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Walking In Your Shoes

I recently attended a Marketing to the Rural Sector conference where many of the marketers from the agri-business sector gathered to listen to speakers covering everything from “Creating High Value Niches” to “Better Email Marketing”. It was a great insight into how the industry is looking to engage their audience; the source farmer and the ultimate customer - the consumer.

There were some very interesting talks and below are a few snippets from some of the speaker’s and their key messages that I found of interest.

Ian Proudfoot, KPMG’s Global head of Agri-business opened the conference and talked about detaching NZ from being just a community provider of products. He encouraged companies to think about the intangibles of brand to create value. His talk covered key trends that are disrupting the industry.

  1. Using connectivity to enhance accessibility – there is a move towards a change of ownership of ‘food now’ to ‘food access’ e.g. MyFoodBag. Using connectivity to enhance accessibility – there is a move towards a change of ownership of ‘food now’ to ‘food access’ e.g. MyFoodBag.
  2. Smart solutions are transcending boundaries – e.g. Nemo’s Garden in Italy where they are growing herbs under the sea.
  3. Diversity is welcomed – there is no such thing as an average consumer, which means customer segmentation and micro niches are increasing.
  4. Susceptibility of business model to speed of disruption – e.g. CocaCola launching milk products.
  5. Environment awareness and sustainability at the core – it is now morally right; right for business and the consumer.

He talked at length about the need and opportunities to understand the customer and customer segments e.g. awareness of evolving diets and new forms of food such as insects. He also looked at growing age segments with unique taste buds, which are all creating potential opportunities.

By looking at the area of food through a customer’s lens and walking in their shoes, it will enable companies to provide for a specific market sector and allow them to control the customer experience. This will help to drive the intangibles of brand value and move away from commodity products.

Dr Jacqueline Rowarth Prof of Agri-business at Waikato outlined the lack of students studying Hort and Ag Sciences which will be detrimental to the NZ economy if it continues. She also outlined the data which points to the fact that 55-64yr old farmers are often the most entrepreneurial and most successful because they know their business through experience and are able to access capital to try ideas.

Sharon Angus GM Marketing at Silver Fern Farms outlined the key for their business was working with small specific segments of the market and building trust. Their market is specific protein buyers, the food snobs, the entertainers and the quality seekers. This consumer is what drives their marketing activities. They are building an emotive connection through their brand story of natural products with authenticity and consistency of quality. This takes time but when the consumer quotes back your values you know you have trust and a loyal following.

Andrew Fraser Brand Manager at Dairy NZ has embarked on a long term marketing strategy whereby schools teach kids where milk comes from. He is working with schools to teach traditional subjects, but in the context of the Dairy industry. They arrange kid’s visits to a farm and described how beneficial the physical experience is for children. They have also put a lot of effort into engaging the parents to come along, which also means they can help negate any perceived negatives in Dairy, which results in positive advocacy for the industry.

They have invested in Rosie’s World, the home of Rosie, New Zealand's dairy industry 'Cowbassador'. She is the young, enthusiastic face of New Zealand’s 4.6 million dairy cows. This interactive site educates New Zealand children on the importance of the dairy industry through videos, fun activities and travel blogs. This resource is also used by other countries through iTunesU which has been a terrific marketing win for the organisation internationally.

Kim Skildum-Reid Director of Power Sponsorship talked about sponsorship as being one of the most powerful and flexible ways of marketing. Good sponsors treat the invitation to sponsor as a privilege and have the opportunity to connect with people who already care about the topic. The good sponsor will look to create advocacy by enhancing the delegate experience and help them gain more from their attendance to the event. She quoted Nambarrie Tea in Ireland who dedicate their sponsorship to Action Cancer and use packaging to promote the cause, use employees to pack pink ribbons into tea boxes and make visible donations from purchases.

Sponsorship is not about investing in results, but investing in opportunities which may eventually get results. It is also very flexible, which allows you to extend creative boundaries. The key message was to align with the fans not the event. 

Jess Strange Marketing Manager for Farmlands gave a short, but very good talk on being authentic with your marketing. Her key points when looking at your marketing messages were:

  • Does this make sense to me?
  • Get real. Don’t assume you know. Invest in research to gain insights. Research=Insight=Campaign=Results
  • Old school e.g. print is still cool if it builds trust
  • With all the new ways to communicate, its now about Return on Attention
  • The customer experience needs to be interactive
  • Trust your gut – that is often the best call

Two farmers in the panel session gave insight into how they engage. Social Media is becoming more important to farmers families in connecting with the community. Chanelle Purser is a farmer who users Twitter a lot to convey information. Farmers like to see what other farmers are doing so word of mouth (WoM) local recommendations and online forums score highly. They trust their Vets and Accountants the most and are looking for ideas that will be good for business, save time and enrich their lives. Farmers don’t need you to be experts in everything, they just want honest, credible responses and for companies to listen to their problems first. Farmers read the local mags more than national media and most of their online research is done in the morning. In summary Farmers rely on trusted relationships and welcome innovative ideas.

Dr Scott Champion CEO Beef & Lamb NZ talked about the journey to their new brand and that lots of organisations are talking to farmers regularly, so the key message is consistency, as farmers are group learners. When doing research of farmer influences they found:

  • 80% farmers engage in group learning and WoM activity
  • 72% farmer’s spouse is key especially in business skills
  • 70% Vets are a key influencer as trusted advisors
  • 67% Fieldays are a main event to talk to experts

By far the most important factor was their family and the way of life.

Beef & Lamb embarked on a series of Design Thinking Workshops and included farmers to help them with 'farmer empathy' and 'understanding their customer'. This gave direction to focus on marketing to the ‘world consumer’; the people in NZ farming behind the products who care about what they provide and how they provide it.

Overall a great conference and the message was clear “walk in your customers shoes” to gain insight and trust. Be consistent, authentic and focus on creating benefits for specific customer segments to create brand association, value and long term relationships.