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Serving the rural lifestyle consumer market can present new sales opportunities, and some challenges, to marketers.

Many of the consumers in the segment are now owning animals (horses, cattle, poultry, etc. even companion animals) for the first time and have a plethora of questions about proper husbandry. Or, after years of being away from animals, they need a refresher of what they learned from their 4-H and FFA projects so many years ago.

Additionally, dealers of livestock products need a different set of services and approaches to the marketplace. Afterall, their heritage was to provide high volume, bulk and bag feed and animal health products to large commercial feeders.

To assist its consumers and dealers, Land O' Lakes Purina Feed recently introduced its new "Better Animals Program," the next generation of its "Gold Program" that was launched 13 years ago.

Centered around the theme "Animals Make Better People, We Make Better Animals," the program is designed to help customers' animals perform better, live longer, be healthier and, if the owner has commercial goals for their animals, produce more eggs, milk, jump higher, run faster, learn quicker, etc.

"With the Better Animals Program, we can now target and speak directly to today's sophisticated and fragmented Lifestyle and Cattle animal owners," says Kurt Schultz, Dir of Mktg Svcs.

"The program is designed to directly reach our customers, steer them into our dealers and, of course, increase sales," Schultz reports.

Specifically, the program includes the "Animal Makeover" TV show which airs on RFD-TV four times each week. Shows segments have included "Crawfish Raising," "Pig Showmanship," "Pond Management," "A Horse Rescue Story, "Raising Goats" and many others. In addition to featuring Purina Mills brand feeds, it also includes commercials from other suppliers whose products are sold by its dealers, including Alpharma, Zinpro and Wellmark.

"The TV show, as well as our other promotional materials, directs people to
Web site," Schultz explains. "While they are there, customers can sign up for our free Better Animals
e-newsletter, post their photos and stories in the "Better Animals Show & Tell" section, find the local Purina Mills dealer, as well as watch the TV show and read past newsletters, all of which have been archived."

The Web site also includes blogs in which customers can post their comments and questions. "They can get peer-to-peer advice from each other or interface directly with Purina nutritionists and other specialist. It makes the Web site truly interactive and useful to the user," Schultz reports.

They can also register for prize drawings. Past winners received a John Deere Gator, a full year's supply of feed, or other valuable prizes. The Web site is averaging over 300,000 hits per month.

The program also includes a direct mail element. When enrolled, customers and prospects from its internal database who are within a 25-mile radius of the participating dealer receive Purina Mills feed offers including coupons that are redeemed from the dealer.

To assist their dealers and their employees' with education and communications, the program also includes the "Media Package." Dealers can purchase a Dish TV system and display it in their store(s). During business hours, the Animal Makeover shows loop for customers to view. During off-hours, they receive the latest information from Land O'Lakes Purina Feed, including programs and product information, calendar of events, nutritional training, merchandising tips and new product opportunities.

Participating dealers also receive a DVR/Receiver combo that allows them to record live television and play the programming back when it is convenient to them and their staff.

The company has been extremely pleased by the results the program. "Of our 4,000 dealers, 1,300 are participating in this exciting and innovative program,'" Schultz says.

In addition, the Purina Mills Web site traffic has increased over 50% and some sections have had stellar results, such as the cattle section that now has 600% more traffic.

Successfully developing and serving new markets requires innovation. Purina Mills Better Animal Program is certainly an example of that.

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