James Arnold, Chief Digital Officer, Rooster Strategic Solutions

What looks like a farmer, acts like a farmer, and thinks like a farmer, but isn’t technically a farmer? The elusive and often frustrating “Rural Lifestyle Audience.”

Most agricultural marketers are already aware of this puzzling segment of the rural population, and those who ignore it do so at their peril. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 60 million people – nearly one out of every five Americans – live in rural America, and the numbers grow higher every year. Many, but certainly not all of these, are potential customers for agricultural products.

Marketers pursuing this evasive audience are typically reduced to one of two strategies: Purchasing a list or trying to create one from scratch.

Even if you buy it, they still might not come. Purchasing a list is almost always a faster option than building one. And there’s no shortage of potential partners willing to sell you a list of RLA prospects. Most of them will use demographic criteria, such as address, income, age, or property size to lump together a group of related property owners and call it “Rural Lifestyle Audience.” If you’re working with a reputable publisher or agency, this can be a good and economical place to begin. If you’re working with the wrong partner, however, you’re likely buying a list of property owners in C and D Counties. Some of these may be the RLA prospects, but most won’t, and you’ll likely never know the difference.

But even with a reputable partner, your initial list is going to be HUGE, and there’s no way of knowing which names are good and which are bad. Fortunately, there’s a much more effective method. It requires a little more work, but the results often pay for themselves.

The DIY approach: A process of elimination. The key to building a good RLA list is a matter of subtraction, not addition. It comes down to picking the prospects that give you the greatest access for the least cost. In short, you want to bite off the ones you can afford.

Start by looking at your own data, specifically your sales history, and identify who you’re already selling to. Then find people who look like them. Making your first-party data work harder is almost always a better option that purchasing a blanket list of cold prospects.

Think of it this way: If you walk into an equipment dealership, there’s a good chance that 50 percent of the employees there are also farmers with significant acreages. It’s in the blood! The other 50 percent are likely strong candidates for your RLA list. They look and act and talk like the farm audience because they ARE the farm audience. Their personas will line up with that of farmers because they also love the land, they’re active in the community, they go to church and coach little league and they may even grow some crops and raise a few animals, just like farmers. They’re not tourists, and they’re not just visiting.

This is a critical insight for two reasons. For one, as an Ag Marketer, you’re starting from a position of strength. You already know where to find farmers, as well as how and when best to talk to them. And with a deep dive into your sales data, you can begin to identify prospects who look like farmers, but don’t have the same characteristics of the full-time farm audience – basically, these are the hidden RLA prospects you want to reach.

The second reason this is vital is because you already know how to talk to farmers, and the messaging to the RLA audience should be very similar. The advertising world is replete with well-intentioned pitches to the RLA that fell flat because the marketers didn’t understand the farm audience. Putting a cowboy hat on a beautiful model wearing expensive clothes doesn’t give a company “farm-cred,” it just makes them look dumb. Whether you’re speaking to a 1,000-acre farmer or a high school teacher who’s raising a family on twenty acres in the country with livestock for a 4H competition, authenticity matters.

Make sure you find a good partner. Whether you decide to purchase a list or build your own, you’re likely going to need help. A good partner can help you refine a generic list of prospects culled from demographic resources by sifting it through ag-specific lenses, such as machine ownership, affinity groups, willingness to hire out for services, or even attitudinal influences like risk. And if you’re interested in formulating a data strategy of your own, you need a partner who can offer as much or as little help as you need.

If you have any questions, or aren’t sure where to begin, I’d love to have a conversation.