Small towns. They’re dotted across the country, and they’re full of people. People who buy things. How can a company market to the good folk of America’s small towns?
Make Friends with the Locals
First of all, if a company’s “from outside,” as many rural Americans put it, it’s a good idea to make friends with potential customers’ neighbors first. Though it’s true everywhere that people buy from people they know, that adage is even more true in small towns. As Andy Kelly, writing in SalesandMarketing.com advises, “visit the post office and the mayor’s office.” Add the local clergy and watering holes, too. They’re full of folks who just can’t wait to tell you about their neighbor.
Become a School Sports Backer
Next, get to know the staff at the local high school and college, if there is one. Particularly the sports staff. Often, the local sports teams are the pride of the town. Become a backer, and a company will take on a mantle of the heroic. Become a sponsor. Give away stickers with the team mascot front and center and the company’s name off to the side. They’ll notice—even if it’s not lit up in neon.
Team Up and Give Discounts
Team up with established businesses in the area. Do the company make something they need? Give them a discount on it. They’ll warm up to the company and tell all their friends to buy, too.
Realize that fundraising isn’t just an event society matrons put on every year so they can wear the latest fashions and parade around the ballroom, raising money for inner-city orphans. In rural towns, fundraising activities are often the only social activities around. Businesses who sponsor them become part of the community. Bonus points if company executives get involved themselves. Grill a few steaks at the local steak fry. Bake a pie for the homecoming. Then stick around to serve it.
When you see the local sheriff sitting at the cash register fumbling with coins to make change, you just know he’ll get re-elected. When the chairman of the company board dishes out cole slaw at the fish fry, you know she’ll get the business of the grateful Masons, Optimists, 4-H Clubs, or other local organizations. Aim to do good, and the company will reap the rewards in a small town.
Finally, realize that it may take time for the town’s residents to warm up to newcomers. Marketing a product to a small town may take patience, but when residents become customers, they become customers for life.
Never count small towns out when it comes to earning their business. Remember the story of Citizens Banking Company, a bank that sprung up in Salineville, Ohio, a town of little more than a thousand residents. The bank grew to a corporate giant that boasted $1.8 billion in assets before it merged with a Bowling Green company to create Sky Bank, whose assets totaled $17.6 billion before Huntington Bank acquired it. Think of those who courted Citizens’ business early on, and go forth to conquer a slice of the rural pie.