As a resident of New Heartland (Midwest, Southwest, Southeast) whose sole focus is helping brands market in the middle, I have heard just about every stereotype out there. The things commonly said in marketing departments about this massive group of consumers are ignorant at best and deeply offensive at worst.
What's most alarming is the fact that these comments are from people responsible for creating marketing campaigns. Their personal biases can affect an entire campaign's messaging, based on a lack of qualitative understanding of what makes this population segment tick. An innate, negative point of view has the effect of boxing out real insights. At a certain point, you have to get into this consumer's mindset, which isn't possible with quantitative data alone.
The 2016 presidential election unveiled the power of the New Heartland, home to 60% of U.S. consumers. This isn't "new" power, just a collective voice that was manifested through an election that forced many of the media, ad agencies and brand stewards to change the way they market to the biggest cultural segment in the country.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, the chief executive of ad agency giant McCann Worldgroup, Harris Diamond, said that he and his staff now realize that too much advertising falsely assumes that all U.S. consumers desire to be like coastal elites. "Every so often you have to reset what is the aspirational goal the public has with regard to the products we sell," Diamond said. "So many marketing programs are oriented toward metro elite imagery."
Now, more than ever, it's vital to dispel these stereotypes -- both for the sake of better understanding one another, and in service of our clients, who look to their agencies for informed guidance.
The following list compiles words and phrases I have heard most often when working with agency and brand executives on both coasts.
- Blue collar
- Country bumpkins
- Drive a truck
- Not in tune with latest technology
- Proud of ignorance, intolerance
- Don't celebrate culture
- Somewhat poor
- Casserole for dinner every night
- Very "average" American
Moving beyond a stereotype requires understanding more about people, about the essence of their being. Core values such as faith (not religion), community and family are common threads that weave through a very diverse group of people. Understanding these core values as ways into a relationship, rather than divisive traits, will be vital to marketers in the post-election economy.
Certainly, these values are not exclusive to New Heartlanders, which is to say that many coastal Americans see faith, community and family as important to who they are, too. With New Heartlanders, though, the expression of these values is a little more at the surface, and more important than marketers have historically understood.
The numbers speak for themselves: in a study performed by Nashville-based Prince Market Research, 41% of New Heartlanders said they are more likely to buy products and services if the commercials and ads appeal to their core values. Interestingly, 42% of this group said brands "rarely" communicated to them in ways that appealed to those same values. This is a huge, missed opportunity.
Where some brand marketers see a "Bible-beater," I see a person committed to a way of life. Where they see a "country bumpkin," I see a person who embraces their heritage and is unconcerned about what people on the coasts think about them. Where they see an "average American," I see a hard-working person pursuing a dream of their own.
There is a great opportunity for brands that understand the New Heartland to build deeply rooted and long-lasting relationships. But for that to happen, it is vital/crucial/required to lose the stereotypes and spend time getting to know us. Consider this a personal invitation to reach out the next time you're in Nashville. We'd love to get to know you!