable 
  • Be honest
  • Strike the right tone for the consumer

We also know that people in small towns have a loyalty to their local media. Connection and community are incredibly important to people in rural audiences, so we take a community-heavy, local marketing approach that delivers serious results. As a digital-forward agency, it is important not to assume that everyone is as tech-savvy as we are. Traditional marketing techniques are an excellent choice in most rural communities, and nostalgia is a powerful rural marketing tool. Luckily for our clients, our team is always prepared to get our hands dirty and get to work reaching their customer base.

Rural communities are our bread and butter, and we know how to listen first and strategically build local marketing plans that will drive results for our clients. From monitoring Facebook groups to see what target audiences are saying about our products to encouraging clients to be a part of community-focused efforts, we do what it takes to be seen and successful in the towns we serve. We know from experience that messaging has to be different depending on location, even if locations are within the same state. That’s why we strive to speak to our rural audiences with the voice, accent and imagery that people in each area are familiar with.

We were innovative with “influencers” in agriculture before modern-day “influencers” were ever even a thing. By building relationships with the leading farmers and entrepreneurs within certain areas, our clients were able to show off their products where it mattered most—in the field. Consumers would hear about our clients’ products and services on the radio during their morning commute, pass creative billboards on their way to the seed store and even see the field signs we put up detailing the varieties that farmers were planting. Word of mouth is a powerful tool among rural audiences, and our rural branding efforts got people talking.

We also understand the value of relationship in rural marketing. People in rural areas are also used to being able to talk to salesmen face to face. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, that became a challenge. We set up marketing automation and made it easy for consumers to FaceTime with salesmen, chat online and receive emails from their local sales representatives. This fostered a sense of relationship when coming to the store just wasn’t an option.

Through our own experience growing up and living in the South and years of working with clients who sought to reach rural audiences, we developed a winning strategy. Now, we’d like to share just a few of the stories that demonstrate our success.

Finding our Footing in Agriculture

Hartz Seed was the first seed company we worked for, and we helped them establish their brand beyond Arkansas. Our success with Hartz led to Delta & Pine Land Company hiring us due to our budding reputation in the agriculture marketing industry. This allowed us to lend a helping hand to other brands under their umbrella, including Paymaster Cottonseed and Deltapine. The further along we got, the broader the assignments got, from small, family-owned companies to national companies trying to find the “secret sauce” to successful rural marketing. MHP even became the marketing firm for the first commercialized hybrid rice variety sold to farmers in America and helped launch that entire industry. It’s no wonder we called ourselves an “agritising agency” for years.

Creating a Buzz for Word-of-Mouth Advertising

One of the more inventive campaigns we ran was for Hartz Seed Company. We centered the campaign around a “field day” at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis for “Hartz Raise the Roof.” We rented the roof of the Peabody and placed an enormous soybean plant prop that went from the floor to the ceiling in the conference room area. Then, we set it up to look like it was growing through the roof up above. Several influential farmers were invited to the rooftop party, and we successfully spread the word about how Hartz allows you to “get more Jack out of your beanstalk.” Our prop made it into several key trade journals and farming communities were buzzing with excitement.

A County-by-County Approach to Rural Marketing

Stihl Power Equipment hired us to help run their dealer marketing program. We did a deep dive into more than 80 counties—and there were close to 100 dealers within those counties—to understand what the market looked like in each one. We researched the county seat, popular newspapers and local radio stations in all of these specific areas so we could strategize and reach people where they needed to be reached. It was important for us to understand that rural communities are not a monolith. An in-depth, county-by-county approach brought better results. Brand awareness soared, and soon this German company was well-known across small towns throughout the South.

Applying Rural Marketing Techniques for a Fortune 500 Telecom Company

Telecom marketing isn’t new to our team, and we’ve helped several telecommunications companies achieve success in reaching audiences in rural towns over the years. Our traditional, community-focused approach has set us apart from agencies across the country. 

When Kinetic by Windstream came to MHP/Team SI, the Fortune 500 telecom company was having difficulty reaching customers in rural areas in northern Georgia. They were also struggling with a negative reputation, and many potential customers didn’t even realize their services were available in their neighborhoods. Their nationally-targeted media strategy was completely missing the mark in smaller communities they served across 18 states. What they needed was a great rural marketing plan, and MHP/Team SI delivered.

Our team put our feet on the ground, both literally and figuratively, to reach the rural audiences they critically needed to reach. We did our demographic research, formed relationships with local on-air personalities across the country and purchased ads in small, local publications that customers would actually see. Billboards went up and our rural PR team got involved with local chambers and community organizations to tell Windstream’s story. Things turned around and negative talk began to subside over the course of several months. People began to really believe in the brand and Windstream saw a positive turnaround in consumer sales. Rural branding had worked like a charm. For four years, we continued to drive significant turnarounds across Windstream’s entire footprint and things finally moved in the right direction for the company.

Establishing relationships with local news outlets and digging into traditional rural branding techniques proved to be a winning strategy for Windstream. From billboards to promotional stickers on pizza boxes, we did what was necessary to not only appeal to Windstream’s target audience, but to forge relationships within the community that are still alive and well to this day.

The Bottom Line

Traditional advertising, community, attention to location and relationship-building are the threads running through everything when it comes to reaching rural audiences. It’s a huge mistake to underestimate the value of rural branding in the many small, agricultural communities all over the country. Over the years, we’ve expanded our rural marketing playbook into other categories, including banking, financial services and more.  Are you trying to reach a rural demographic and ready to see what we can do to make your company more successful?

Get in touch with us by filling out the form below!


    Kayla Baugh