Three-Stage Marketing Effort Helps Utility Meet (and Exceed) Broadband Goals
East Mississippi Electric Power Association (EMEPA) successfully secured rural broadband grant money for its subsidiary East Mississippi Connect from the CARES Act (PDF) and the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. The funding was an important step for the new broadband build. However, the company was now under immense pressure to meet the grant requirement to connect at least 250 customers by the end of 2020 or potentially lose funding and repay millions if the target was not hit.
EMEPA Director of Marketing and Communications Julie Bowles teamed up with WordSouth Account Manager Jenn Urban to create a three-stage marketing effort to meet (and exceed) subscription goals.
1. Maximize Member Buy-In
Local community members were more than ready to get on board and adopt the new broadband services brought by East MS Connect. However, things were moving a lot slower because of factors related to COVID-19. The company had to deal with material shortages and delays, as well as concerns about the safety and well-being of employees and members. The marketing campaign surrounding the launch of East MS Connect would be key in determining whether the company would hit its subscriber goal by the set deadline or not.
2. Design a Sweet Marketing Strategy
Falling back on EMEPA’s 82 years of history as a trusted and reliable community partner, the WordSouth team developed plans to launch East MS Connect and gain needed community support within a short time. The plan included maximizing community outreach with events like “The Sweet Spot,” described by Jenn as “an outdoor, drive up in your car opportunity for future clients to try out the East MS Connect Wi-Fi and get a free scoop of ice cream” while browsing safely in their vehicles.
WordSouth also created all aspects of the website for East MS Connect and other marketing collaterals, including:
- Graphic design, text and photos.
- A link of the site to CrowdFiber to keep members informed about when service is coming to their address.
- Print materials such as welcome folders for new members (along with an easy reference guide and a magnet with the Wi-Fi password) for technicians to hand out at the time of installation.
Everything was executed with the goal of creating a cohesive image for the company while raising awareness and building trust among potential clients.
3. Channel Community Power
East MS Connect relied on WordSouth to handle all the complexities of the launch, but since EMEPA already had such a strong presence in the communities they serve, leveraging it along with a multichannel approach was the right way to go. In addition to building momentum online through social media channels such as Facebook and through emails, promoting events that allowed clients to interact with the East MS Connect team was also an important piece of the puzzle. In an area where not everyone has internet access, a mixed marketing approach with direct mail, in-person events and digital marketing drove a successful outcome for East MS Connect.
Campaign for Results
The result of the campaign allowed East MS Connect to not only meet its required goal of 250 subscribers, but exceed it. The utility connected 376 clients by the end of December 2020. That number continues to grow, with the company reaching its 1,000th subscriber in April 2021 and expecting to exceed 3,500 subscribers by the end of 2021.
Julie shares some launch advice for utilities looking to provide broadband service and hit their subscriber goal quickly.
“Always tell your employees before you tell the public,” says Julie. “Be transparent with your plans, process, and timeline. In order to gain the necessary buy-in from employees, they need to feel invested in the project as part of the team.”
Julie explains that being transparent about the entire process both to employees and to the public generated a lot of positive feedback.
“We were very open from the beginning that we intended to bring this service to every part of our service area, but it would take a five-year construction plan,” she shares. “We asked for patience from our membership community as we built a fiber network from the ground up. Although everyone wishes they were first on the list, we received tremendous support and patience from our members. They know we are working our way to them as quickly as possible.”
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If your utility needs to hit a subscriber goal by a grant-imposed deadline, a launch plan helps your utility build a cohesive, trustworthy image to raise awareness and member buy-in even before the first home is connected.