UNDERSTANDING THE RURAL LIFESTYLER
by Julie Schwalbe, Gen'l Mgr, Living the Country Life
With any business, it's important to learn what you don't know about your market. This is certainly the case for the rapidly growing rural lifestyle market, where there seems to be many more questions than answers.
Living the Country Life, a joint venture media company of Meredith Corporation and Learfield Communications, Inc., since April is helping marketers better understand the psyche and other characteristics of the more than 27 million households in this market as estimated by the NAFB Rural Lifestyle Report.
Betsy Freese, Editor of Living the Country Life magazine and host of the TV program, says while much has been learned about this audience, there's a lot more to uncover, especially in what, how and when to communicate with them. Freese, who has been covering this market for six years and who lives in the country with her family, has learned much from her own experiences as well as from others.
Freese says that since September 11, 2001, more people are choosing to live in the country, and they're willing to spend lots of money — more than $32 billion annually — on rural lifestyle goods and services. Unfortunately, many media and marketers haven't been able to keep pace in finding accurate information about this audience.
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE EMOTION
"I quickly realized from our 'Beautiful Places' program that people wanted to share more than just pretty pictures of homes and barns and rural settings," Freese says. "They wanted to share the emotion behind the landscape, why they created these special environments that offer them comfort and peace of mind.
"I receive a lot of photos and letters from people telling me about their projects," she explains. "And they go into great detail about why they made something a certain way or put something in a certain place. To many of them, it's all about creating that special place just for them, and they enjoy sharing the reasons behind it."
Freese offers some additional insight into the thinking of this audience, noting that many country residents are especially proud of their rural places and what they have accomplished, and many want to show it off. "They are very passionate not only about what they do, but WHY they do it."
Freese says that as part of their efforts to create something special, rural residents don't always do things the easiest or quickest way. "Generally, they do projects or build things in more unique ways or on a different scale. As a result, they often make things bigger than what they had envisioned, which can quickly become more work than what they had planned."
NO GOING BACK & OTHER
Another interesting aside, Freese says, is that she's never heard from anyone who's given up the rural lifestyle and returned to urban or suburban life. "I think that's very indicative of how committed these people are to this lifestyle and how deeply rooted this life is in them," she adds. "For the vast majority, it's been a long-held, well-thought-out dream that they are living and they have no desire to go back."
An important attraction to the rural lifestyle is the freedom it provides homeowners and families. Many are disillusioned with all the rules and restrictions that urban neighborhoods and suburban communities place on residents. They are fed up with rules and regulations about their pets, gardens, landscaping and building improvements.
COUNTRY LIVING ASSOCIATION
Courtney Yuskis, Exec. Dir of the 11,000-member Country Living Association notes this audience rates high on information seeking and the use of technologies and media to satisfy their thirst for information and to make their rural lifestyle possible.
"We know this audience includes heavy users of technology such as computers, the Internet, satellite TV and multi-media," says Yuskis. "We also know they like to share their experiences with others, as well as learn from other rural residents. That's one reason we started conducting Webinars and are looking at other ways to provide our members more information on topics that are important to them."
Currently, the Country Living Association is working with the University of Missouri Extension Service on a rural life study to gain additional insight into what kinds of information this audience wants and how they want to receive it. The association will share more details about this market and how to reach them at an outlook conference in Kansas City in October.
Living the Country Life's Freese adds that the research findings and other information about the rural lifestyle audience is helpful in building lasting, interactive relationships with them. "This segment is only going to grow and become more important to marketers," she says. "That's why we need to better understand how they think so we can provide the appropriate rural lifestyle product and service information they'll find value in."