The New Rural-Urbanist Consumers

The New Rural-Urbanist Consumers

What Does the Emerging Rural-Urbanist Consumer Mean for Your Brand?

Trends are important sign-posts to marketers. They help us unearth insights into the target audiences we’re trying to connect with and the markets we compete in. A big COVID-19 trend is the uprooting of city dwellers to regional centres, with many people shifting their metropolitan perspective towards a life beyond the city limits. This trend implores brands to adapt and transform so they can continue to provide solutions to, and create authentic experiences for, their target audiences in their marketing.

So, who are the Rural-Urbanists?

Simply put, Rural-Urbanists are recent converts to the regional or rural life. They often bring high expectations and are not content with having less than their metro cousins when it comes to the lives they lead, and the products and services they purchase. Driven by a freedom of choice, Rural-Urbanists have a city-centric palette. Critically, they are at peace with the juxtaposition of their two worlds (city and regional or rural life).

What do we know about the Rural-Urbanist consumer?

REA’s Regional Australia Report (November 2020) stated: “In every state, regional search has grown stronger than capital city search. The most striking differential has occurred in locked down Victoria where search has barely moved in Melbourne while it jumped 60% in regional Victoria.”

The appeal of regional living isn’t new. Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide experienced net population losses to regional Australia between 2011-2016[1]. And, it wasn’t all retirees. Regional Australia Institute’s The Big Movers (June 2020) report found more regionally-based millennials (people aged 20-35 years old) — stayed in the country, and moved to other regional areas in Australia (rather than shift to capital cities), during the 2011-2016 period. And, Sydney actually lost more millennials to the regions than it gained in that time period.

How do brands adapt to this trend and changing attitude?

Here are five key things for you, as a brand marketer, to consider and why it’s worth doing so.

1. The key driver behind the shift

It’s all about how we work. And, thanks to technology this has changed over the past 15 years. The creation of a remote workforce (widespread now due to COVID-19) isn’t a new concept. The pandemic has just accelerated how this can be achieved with some businesses forced to accommodate this model (for the sake of survival). Staff have now proven they can work remotely, building further confidence in the model.

Many people insist that the peaked interest in regional living is lower housing and living costs. But, this isn’t new. The tipping point is our choice about how we work, and this has reframed how we view life. Now people are able to have both – the city job and opportunities, with the country lifestyle.

2. It’s not where we live – it’s how we live

We must go beyond just targeting audiences who have moved regionally. It’s more about viewing a regional/rural way of living as being a challenger brand in itself.

Traditionally, city dwellers have had a growing tendency to think slowness reflects a lack of progress. That if you choose a more relaxed way of living, this also determines your drive for success, your ambition for career, and your adept understanding of trends. However, when you remove where you work from the equation, it levels the playing field. This in turn allows people to explore new thinking.

When a city dweller starts to think about a regional switch, questions arise such as ‘what do I lose?’ And, importantly, ‘what do I gain?’. The perceived value of the regional switch is influenced by a customer’s belief about how the change alters their status. Russel Brunson sums this up well ‘As much as we may hate to admit it, we are slaves to what we believe others will think about us’. People are looking for justifiable reasons why the regional switch will increase their status, rather than detract from it. Pre-COVID-19 the employment landscape dictated how and where we needed to work, influencing this. Now, not so much.

So, how can brands leverage this? Challenge the norm to create intrigue and convey positioning with micro-story frameworks. Imagine this setting for instance – a modern architectural home on an acreage with lush rolling hills, with the hero of the story contently working from home (thanks to NBN). The hero’s drive to the city in their sports car for meetings is seen as enjoyment, rather than necessity.

In this scenario, the regional/rural setting is unexpected – it challenges perception and can, if delivered appropriately, leverage the idea that this person is the early adopter. He is waiting for everyone else to catch up.

3. Don’t overlook the celebrity factor

Adoption of product by celebrities shifts perception (and sales) instantly. We now here in Australia attach some big-name celebrities to a lifestyle choice to live rurally/regionally. Think, the Hemsworth clan and Zac Efron. In the US the list includes Oprah, Jason Gardiner, Chris Pratt, etc.

The one, however, that seems to challenge perceptions the most is Kanye West and his purchase of a 14mil on a ranch to establish Yeezy Campus. Love him or hate him, it’s undeniable that he is an innovator.

Kanye has his finger on the pulse of building brands that tap into and define modern culture. Look no further than his Yeezy label success. And, we haven’t even touched on his music. Watch this GQ interview with Kanye. The point to note is the juxtaposition and contradiction, and how this becomes the new cool. Kanye is a watch and learn space when it comes to brand building.

4. Please don’t patronise

Here’s a key tip (that can be easily overlooked) – be careful with how you depict regional and rural life. Understand these are very different markets to each other. It’s important to learn how customers in these markets differ. And even, within these two markets, we must go further and break it down to geographical markets. Each city/state has its own identity.

For a brand to establish a truly authentic connection with customers, it needs to understand what drives their decisions, and critically, how they view themselves. When a brand does this, it can speak with relevancy. Discover more about making authentic connections with your audience in our blog 5 characteristics of a strategic brand.

Did you know a third of Australia’s population lives in regional areas? That is, 8.5 million people. Despite this, there is no doubt that large national advertisers under index in their regional marketing spend.

There’s a number of reasons – including an unconscious bias towards metro areas with marketers not realising they’re missing out on valuable opportunities. Marketers can misjudge who their audience is and base their ideas upon themselves. Partly because the majority of marketers, and agency planners, strategists and creatives, are based in the urban hubs of Sydney and Melbourne. Thus, they can have a narrow field of vision often out of tune with the rest of Australia.

5. The underinvestment in regional is an opportunity for brands

As mentioned above, regional Australia has a population of 8.5 million, with disposable incomes on par with metropolitan areas. It seems, marketers often discuss segmentation without silo-ing their marketing approach. This is recognised by Brian Gallagher, Chair of the Boomtown Committee and Southern Cross Austereo Chief Sales Officer: “It’s one of the largest and fastest growing markets in the country. Only 10% of national media budgets are spent regionally, despite 36% of the country’s population living in regional markets. That’s 8.8 million Australians being ignored by advertisers in an extraordinarily uncluttered environment.”

At the end of the day, regional and rural Australia offer abundant untapped opportunities for the astute marketer. At Brand Agency, Blunt Agency, we can walk you through how you can leverage this for your brand – bringing into focus both your city and regional/rural customer bases. Chat to our team.