Land O’Lakes Rural American Mindset

Refreshing the voice of Rural America through mindset research.

The work

Land O’Lakes is a century-old agricultural cooperative and one of the leading agriculture companies in the United States. And it's one of the leading advocates for rural America, from keeping jobs in small towns to expanding broadband access. Land O’Lakes leaders wanted to refresh their understanding of the conversations, opportunities, and anxieties of rural Americans, in order to better represent their voices in storytelling and advocacy. They partnered with Zeus Jones to conduct community mindset research with a diverse group of rural Americans, experts, advocates, and leaders.

Our roles

  • Mindset Research
  • Expert Curation
  • Creative Production
  • Content Strategy
  • Organizational Enrollment

The Opportunity

Finding new truth in the voices of rural Americans.

Zeus Jones worked with Land O’Lakes starting in 2020 to define an enterprise-wide strategy that could bring together the cooperative’s strengths and ambitions into a new roadmap for the future. From feeding the world and leading agricultural innovation, to combating climate change and promoting land stewardship, to speaking out for rural Americans and culture, Land O’Lakes believes that farming and farmers aren’t holding progress back; they actually have the greatest potential to change the world for the better.

As we developed this unifying strategy and positioning, called Rooted in Tomorrow, it opened up more opportunities for Land O’Lakes to take a leading voice in cultural conversations. One crucial area is rural America—an audience and topic Land O’Lakes has a century of experience in leading. Yet the economic, social, community, regulatory, cultural, and environmental forces that shape rural America today are increasingly disconnected from reality. At the core is a mutual misunderstanding between urban and rural communities, and the deepening of an us-and-them mentality. As these divisions deepen, rural Americans lose agency, and our national identity suffers for it.

At a moment when deep understanding and authentic representation of rural America has never been more needed, Land O’Lakes leaders engaged Zeus Jones to help expand their insight into the mindset of rural Americans. We worked closely with Land O’Lakes strategists to co-develop the Rural American Mindset report.

Our Approach

Creating a 3D view of rural America.

Mindset research includes voices and inputs that aren’t always considered in typical qualitative research. We used desk research to create a mental frame and identify areas of inquiry, then engaged a panel of experts, academics, and leaders in rural America to challenge and expand our assumptions. We ran a multi-phased Dscout mission to capture the real voices, aspirations and perspectives of rural Americans all across the country. This range of inputs, from experts to everyday, is a critical ingredient in mindset research, and allows us to hear themes and ideas that the typical research agenda misses.

When we listened to rural Americans, we heard about hardships and challenges, but we also uncovered stories of vibrancy and unique community assets that are often overlooked. Major themes included the importance of thriving rather than growing at all costs, the legacy of "outside-in" economic development, and the resourcefulness and capacity to make change that rural Americans have. And we heard about a persistent undervaluing of rural America: The dominant cultural narrative doesn’t give rural America credit for its creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation. It doesn’t need to be saved—in fact, its evolution shows how the whole country can grow.

“The mix of research inputs was a potent combination. Across all sources—from our expert panel to qualitative interviews—we uncovered fresh, authentic stories of rural America that challenge dominant myths and stereotypes. This work set the stage for groundbreaking storytelling and advocacy from Land O’Lakes.”

Morgan Hay-Chapman, Strategist at Zeus Jones

The Outcome

Championing a new narrative.

Our research uncovered a new narrative that Land O’Lakes could champion—one that broadens our mental models of "rural" and celebrates the unique assets that exist in America’s rural places. We translated our six core themes into storytelling implications and a comprehensive report that would help leaders at Land O’Lakes engage with and advocate for rural communities in a more authentic way. We helped orient the organization to the new content through internal workshops and activation brainstorming.

This work has been foundational in informing both the stories that Land O’Lakes is able to tell about rural places, and how they activate within rural communities. The Rural American Mindset report inspired editorial content creation, executive thought leadership, funding and support for community projects, and more. And it demonstrated the power of deeply listening to the heart of communities in order to find a more meaningful truth—one that can begin to bridge urban-rural divides in service of healing our national identity.

“As an organization that is rooted in Rural America, it’s been a terrific piece of thought leadership that has facilitated discussion and dialogue."

Lynn Franz, Director, Brand & Engagement Strategy at Land O’Lakes

Our team

Alex Gaterud
Beth Larson
Jen Shadowens
Jenny Kramm
Morgan Hay-Chapman
Sarah Youngquist

Our partners

Jack Samels 🎥
Maggie Collette
Ruthie Feinstein 🎤
Samantha Johnson

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