It was the summer of 2016, and my colleague Alex Varricchio and I debated whether we should take the plunge and enter the Best of NAMA agri-marketing awards competition. As a 75-person agency, we held onto a fear that we weren’t ready for the “big show” and that we’d ultimately get our derrieres (that’s Canadian for butts) handed to us by the industry’s best of the best.
With trepidation, we decided to pull the trigger. I’m very proud to say that we did quite well, although I was surprised on three counts. The first (very pleasant surprise) came when we were declared the national winner for Best of Show – Digital, not because I didn’t think our work was fantastic, but because it happened in our first year of participating! The second was the overwhelming amount of traditional work submitted in such a clearly digital battleground, and this by some of the best agencies in North America. Finally, the third surprise was the significant number of agri-marketers I spoke to who had little-to-no knowledge of the inbound methodology.
If you have read any of my posts from the last year and a half, you will know that I believe the agri-marketing industry (agencies and clients alike) is culpable in allowing a significant digital gap to exist in comparison to other industries that serve our farmer customers (like financial services and outdoor recreation). I believe we have an obligation to the community and to the clients we serve to close that gap.
So, for those digital seekers who may or may not have attended the NAMA convention, I’ve put together a list of “digital takeaways” in the hope that they may inspire those who believe it’s time to close the digital gap in agri-marketing once and for all.
Marketing is a Mainstay, Digital is a Differentiator
It was great to see that marketing is alive and well, but while the quality of creative and communications improves year after year, it does little to truly differentiate your brand in a world where solid brand and creative expression is a table stake. In the B2C world, award categories are now 30% traditional and 70% digital, so why is it that agriculture continues to maintain the reverse?
Our farmer customers consume digital marketing initiatives from other industries, so why are those of us in ag still slow on the digital uptake? It shouldn’t be that simply having a truly strategic, intentional and well-funded digital offering is enough to significantly differentiate your brand. And yet, that’s the case in Ag. It’s not about beating your competition with a better digital offering, its about beating your competition to the market with a true digital offering.
Are we thinking far enough ahead?
Was the Cargill Growing Series a unique online experience? Yes. Was it a novel way to engage farmers in a sales discussion? Yes. Was it a true digital differentiator? Probably not. That’s because digital is so much more than a single customer experience. It’s a new mindset that fundamentally changes the marketing model. At a conference for America’s best agri-marketers, we can’t relegate digital to a few one-hour education sessions. And the shift to inbound should definitely not be a small “slice” of of this education. There is no argument our future will be more digital than ever, so lets shift from considering it a part of marketing when it is so clearly bigger than marketing; it’s a new way of thinking.
Agri-marketing needs to find its way and place in the digital world, not the other way around. Inbound and Dreamforce are the new Meccas of marketing. Ag or otherwise, we should embrace and integrate them into everything we do.
It's the Mindset that Matters
We are an agency based in a 750,000-person market in a the small Canadian ag-based market of Winnipeg and the thriving U.S. tech market of Portland. We can see the difference old-world thinking makes. In today’s economy, big doesn’t mean you can’t compete, geography doesn’t mean you can’t compete, the current client base doesn’t mean you can’t compete - the only thing that can stops us from competing is how we think! And in agri-marketing, it’s time we realize our world has gone digital, and for us to make it the next level, we have to think digitally. As undisputed underdogs, digital is our ticket to the dance, and it could be yours as well. After all, it's a dance that’s just beginning in Ag.