I believe that building brands in the New Heartland–a massive cultural segment made up of the Southwest, Midwest, and parts of the Southeast–cannot be accomplished from the 40-second floor of a Manhattan high-rise or in a sprawling cubicle office system on the West Coast. I’ve seen big and small agency creative teams on the coasts try to do this time and time again, and it is destined to miss the mark with the New Heartland.
In order to truly understand the New Heartland consumer, brand strategists and marketing decision makers must immerse themselves in our lifestyle–or hire brand experts who do. It’s vital to understand our heritage; where our loyalty stems from; how values impact our buying behavior; and how we discover and engage with products.
In the New Heartland, brands are built at the dinner table, at church gatherings, in the garage, out in the fields, on the production line, at concerts, on the golf course, at soccer practice, and on the front porch after five o’clock. They are passed down from generation to generation, like family heirlooms and treasured recipes. Men drive a certain type of truck because that’s what their father drove, and their grandfather before them. Moms buy certain household products because they are the ones their moms used.
Building brands in the New Heartland doesn’t come from a focus group or a survey; it stems from deep roots and a heritage that is held close to our hearts. To understand this passion and loyalty, you must find a way to live and breathe it every day.
Let’s break this down using the same general process you may already use when defining your brand’s marketing strategy, only I’ll help you approach your campaign from a New Heartland point of view.
Get to know your intended audience. There are many subcultures and unique connections within the New Heartland, as well as disconnects by age, geography, religion, gender, and more. Solid research among your core target audiences prior to developing the brand strategy is critical to success. List your brand attributes and values that the New Heartland target market would find appealing, and be equally aware of what they would not find appealing.
We believe the first step of research should be focused on a singular goal: understand current brand perceptions–both positive and negative–and establish a foundation on which to build the brand strategy within the New Heartland.
Use research as baseline in your strategic thinking as you build your brand plan. Think through the insights to determine foundational components that must be represented and reinforced in your strategy. Think about core values and lifestyle channels, and other nuances that make the New Heartland consumer unique and likely to engage with your brand. This is the time to lay out a strategy that will help your target consumer to discover the brand, experience the brand, engage with the brand, and ultimately advocate for the brand.
Outline who you are reaching, what you would like this group to know about your brand, and what results you are hoping to achieve. The strategic plan will provide a roadmap to affect emotional and rational drivers of desired behavior–just what will it take to get the New Heartlander to experience and become loyal to your brand? A great brand is only as good as its brand strategy, so consider such elements as:
- Development of the brand platform: Brand promise/essence, brand attributes, brand values/behaviors, and brand voice.
- Analysis of target audiences, key influencers, and existing and desired brand perceptions.
- Statement of key differentiators, based on a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis.
- Development of key brand messaging and positioning statements by target audience/ influencer group.
- Development of strategies and tactics that reach the New Heartlanders where they are in their daily lives, resonate with their key core values, and authentically build a trusted relationship.
- Establishing goals and objectives and defining short- and long- term measurable results.
Now the fun really begins as you create a fully integrated campaign with your key brand messages, developing tools, and assets that will reach the New Heartland consumers. Keep top of mind that the New Heartland cultural segment is defined by a way of life, not a demographic, a psychographic, or just geography. Remember, you don’t need to change your brand message, just the way it’s delivered. Think core values of Faith, Community, and Family as you create your brand storytelling tools.
Here is a summary of key tips to guide your creative team and ensure your branding campaign does in fact Speak American:
- Remember that “Hometown” is more than where we live or grew up … it’s a huge part of who we are. Factor that into your creative story.
- Make sure your campaign targets family units, not just individuals, as the family is the foundation of the New Heartlander’s identity and number-one source for product recommendations.
- New Heartland family traditions involve brands, and loyalty to a brand can be passed through multiple generations and extended families. Find a way to connect your brand with traditions that New Heartlanders hold near and dear.
- Choose the right music that connects the New Heartlander with your brand. This is a proven brand-building tactic–from jingles and audio tracks, to full-blown artist sponsorship/branded entertainment campaigns.
- Remind your creative team that America is the number- one brand for New Heartlanders, so connect your campaign with America where it makes sense. If your products are “Made in America,” fly that flag high in your New Heartlander campaign!
Take your research and search your workbench for the best tools for the job–video, blogs, social media, digital platforms, and sponsorships. Match your brand promise with creative messaging that resonates with your New Heartland consumer. Then bring it to life through powerful imagery and engaging content.
Think about the potential of having a celebrity voice attached to your brand. Think about designing campaign tools and brand assets that will create engagement and real relationships using the vast array of social media and digital platforms. Make sure the work fits your own values. And don’t be afraid to take chances–just keep it real.
Launch your creative work with gusto and create a brand platform that allows New Heartlanders to discover, experience, engage, and ultimately advocate for your brand. Remember that your plan must aim to build deep consumer relationships in order to build a sustainable brand within the New Heartland. Make sure you are focused on the key lifestyle channels and meet them there.
Create continuity and collaboration around the campaign–internally, with loyal customers, and with new audiences. As you execute your campaign, take New Heartland insights into consideration.
Check the success and failures of the campaign. Course correct along the way to maximize what’s working best, and minimize what’s not. Compare your results against your first-step goals. If you didn’t achieve what you had hoped, check your list to see where you went off course. Remember it is not the short-term brand discovery you are after, but the long-term brand advocacy that will generate your greatest return on investment.
Here are just a few of the ways you can track, measure, and evaluate your campaign throughout the process:
- Incremental sales
- Stakeholder/influencer engagement
- Customer reviews
- Website traffic
- Social media mentions, sharing, and engagement
- SEO rankings
- Advocacy and influencer endorsements
- Internal and external brand recognition
This article is adapted from How to Speak American: Building Brands in the New Heartland.
—Paul Jankowski is founder and Chief Strategist at New Heartland Group (formerly Access Brand Strategies). He is the author of the upcoming book, Speak American Too: Your Guide to Building Powerful Brands in the New Heartland and lives in Nashville, Tennessee.