BALTIMORE—From advertising “Buckin’ Fast Internet” at a rodeo to showcasing a mascot on a dinosaur to Mars, communicators and marketers at electric cooperatives that have entered the broadband business shared their strategies to beat the competition at NRECA’s 2024 Connect Conference.

“You have to learn to be very diverse, very nimble, very quick,” said Tammy Thompson, senior marketing communications manager at Gonzales, Texas-based Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative, which recently hit 26,000 broadband subscribers.

In a for-profit market dominated by national internet service providers, co-ops “can’t always compete on price,” she told attendees at the May 7 Connect pre-conference workshop on Making Sense of Broadband Marketing. “You have to find the thing that is compelling to the customer.”

Sometimes that means taking a few risks and having a little fun.

“You’re in the entertainment business now,” said Gene McCoy, marketing manager at the broadband arm of Tipton, Missouri-based Co-Mo Connect, which houses both the co-op’s electric and broadband services and has attracted over 33,000 internet customers since 2011.

“There are so many voices competing for eyeballs,” McCoy said. “That’s where Chip Thunder comes from.”

In one episode of many YouTube promotional videos, Co-Mo Connect’s mustachioed pitchman extols the co-op’s broadband speed, which propels him from the prehistoric age to the Red Planet astride his T. rex, Snuggles.

“Chip Thunder’s commercials and videos have been viewed more than 400,000 times on social media and helped lead Co-Mo to an 87% increase in sales over the last four years,” McCoy said.

Delta-Montrose Electric Association’s broadband arm unleashes its six-foot, hairy GIGfoot in new service areas and at community events. The Montrose, Colorado-based co-op sponsors a local rodeo, where its Elevate Internet subsidiary hung one of its most popular advertising banners and burned through koozies and stickers emblazoned with the slogan “Buckin’ Fast.”

The team at Elevate, which serves about 15,000, knows the community better than its large national competitor and how to get the most out of its sponsorship dollars, said Becky Mashburn, DMEA’s communications and marketing director. “We can’t make it to everything, so we try to leverage by adding something special.”

That includes an ad campaign featuring a meat processing facility and retail store owned by six local multigenerational ranches and upgrading Wi-Fi at a health facility’s gala, where Elevate placed tent cards on the tables with the code and co-op contact info.

“We talk about no limits, no fine print and we go out to the community and make connections,” said Peggy Francomb, director of marketing and communications at Elizabeth, Illinois-based JCE Co-op, where fiber broadband is its fastest-growing business. “They are your best source of communication: neighbor telling neighbor.”

Thompson also recommends authorizing customer service representatives with a list of discounts or incentives to gain or keep broadband subscribers.

“If we want to be competitive, we must be quick; they can’t say, ‘Hold on, I have to talk with my manager about this,’” she said. “We educate them, and they make those decisions on calls.”

Co-ops are innovating ways to reach digitally inexperienced seniors, too.

Amanda Mills, communications manager at Laurel, Mississippi-based Dixie Electric Power Association, said the co-op’s broadband subsidiary, DE Fastlink, which has about 16,000 subscribers, provides small “learning labs” where staff answer questions and demonstrate smart devices so “they leave with confidence to make decisions.”

“It’s inevitable that our co-op principles will bleed over into our broadband companies,” Mills said. “We took Education and Training and Concern for Community to create our learning labs. We don’t see the competition hosting things like this for customers.”

DMEA holds large classes for seniors four times a year and offers free installation if they subscribe.

Legacy marketing—billboards, postcards and emails—remains a good way to gain sign-ups, but target your messages using data from customer surveys, the panel said.

“We have to meet potential subscribers where they are,” McCoy said. “That’s what we do. We tailor-make marketing according to the different demographics.”

Leverage what it means to be a co-op, said Aaryn Slafky, vice president of customer experience at broadband marketer Pivot.

“Even though you may be an alternative that is blowing competition away, it takes effort to break through the clutter, especially to get a member to switch,” she said. “Pull them in first with your story and how your service is life-changing.”

Thompson said she recently put the brakes on educational events and sent a free taco truck into a neighborhood of potential subscribers.

“People came out and started talking about broadband,” she said. “That’s how we’re getting a lot of new business. Keep it simple, fun and for the kids, too.”

NRECA Broadband is positioning co-ops as a crucial force in rural broadband. Visit to learn more and sign up.