Recently while scrolling through Twitter, I came across a meme that highlighted the famous quote “If you build it, he will come” from the 1989 film, Field of Dreams. Anyone who has seen the movie remembers the iconic scene where a faceless voice encourages Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, to build a baseball diamond in the middle of a perfectly fine cornfield, thereby enabling the ghost of the legendary “Shoeless Joe” Jackson to come and play ball with Ray.
The scene is the catalyst for one man’s blind leap of faith to realize a seemingly far-fetched dream. This leap was not a calculated risk; it was an insane gesture at attempting to realize the impossible. But it eventually worked out for Ray. This got me to think about the current digital state of the Canadian ag industry. Aside from the technology implemented in the machinery over the last one decade or so, digitally what has changed? Has anyone gone out on a limb to make growers' lives easier?
Has anyone truly changed the way they market to growers?
During the busy season, growers ordering inputs still need to call or visit their agri-retailer and hope product is available for them. However, they make other purchase decisions digitally - they can order a laptop from the comfort of their cab and have it delivered to the farm within 48 hours. Despite this, ag companies have yet to embrace digital marketing initiatives and social media fully. Is this because growers prefer to read outdated hard copies of community or industry newspapers instead of live online versions? I've actually been told, "We're a traditional industry and like to hold tangible objects." Highly doubtful. But whether we like it or not, the ag industry is considered a digital laggard, accepting new digital entities and modes of communication slower than other industries.
So it begs the question: Are we laggards because we feel our industry is too small and there is not enough demand to change the landscape of our industry the same way Uber and Airbnb have changed the landscape of their respective industries? Or do we feel that our rural audience is simply not equipped for us to provide cutting-edge digital solutions?
As marketers, how do we approach this very unique audience segment?
Do we take a seemingly blind leap of faith and move away from traditional marketing due to an anticipated customer need? Or keep with the status quo and appeal to an audience of perceived laggards by continuing to book double-page spreads and field-side billboards?
In my role at Think Shift, I am blessed with the opportunity to meet with many of our agricultural clients on a regular basis. I not only get to chat with the marketing teams, but also with the front-line sales team members, agronomists and analysts. Every now and again, I hear “but growers are not digitally savvy,” or “they don’t have great access to high-speed internet or cell service.” These statements may have rung true a decade ago, but they certainly can’t hold true today, can they?
Granted, cell service and high-speed internet availability in rural Canada are certainly not as accessible as in urban regions across Canada, but this continues to change every year as access to the digital world improves exponentially. You can certainly find reasons to stick with traditional marketing (print, radio, television, direct mail, etc.) but I don't think this would be a wise business decision.
The grower audience has clearly moved towards the pull of tech and digital. They have to in order to survive.
Real Agriculture recently posted the results of an Ipsos study that reinforced the notion that growers have embraced the digital movement. According to the study, over 80% of Canadian grain farmers use smartphones on a regular basis. That’s a higher adoption rate than the general population.
Growers are not just using their phones to play Pokémon Go or Boom Beach either. They’re using it in an immersive way to run their businesses, exhibited by the fact that mobile use amongst growers actually increases during the busy farming season. In fact, during the peak season, growers are spending an average of two hours a day on their phone doing business. So if you have placed digital ads or have relevant product content in the form of a blog or video, chances are very high that they are going to see it and act on it. But is this enough?
What I’ve shared with you is not earth-shattering news, but it does help solidify the need to go digital from a marketing and strategic perspective. Likely, you’ve already been running digital ads for quite some time now and you believe you’re heading in the right direction. However, going digital means more than just placing ads on industry sites, or sending texts and e-blasts instead of traditional direct mail.
“Going Digital” is not defined by what a company does in its marketing endeavors; it is how the company thinks.
Consider financial institutions: They changed the game when they enabled customers to pay bills from their desktop or cash checks through their smartphone. The banking industry is a pioneer in changing the game through digital means, but how does agriculture compare?
Recently, Think Shift released a white paper titled Agriculture and the Digital Revolution.
The piece contains a fascinating comparative look at how several industries, including ag, rank in digital efforts. It looks at the website, digital presence, social media channels, content development and publishing, digital marketing use and efficacy.
The finance sector received an "A" rating overall, but the ag industry finished at the bottom of the heap with a "D." There is a clear and present gap in what ag is offering its customers digitally and what the grower requires to make business easier.
The white paper not only highlights how to recognize this digital gap, but how to embrace it and close it.
Use this opportunity to take stock of your digital efforts and consider how you can make your customers’ business easier. If you wait for proof of the demand to justify the need to create, you'll be too late. The need in the marketplace is obvious, that data is evident. All you have to do is build it... and they will come.