Jankowski: Marketers Don't Understand The New Heartland

Speaking the same language as your American customers might not be enough, unless you speak American. That’s according to Paul Jankowski, chief strategist at Nashville-based brand strategy/consumer engagement agency New Heartland Group. He says most marketers still don’t understand the New Heartland.

A Tennessee native, Jankowski's new book provides an insight into the lives of a massive group that make up for about two-thirds of America’s loyal consumers and brand advocates in his book “Speak American Too.”

Citing research findings from the New Heartland Consumer Insight Study, the book offers insight into designing campaigns to this demographic, by understanding everything about them, from adherence to faith to brand loyalties.

Paul Jankowski, the author of "Speak American Too," fills Media Daily News in on the details.

MDN: What is the main difference between the New Heartland and the rest of America when it comes to customer behavior?



Core values of faith (not religion), community and family are important to New Heartland consumers when they consider supporting a brand. These values aren’t exclusive to the New Heartland, but tend to be more at the surface.

Brand loyalty is fiercely defended and debated in The New Heartland. Just ask someone about the pickup they drive. 26% of New Heartland women say family and friends play a big role in what they purchase vs.16% of non-New Heartland women.

MDN: Why is there a lack of understanding of New Heartland customers? Why do some brands fail to Speak American?

Many brand marketers are scared of what they don’t know.  They buy into stereotypes or rely on static research.  They don’t immerse themselves in the New Heartland culture. They look at it as a demographic or geographic region, instead of a cultural segment. They also allow their creative team/agency to develop ideas that just don’t connect in the New Heartland. What works on the coasts doesn’t always resonate in the New Heartland.  The message doesn’t need to change, but in a lot of cases, the way it’s delivered does.

MDN: With New Heartlanders’ inter-generational brand loyalty, what do you recommend brands do to win their hearts?

Marketers to often target a family based solely on who lives in a given household. Our family relationships are not bound by the walls of a home, or even by blood. They extend beyond income, social class and geographic boundaries. To understand the real value of the New Heartland family, we need to remind ourselves to:

*Look at familial relationships beyond traditional stereotypes and the confines of a home’s four walls.

*Establish new metrics that take total extended family value into account, rather than just one individual family unit.

New Heartland residents are rather liberal in their definition of family, so it’s important for brands to understand the big picture. What is considered extended family in other regions, is just family to them: in-laws, stepfamilies, and even those with no blood relationship.

MDN: Can East Coast and West Coast target true culturally relevant in messaging New Heartland customers?

Absolutely. If they stop being so myopic, arrogant and reliant on tired stereotypes.  As long as brand marketing seats are filled by business-school grads who have never spent any appreciable time beyond the Hudson River, the perpetuation of the disconnect is assured. The good news is that there are many ways to learn about the culture beyond focus groups.  The onus is on them to become true brand builders. With 60% of consumers living in the New Heartland, that’s a good incentive.

MDN: As someone with years of experience in this distinct advertising field, did you notice any major shifts (if any) in customer behavior and values in the past 10 years?

There has been a major shift in “ownership” of the cultural differences between the New Heartland and the rest of the country. Used correctly, “redneck” has become almost a badge of honor instead of a degrading term. There is pride in the differences and a more pronounced “us vs. you” mentality that celebrates the uniqueness of the New Heartland culture. 

MDN: Were there any research findings in the New Heartland Consumer Insights Study that surprised you?

Nothing truly surprised me in the study, but there were some interesting findings. For example, in the New Heartland, college sports are preferred over pro sports by a 2:1 margin, 45% of New Heartlanders’ family members live within a 2 hour drive, and 41% say they are more likely to buy a product if the advertising appeals to their core values.

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