Entering the broadband business can be a natural extension of an electric cooperative’s commitment to serving its members. But to do so successfully requires a heightened focus on branding, marketing, and communication.
You have to ensure employees and members alike fully grasp the value of this investment and know what to expect from the buildout ahead. Otherwise, it’s easy to end up with confused, frustrated, or angry members. With a strong strategy for clear communication, however, you can enjoy a successful rollout marked by widespread approval and adoption.
Focus on Member Confidence
When entering the broadband business as an electric cooperative, it’s important to earn member confidence from the start.
In 2019, North East Power (NEMEPA) in Mississippi was preparing for a member meeting and broadband product launch. If members voted for the change to their bylaws to allow the cooperative to get into broadband, management wanted to immediately build a strong foundation of trust and excitement for the build-out phase ahead.
To accomplish their goals, they needed a variety of promotional materials designed to match their new broadband brand, SPARC. Pioneer partnered with the utility to develop an informational handout, pop-up banners, yard signs, T-shirts, and hats — all designed to build excitement around SPARC and all designed to be unveiled as soon as the vote totals were announced.
On the way into the meeting, members received informational handouts that outlined the benefits of broadband. Once the vote was passed, employees quickly donned branded hats and raised pop-up banners on stage to mark the team’s commitment to and excitement for the upcoming build-out.
As members left the meeting room, they found banners, signs, and promotional items had been placed around the meeting site during the announcement. There was a great sense of community spirit and excitement about the future, reinforcing members’ trust in the electric co-op to lead the way in broadband.
NEMEPA didn’t just start strong — they quickly followed up to keep member trust high. Pioneer ensured their CrowdFiber site was live, press releases were ready to go, and direct mail was lined up for members who expressed interest in the meeting. These strategic initiatives positioned the cooperative as a trusted leader in the path to a connected future.
Create a Marketing Strategy to Fit Your Unique Situation
Electric co-ops across the U.S. are entering the broadband space, but no two rollouts are exactly alike. It’s important to consider your organization’s unique strengths, liabilities, and plans to create a custom marketing strategy that fits.
In 2019, Warren Rural Electric (WRECC) in Bowling Green, Kentucky, partnered with NCTC, a telecommunications cooperative based in Middle Tennessee, to take broadband to rural communities surrounding Bowling Green. It was a unique, creative solution that required ingenuity and teamwork to execute.
Together, these companies needed to develop materials to communicate the new brand and product, educate members about the benefits of fiber, inform their audience about the product timeframe and goals, and engage the community throughout the buildout to keep excitement and confidence high.
Pioneer helped these cooperatives develop unified talking points and a marketing strategy, complete with resources such as:
- A CrowdFiber landing page
- Various promotional items
- A script for outbound calls
- An informational video
- Social media updates and ads
- Press releases
- Local advertisements
With a cohesive marketing strategy and materials designed to fit their unique situation, these companies were able to coordinate a successful rollout and deliver broadband to many new customers. They did an excellent job educating, informing, and engaging their audience throughout the rollout.Fiber for Warren Pamplet (PDF) Fiber for Warren FAQ Sheet (PDF) Fiber for Warren Direct Mail (PDF)
Plus, they serve as a great example of the spirit of partnership that is helping bridge the rural broadband gap — and what can be accomplished when co-ops think outside the box.
Consider What Works for Other Cooperatives
Although every rollout is unique, electric cooperatives can still learn from one another to plan for successful marketing and communications.
In 2010, North Alabama Electric Cooperative received a $19.1 million broadband stimulus grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. As a result, it became one of the first electric cooperatives in the nation to enter the broadband business.
Being the first isn’t always easy, but North Alabama knew they could have a successful rollout if they kept members engaged every step of the way. Pioneer helped the co-op develop a letter for all members from the general manager to announce the benefits of fiber, ongoing content for their Alabama Living magazine, and additional marketing throughout the buildout and beyond.
North Alabama’s communication efforts helped them achieve their goals with member buy-in and successful take rate. In the decade since that trailblazing rollout, many co-ops have followed in their footsteps and ensured successful rollouts and member buy-in with cohesive, clear communication strategies.
Keep Community First
Electric co-ops have found success by looking to their neighbors when entering the broadband business. In 2018, Wiregrass Electric Cooperative (WEC), based in Hartford, Alabama, sought to enhance the technology in its distribution system. WEC turned to local, privately owned Troy Cable to provide fiber connectivity between the cooperative’s substations and offices.
Leaders from both organizations knew this was an opportunity beyond the electric distribution system improvements. The fiber buildout could not only benefit Wiregrass Electric, but also serve as the backbone to bring broadband to thousands of its members throughout rural south Alabama.
As the companies announced their partnership and plans to expand broadband, they focused on keeping the benefits to the community front and center — from the impact on economic development and education to health care access and overall quality of life.
Pioneer helped the companies brand the partnership, shape the messaging, and market their services. They developed content for television, newspaper, radio, social media, and Alabama Living magazine. By keeping the community first in their marketing, the companies successfully communicated the nature of the partnership and the benefits to the public.
This was an important focus in a successful rollout with widespread adoption. As you plan your marketing strategy and brand messaging, remember to keep your community’s needs at the forefront to earn and retain member trust throughout the rollout.
As your electric cooperative enters the broadband space, don’t risk misunderstanding, confusion, or unrealistic expectations. Work to design a clear marketing strategy that will educate, inform and engage your employees and members throughout the process.
Pioneer has a long history of partnering with companies rolling out fiber projects. Contact us today to discuss your needs — whether that’s a strategy you can execute yourself or a turnkey solution for telling your story, marketing your services, and training your people.
Email our Member Solutions team to get started.
Our broadband marketing guide, What to Expect When You’re Connecting, is based on experience WordSouth gained as a communications partner in more than 30 fiber build-outs. A variety of marketing materials for both internal and external audiences are showcased to spark ideas.
Download the guide and let us know how we can support your broadband experience!What to Expect When You're Connecting eBook