Companies like Microsoft and Airbnb have achieved success targeting the rural market. The US Chamber of Commerce has deemed rural America "a land of untapped economic potential." But to tap into that potential, companies need to understand the needs and wants of people living outside major cities. 

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Enter the Survey of Rural Challenges. The survey reveals the needs and attitudes of rural business people, stated in their own words. And, as it turns out, much of what we think we know about rural audiences is incorrect. I invited rural- and small-town business expert Becky McCray to Marketing Smarts to talk about the survey and ways your company can benefit from realizing the promise of rural markets.

Here are just a few highlights from our conversation.

Small-town doesn't mean small-time: rural markets matter (03:38) "If you look just at the total number of people that are 'officially' rural, that is 67 million people, just US and Canada.... But there's millions more who are in towns over 2,500 people, up to like 50,000 in population. That's really too big to be called rural, but these are still not what you would call urban areas. These are people who are in smaller cities and smaller towns, and it's a huge market and it's hugely influential.

"This is where all our food comes from, our natural resources. There's a lot of importance there, as well as all the cultural importance that we've loaded into it in the past several years of people realizing there's some split between rural and urban people. But we still have a lot more in common than what the common perception is."

Big companies see the value in small towns (04:33) "We're seeing companies like Airbnb...running a 'healthy tourism' initiative, and they're paying attention to the rural market, looking out into smaller markets. Microsoft is doing a massive push into rural broadband. So major companies are paying more attention to smaller towns. So it's important for all marketers to be aware of this market and understand it from their own perspective."

Hiring remote workers from rural areas helps you to draw talent from anywhere and enables your team to afford a higher standard of living (05:13) "Your own employees may be from anywhere more and more now. We're seeing some definite shifts. We see that 'no commute' is now the fastest growing commute. We're really at a tipping point on remote work, and it's something that rural people have been eyeing for a long time. We're seeing lots better broadband service and we're seeing lots more people that are just making their living online.

"Plus, rural people tend to be more self-employed. There's a higher percentage of people that are self-employed or freelance than the percentage in urban areas. If you've got that low cost of living, you can compete and live well on a smaller salary or a smaller draw from your freelancing."

To learn more, visit BeckyMcCray.com. You can also follow Becky on Twitter at @BeckyMcCray.

Becky and I talked about much more, including why the media's perspective on small towns can be skewed and how B2B companies can tap benefit from targeting rural markets, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

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