Paulsen conducted a three-month study in 2011 to better understand how online communities, brand advocates and customer reviews influence the purchase decisions of rural lifestylers.
The study involved 13 personal interviews with rural lifestylers in the Midwest, as well as 341 completed email surveys of rural lifestylers in a random representative sample of the United States in C and D counties. For the purpose of this paper, we are defining a rural lifestyler as someone who is living the country life, but not necessarily trying to make a living at it.
From this data, Paulsen was able to report three key findings:
- The rural lifestyle consumers are adopting social media practices at the same rate as general consumers.
- Like general consumers, rural lifestyle consumers rely on two different types of influencers to help them form brand perceptions and make purchase decisions: micro influencers and macro influencers.
- The sales process has been altered to reflect a continuous feedback loop between current customers and prospective customers.
A negative online review from an unknown current customer (micro influencer) or a positive engagement with a trusted thought leader (macro influencer) is available to rural lifestylers at the click of a mouse or a tap on their mobile device. In other words, the sales process does not necessarily end with a sale—it is just the beginning of the next sale. Additionally, the timeframe from consideration to purchase can be significantly compressed.
As marketers, our challenge is to find the right marketing mix and messaging to reach rural lifestylers in an era where the purchase process includes powerful new influences.