Marketing Rural Communities

May 24, 2010 – Reprinted with permission from The Underwood News

For rural communities to prosper, population growth is paramount.  How do we get people to move here?  Just like with the latest version of the Smartphone or IPad, it takes innovation as well as marketing.  Marketing is impacted by the three Ps:  price, product, and place. Some experts add a fourth P:  promotion.  When laypeople think of marketing, advertising is the first thing that comes to mind, but advertising is only a part of the much larger effort of marketing, and advertising would fall under that fourth P of promotion.  So, what about the other Ps?

First, price.  How much does it cost to move to to a new town?  Well, there is the cost of the move itself:  buying the new house (which would include arranging the financing), selling the old house (dealing with potential new buyers and the realtor), packing up the stuff and loading it into the moving van.  Price consists of not only money but also time.  Some people cringe at simply the thought of all the work that is involved in a move.  And then there’s the loss of what you are giving up:  Friends, neighbors, familiarity, convenience.  Convincing someone to “buy” our small town thus involves some consideration of how to package it from a cost perspective.

Second, product.  Well, of course, we all know that our small town is irresistible!    The people and the spirit that reside here are endearing, but unfortunately these admirable qualities are not immediately visible.  So, it takes time and effort to package the product.  Packaging our small town as a caring, compassionate, and attractive community is a big undertaking, but one worth taking.  And that packaging is something that each and every one of you can play a role in.  Volunteer to help, whether or not you are directly asked.  Speak highly of yourself and your community.  You never know who is listening.

Third, place.  Or some experts say people.  The point is that in order to effectively market our small town we need to spend some time thinking about who our “target market” is.  Is it children who have moved away?  Is it workers at our major employers?  Once we determine who our target market is, we have to put all of our energy into researching that market to find out what they like.  The New Residents Survey that was administered to many of our town’s new residents last fall confirmed that that the #1 reason people moved to our small town was because of family.

Set forth below is an excerpt from the New Residents Survey.  Take a look at how these new residents made the decision to move to our small town.

Cost of living issues were influential in new residents’ decision to move.  Most new residents rated the following reasons as important in their decision to move: to lower the cost of housing (58%), to have lower taxes (58%), to lower the cost of living (58%), to spend more quality time with family (58%), and to find a less congested place to live (52%). Employment reasons were not a big factor in the decision to move. Not quite one in five (19%) of new residents moved to our small town to accept employment by a new employer and the same percentage (19%) moved to look for new work/job.

How did they arrive at their decision to move?

 Many new residents rated the following information sources as very or somewhat useful when making their decision to move : family (50%) and employer or co-workers (42%). Only one-quarter (25%) of new residents considered only our small town before moving. Thus, most considered other locations. Most (77%) had been to our small town before moving here. Of those that had been to our small town before moving here, most (53%) had visited family that lived here.

How do they feel about their new community?

 Most new residents rate their new community as friendly, trusting and supportive. Most (64%) say they probably or definitely will be living here five years from now. Many new residents found the following to be either somewhat or very helpful in helping them adapt to their new community: local news media (32%) and welcome information (30%). At least two-thirds of new residents rate the following items in our small town as excellent or good:  suitable housing and neighborhoods (86%), affordable housing (70%), opportunities to join local organizations (68%), safety of community (90%), senior living/services (69%), police protection (70%), fire protection (70%), school system (89%), Internet services (75%), standard of living (80%), environment for children (75%), natural, scenic or recreational amenities (70%), and community vision (70%).

So, there you have it.  Straight from the mouths of the very people we want to move to our small town.  Help me out here and make marketing our small town your #1 activity this summer.


  1. Erik says

    Living in central Illinois there are many rural communities near. I’ve been very interested in what makes them tick over the past couple of years.

    All are/were your standard agrarian towns, one company town, or had some other natural resource at their disposal. Certainly marketing these towns these days is a tough task. My biggest fear is that too many have tried to suburbanize themselves. Walmarts, Dollar Generals, McDonald’s may serve the population here and now, but this isn’t why people travel to/move to a small town.

    Yes, I believe people want the peace and serenity that comes with a small town but they also want to be connected and feel like although they moved to a small town, they didn’t get left behind.

    Small towns 700-50,000 must find their niche and tap into it. A one-size fits all approach doesn’t typically work. Removing past historical heritage to make room for the future doesn’t usually work either.

    To put it the best I can, small towns have a distinct advantage because they are small. When they aren’t trying to be like everyplace else is when they are successful. Their population growth will always be limited but their innovation shouldn’t be. It’s a lifestyle choice just as living in the city or living in the suburbs. To market a town the best you have to clearly identify yourself and play to your strengths.

Comments are now closed for this article.