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For starters, we now have two new channels for marketing and selling our products or clients' products. This also means we must begin finding these target customers and communicating more strategically with them.

We have to begin to engage with these new targets in the way with which they like to be communicated. Messaging is different, their trusted inner circle of communication ap-proval is not the same, their goals are very focused, but, most are searching to be educated and guided through this "rural experience."

As marketers, we can begin to build targeted microsites, e-newsletters and integration between offline and online messages that meet these needs. Technology provides an opportunity to build relationships with non-traditional farmers. Most companies have not yet recognized that, or taken advantage of that.

I have discussed in prior articles how behavioral online media has opened the doors for us to communicate and segment our touch points beyond the standard vehicles. This trend in rural migration justifies the need for online media to begin to look beyond the norm.

That boomer moving to the country might want a horse or need a tractor, and could start growing some crops. It is time to find where they are and personalize our messaging to them.

The digital economy levels the playing field. A proprietary advantage today is commonplace tomorrow.

The Internet eliminates much of the human element in traditional buying and selling. It increasingly turns transactions for goods and services into a virtual commodity pit.

A brand and its relationship with customers is often the only unique, ownable, sustainable asset in which a firm can invest. Companies must engage individuals in a personal way. Brands dictate the relevant experience that grants priceless loyalty.

Questions to ask when targeting a new audience ...
• Do you have a brand strategy focused on the non-traditional rural audience?
• How did you develop your brand strategy?
• What's the customer experience - is there room for improvement?
• What are the short- and long-term objectives for the strategy?
• How is your brand/product service/company positioned in the rural marketplace?
• How do you measure your position in the marketplace? Offline/Online?
• Who are your competitors and how are they positioned in the marketplace?
• How well do you know these customers/consumers?
• What marketing messages do you send now, and what must be changed?
• How do you define the rural target audience?
• How could you improve customer loyalty with a new audience?
• Could you strengthen your online and offline presence with a better, more relevant connection to the rural customers/consumers?

Mark Green ( is VP, director of digital marketing for Osborn & Barr Communications.

What is "rural" anyway?

• According to the U.S. Census Bureau of 2003, the definition of rural or "Micropolitan Statistical Area"* is:
• Areas that fall under 50,000 residents

Rural America is growing ...
• They represent one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. landscape.
• More than 71% of rural counties gained population.
• Migration of urban dwellers accounted for most of this increase.
• Fewer rural people left for the cities.
*Source: U.S Census Bureau 2003

Targeting the rural marketplace used to mean you were targeting small communities of legacy farmers or producers. That is still the case, but we now have a rare opportunity to market to two new segments.

(Sub)urban professionals seeking the country lifestyle:
• "Hobby farmers" or Large Property Owners "LPOs"; they crave moderate tracts of land (greater than 50 acres) and the simplicity of the rural lifestyle.
• Those who seek the lifestyle but do not aspire to operate a farm; 35-50; less than $100,000 household income.
• Young children in the household; want a peaceful life for the family and may continue to commute to a full-time job in a larger city.

Boomers looking for a "dream home" in the country.
• They've worked their way up the home ladder and are thinking around retiring. They want that dream home, the cute farmhouse or lakefront property; household income is more than $85K.
• May be large or more moderate homes, but existing home is almost paid off.

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