Truly Local — Empowering West Virginia’s Agritourism Industry to Take Root

In West Virginia, pride and heritage are the foundations of the culture. Agritourism offers a unique, uncharted experience for West Virginians in their home state. Yet, most residents are unaware of the presence of more than 220 agritourism businesses operating within the state. Just as concerningly, most are not familiar with the term “agritourism” and what it encompasses.

To combat this unawareness, we partnered with WVU Extension to increase West Virginians’ awareness of the state’s agritourism industry and equip agritourism businesses with resources to promote themselves and agritourism effectively.

Research Insights

In August 2022, we began to conduct primary and secondary research to learn more about the interests of travelers and the needs of agritourism business operators. We studied campaigns that benefited the agritourism industry in other states, and analyzed their approaches. Then, we conducted two focus groups with WVU Extension agents deeply familiar with West Virginia’s agritourism.  Then we analyzed the feedback provided by visitors on popular travel websites and business pages.  Finally, we conducted five-in depth interviews with agritourism business owners and operators.

From this research, we learned:

Notably, most agritourism owners and operators expressed that they strive to create an educational, down-to-earth experience for travelers. Based on that finding, we decided that the campaign should be simultaneously educational and evocative.

Target Audience

From our research, we identified two target audience segments to engage throughout the campaign. The primary audience comprises West Virginia travelers, ages 55 and older, who live in the Potomac Highlands and are unaware of nearby agritourism businesses. The second target audience includes agritourism business owners and operators whose businesses are operating within West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands.

Based on these demographics, we created the following target audience personas to help guide the campaign’s tone and outreach strategies:

For our primary target audience, our goal is to familiarize them with agritourism and connect it with the concept of what it means to be truly local. Most importantly, we want West Virginians to be aware of local agritourism businesses and the special family-oriented experiences they have to offer. 

For our secondary target audience, agritourism business owners and operators, our goal is to help them build connections with one another. Secondly, we wish to provide them with marketing resources to promote agritourism throughout West Virginia.

The Message

The agency developed a governing brand idea, an overarching concept based on research insights, to serve as the foundation of the semester’s campaigns.

“Roots of the Appalachian Experience”

Further, the campaign seeks to answer this seemingly fundamental yet complex question: “What does local mean to you?” To help answer this question, the campaign messaging aims to draw a connection with these adjectives:

  • Unique
  • Educational
  • Traditional
  • Valuable
  • Close-by

“Meet Me in the Mountain State” Agritourism Trail

To ease the planning of weekend getaways and afternoon adventures, the account team designed a portion of the “Meet Me in the Mountain State” agritourism trail, accessible from WVU Extension’s website. The trail provides a list of farm-to-table restaurants, farm markets, u-pick farms, breweries and other agritourism businesses and experiences throughout the state.

The trail includes helpful guides for West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands, Eastern Panhandle and New River-Greenbrier Valley. 

This all-encompassing online trail is promoted with decals featuring QR codes distributed to agritourism businesses throughout the region. The trail enables travelers to search for prospective destinations with ease.

Promote Local WV Communications Toolkit

Supporting the promotional efforts of agritourism owners and operators, the account team created the Promote Local WV Communications Toolkit, which includes social media templates, radio scripts and posters, among other valuable tools.

This user-friendly, free resource will provide a competitive advantage for business owners and operators with limited time, funds and marketing expertise. Furthermore, the toolkit helps the agency and WVU Extension to enable agritourism businesses to promote agritourism and educate West Virginians about opportunities “right down the road.”

An example of a Facebook post template available to agritourism business owners and operators within the Promote Local WV Communications Toolkit.

Home Grown Networking Event

On Thursday, Dec. 1, the account team and WVU Extension hosted a networking event for agritourism business owners and operators at Swilled Dog, a cider distillery in Pendleton County, West Virginia. At the event, the account team presented the Truly Local WV Communications Toolkit to attendees and demonstrated how to use it.

The event also featured catering and beverages from the local market and two giveaways. Additionally, attendees were asked to share what local means to them, giving the account team and WVU Extension further insight into how to continue the campaign.

Paid Advertisements 

As an additional tactic to raise West Virginians’ awareness of agritourism and generate interest, the account team created Facebook advertisements promoted throughout the Potomac Highlands.

To provide a resource for WVU Extension to continue the campaign, the team also developed traditional paid advertisements, including newspaper and radio advertisements with scripts included. 

An example of a potential newspaper advertisement designed by our team

Success and Results

The concepts and strategies piloted in this campaign provide a foundation for future work. For instance, the Home Grown networking event achieved positive results from participants. Seventeen agritourism businesses were connected at the event, and 90% of attendees indicated they would utilize the Promote Local WV Communications Toolkit to support their companies’ promotional efforts. Moreover, 28 Meet Me in the Mountain State decals were distributed.

Additionally, the digital advertisements reached over 30,000 people and received a total of 735 engagements, including nearly 650 link clicks and six shares.

“We are so lucky to have an opportunity to bring students into our communities where they can showcase their skills and provide tangible tools for West Virginians.”

– Tara Curtis, Director of Communications and Marketing at WVU Extension

 By: Ray Lapoint

What is Authenticity?

Trapped behind cell phone screens and computer monitors, users of the digital world have become far removed from reality. So far removed that the future of marketing may very well depend on the focus and concentration of a single attribute. Authenticity.

Authenticity means being real or genuine. When thinking about personal authenticity, individuals believe this creates an opportunity for them to portray themselves in a unique, realistic way and withhold from the force of influence of others. Authenticity, as it relates to brand identity generates a similar perception in the eyes of their audiences. People want to feel as if their favorite brands are speaking directly to their personal values and beliefs. In other words, they want to have a connection with brands.

Advertisers and marketers believe that practicing authenticity and even transparency through marketing and advertising help customers connect with a brand, stimulate brand trust and help overcome consumer skepticism toward ads according to the American Marketing Association. This includes everything from your website, your social media interactions, partnerships, and campaign agendas. 

The average customer is smarter than we think.

When thinking about connecting with your consumers, your goal is to have them perceive your brand as genuine or real. Given the infinite spider web of the digital landscape and incredibly connected social world, audiences are no longer reacting to generic marketing and unrealistic expectations. People don’t react to “glossified” advertising anymore. Examples of this can be seen in the fast-food industry where the delivered product does not resemble the advertised result. We have all been there. Those fast food joints neglect the presentation factor when crafting delicious meals. The food insufficiently captures the experience leading to an unhappy customer. 

Consumers have ditched the ideals of perfection and have started craving something better. They crave authenticity. Buying into a brand is more than buying a product or service. It is a mutually beneficial relationship between consumers and a brand. A brand produces a genuine promise through a product or service, and consumers give their continued business in return.

It almost seems as if some marketing firms today have an agenda to maximize profit regardless of unrealistic product promises. For example, we have all experienced buying a product that has not met our expectations. Popular trends give evidence to this phenomenon like “Expectation vs. Reality” memes. 

Lack of genuine endorsements on social media

Brand ambassadors and paid influencers are great for promoting a brand’s image and products. Not only is this an opportunity for media influencers to share personal experiences and curate new content, but it also illustrates a brand’s identity. Although these paid sponsorships generate mutually beneficial relationships for an influencer and a brand, in some cases, these relationships are solely based on follow-count and not sharing similar values or beliefs. 

Say a strictly vegan-based brand wants to hire a rising influencer to promote their new line of vegan, sustainable and dairy-free milk to their 1 million followers. The brand might think it is a grand idea to work with them in promoting their product for their high follower count. Meanwhile, the influencer posts content of them grilling and eating animal meat and wearing real animal fur on their social media. In this example, it is evident this influencer does not share the same values as the brand which could lead to potential upset with customers of the brand as well.

Failed social media endorsement 

When social media influencers or brand ambassadors endorse a product, their content needs to be genuine or real otherwise it may have a negative impact. Bootea, a fitness and detox brand had to make their mistake first in order to learn from it. The brand had partnered with Scott Disick who is known for his appearance in the reality TV series Keeping up with the Kardashians. Disick missed the mark when he posted on Instagram with the direct instructions given to him by the brand. This shows the audience that he did not generate a personal caption putting the brand in an embarrassing position.  

Some viewers of these marketing advertisements may see these as misleading or ungenuine endorsements for products. Can these products keep their promises when they pay influencers to read a generic script and sample a product? How do we know if their support is genuine? It is an uphill battle for public relations professionals to find influencers that align fairly well with the brand’s voice, yet they are crucial in securing an authentic relationship with your target audience.

Where does that leave the future of marketing?

Connecting with consumers has never been more of a challenge for brands. How are future marketers supposed to combat this likely dark path of falsehood? Leveraging authenticity to attract existing and new customers is critical. An easy way to practice this is to diversify your content and implement strategies different from that currently in the marketing world. Numb is the feeling you get when something is no longer affecting you. Similar to recycled marketing approaches, you aren’t getting the same response as you once did thus, calling for a fresh angle.

The customer-centric model requires “a deep understanding of the social, financial, emotional and intellectual needs of the buyer at certain stages, along with what they enjoy outside of the buyer’s journey” says Forbes Councils Member, Jessica Scanlon.

Understanding what your customers want and needs are undoubtedly important to know, however understanding their beliefs and values give way to more opportunities for growth and acceptance. Utilizing what we know about our audiences can help us as marketers gauge the brand tone and voice we want to portray. Not only that, we need to understand the simple human truths and connect them to the values behind our brand.


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