Marketing from the Ground Up in Rural Mississippi
Collaborating with Conexon helps Natchez Trace EPA build social presence and local education, powers take rates
“My team just jumped in and Conexon met us where we were,” Shawn Edmondson, General Manager of Natchez Trace Electric Power Association (EPA), said.
In late 2019, buoyed by Mississippi CARES Act funding, Natchez Trace EPA made the decision to start a fiber-to-the-home project to bring fast, reliable broadband internet to its members. Edmondson admits the co-op team didn’t exactly know what it was getting into but knew a fiber-savvy partner to help with the process was a necessity. “We knew nothing about designing fiber networks, we didn’t have relationships with cable contractors or splicing groups, and we knew we needed the relationship with Conexon,” Edmondson said. “Conexon jumped in and has helped us with everything from logistics and grant applications to project management and design.”
With Conexon’s assistance, fiber subsidiary NT Spark was born. As planning continued and construction commenced, however, it became apparent an additional puzzle piece was missing: Marketing. Conexon once again stepped in with services. “We didn’t have an internal marketing team,” Edmondson said. “Since we were already using Conexon for so much, it was a natural collaboration for marketing as well.”
The Conexon marketing team immediately got to work to help the co-op develop the NT Spark brand identity, build a robust website, and establish a strong social media presence. Soon thereafter, the team devised a full-scale marketing plan and began to implement it from the ground up to improve brand recognition throughout the cooperative’s service territory. “We needed a tutorial on how to market services to our customers,” Edmondson said. “We didn’t have a social presence at all before the fiber-to-the-home project. The response from our members from day one has been great.”
Like other co-ops serving rural areas, Natchez Trace EPA knew that educating its members on the benefits of fiber was going to be a key marketing focus. But the constraints of COVID made community-based educational events impossible, and the co-op had to pivot to online efforts and virtual events, with an emphasis on social media. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the sign-up numbers for NT Spark’s service continued to increase. As more members were connected to the service, take rates flourished.
“Word of mouth from our customers has been the biggest driver to success,” Edmondson said. With take rates exceeding 40 percent already, Natchez Trace EPA has raised the bar again, setting a new goal of a 60 percent take rate. Edmondson is confident they will get there, thanks to the partnership with Conexon. “Collaboration with someone who knows what they’re doing when you don’t helps you become better,” he said.
“Word of mouth from our customers has been the biggest driver to success.” With take rates exceeding 40 percent already, Natchez Trace EPA has raised the bar again, setting a new goal of a 60 percent take rate.
- Shawn Edmondson, General Manager - Natchez Trace Electric Power Association
The co-op is on target to finish its two-year on-system build in 2023 and Edmondson hopes that by helping to close the digital divide in rural Mississippi, the lives of members will continue to change for the better.
“Our state has one of the lowest costs of living,” Edmondson said. “Because we’re offering this high-speed internet, we’ve already seen our community begin to flourish by having those who moved away to work in bigger cities be able to move back to our area and work remotely.”
To read more on the earliest days of Natchez Trace EPA’s fiber-to-the-home project, click here.