Pat Reese, Chief Media Strategist, Rooster Strategic Solutions

Targeting the Rural Lifestyle Audience (RLA) is like staring up at a snowstorm. All the individual elements look similar, but they’re all very different. And if you’re not careful, it’s easy to get buried!

Fortunately, there are a few simple steps that will improve your chance of reaching and persuading one of the fastest-growing segments of the agricultural market.

Get your website in order. This is the golden rule for any marketer, but especially those catering to the RLA, which can be loosely defined as an acreage owner who derives the bulk of their income from non-farming sources. They’re going to do their research online before they contact any suppliers, to save time, and to save from being embarrassed in a store or service that sells to full-time farmers. It’s imperative that your website clearly explains what your product or service is, what it does, and how it can help the RLA, as well as your store’s location, hours, and any supplemental information.

Make your first-party data work harder. My colleague James Arnold penned a terrific article on targeting the RLA. It all starts with a deep dive into your sales history to identify who is already purchasing your products or services. It’s a step that a lot of marketers miss, which is a pity, since working from your first-party data is almost always a better and cheaper option than purchasing a list of RLA prospects or carpet-bombing rural areas with traditional media.

The #1 Rule of RLA Media Planning: Location, location, location. And when it comes to location, the more local, the better. In short, targeting the RLA is all about understanding where that audience is already meeting.

When I first moved out to the country – and joined the vast Rural Lifestyle Audience! –  I spent a lot of time visiting the local coop and asking lots of questions. Once they got past the fact that I owned a Chevy truck rather than a Ford, they were all very helpful. Putting on my media planner’s hat, I saw huge opportunities for marketing products and services at this same coop and other similar, local farm stores: window signs, counter-mats, and other in-store point-of-purchase materials are excellent and cost-effective ways to get your message out to the RLA. Putting your messaging where your audience is seems basic, and it is, but it also will require a certain amount of investigative work to identify where your audience is gathered. County shows? Gardening Expos? FFA and 4H Events? Local high school sports? Once you’ve identified places where your prospective audience members are already meeting, you can create unique and cost-effective ways to get your message in front of them.

Be part of what they do, as well as where they live. Too many marketers focus on property addresses, as opposed to the people who live there. Buying a list of rural owners is the simplest form of RLA targeting. Unfortunately, it’s also the last or only step that many would-be RLA marketers take, and if so, they’re missing the point.

Yes, I live in the country, and my name shows up on lists of C and D County owners, along with thousands of other names. But for me, living in the country is a means to my passion, which is all about horses. Targeting me with equestrian products and services would be far more successful than reaching out to me solely “because I live in the country.”

The Rural Lifestyle Audience can be sliced and diced a million different ways. Many are family oriented. Some of them enjoy gardening and hobby farming. Many raise some livestock for fun or additional profit. Focusing on your target’s affinities and hobbies will serve you better than addressing them as a “rural landowner.”

Traditional media won’t do the job. I have clients who spent a lot of money on radio advertising until I told them they were probably wasting their time and money. Traditional broadcast simply has too much waste in too many instances for my taste. If you’re a big company hoping to reach a wide target – multiple states, for instance – then maybe it makes sense, but you’d have to buy so many different stations it’s going to run the tab up quickly. I’d still recommend niche programming, based on your target’s affinities (see above). For instance, equine shows on RFD Television give you national reach to a targeted audience.

For smaller companies, broadcast makes even less sense, unless you can identify a very localized position. For instance, running ads during high school sports events might be a cost-effective way to reach a family-friendly rural audience, but even then, you’re likely better off buying a sign on the high school’s stadium wall or advertising in its printed programs.

Digital and social media are better – but generally more difficult. Here again, it’s all about how well you know your audience and what you’ve done with your first-party data. Paid social efforts, along with social influencers, can increase your reach significantly to interested parties – if you have a good list from which to work and the time and knowledge to optimize your creative based on metrics. It’s a long-term strategy, not a quick fix, and you’re likely going to need help from a trusted partner.

In summary, tapping the Rural Lifestyle Audience isn’t easy, but it’s possible, and can be a potentially lucrative strategy. If you have any questions about the steps here, or aren’t sure where to begin, I’d love to have a conversation.