Seven Trends for 2021 & Beyond
What is Agrimarketing?
Agrimarketing is the discipline of creating, positioning, promoting, selling and fulfilling brand, product or service offerings to entities involved in the practice of farming and/or food production.
In agriculture, change has become the status quo. From global mergers and acquisitions, to the rapid emergence of new business start-ups and ag tech innovations, to industry-wide consolidation and digitization, companies of all sizes are responding to new pressures, forced to abandon their old ways to satiate the needs of evolving consumer, market and grower demands.
While putting together our first annual Evolution of Agrimarketing thought piece in late 2019, we were well aware that major change was afoot in our industry—but we could not have predicted just how significantly the pandemic of 2020 would affect our personal and professional lives. Nor could we have foreseen the speed with which agrimarketers would have to adapt to many of the trends we outlined, digital and otherwise.
That said, we are very proud of the efforts our fellow agrimarketers have made to embrace the change that was thrust upon them, and proactively address the trends discussed in last year’s Evolution of Agrimarketing.
Now, before getting into the 7 Trends we believe will impact agrimarketing the most in 2021 and beyond, it’s important to mention our research process for this piece. As expressed previously, agriculture has, for years, possessed a tendency of assuming that our industry is so unique that trends and best practices that apply elsewhere don’t fit or reflect our reality. However, as the global pandemic has shown us, agriculture is more similar to other industries than we might care to admit, with ag companies facing many of the same challenges and opportunities as those in other sectors.
Therefore, for this piece, our primary source of research and inspiration were trends and developments occurring outside of agriculture that we believed were:
In addition, when preparing this year’s piece, we tried to ensure that these trends didn’t focus exclusively on pandemic-related developments, given that we are already starting to see the emergence of post-pandemic trends, ideas and approaches.
As our first Evolution of Agrimarketing proved to be one of our most successful pieces of content, driving many amazing conversations with agrimarketers (and others in ag) around the world, we hope that you again find value in this year’s 7 Trends. We also encourage you to reach out should you have any questions or wish to partake more in the discussion.
Using Culture to Unite a Divided Workforce
While the global pandemic of 2020 may have illustrated just how connected the world truly is, it was another major news item that underscored how divided we still remain. With the U.S. Presidential Election sharing the news with the pandemic for the better part of the past year, we witnessed that many significantly different points of view and personal beliefs can coexist amongst large populations of people that, for the most part, appear demographically similar. Whether it be differences based on political partisanship, pandemic safety protocol, social justice, age, or other topical issues, 2020 shed light on the existing and growing division in the global population and labor pool.
Thankfully, what these trends also underscored was how critically important personal beliefs are to individuals, and how strongly they will act to protect, preserve and advance the beliefs that matter most to them. For agribusinesses trying to navigate these challenging times, this again highlights the importance of defining, developing and stewarding an intentional corporate culture, as it is your culture that cements your organization’s beliefs (as reflected in your Vision, Mission, Purpose and Values) and allows you to attract, align and rally others around them.
At the end of the day, it is no longer acceptable for agribusinesses to “stand for nothing”, and no longer enough for them to tout “feeding the world” as their cultural driver and differentiator (as that’s a shared purpose of the entire ag industry).
Ultimately, one of the greatest benefits of a high performing, highly intentional culture is that it becomes self-selective. More specifically, the strongest corporate cultures have shown that they continually attract the types of people that flourish and grow within their culture, while repelling those that don’t. While it may sound undesirable to want to actively “repel” individuals that aren’t a fit, it definitely beats the alternative of continually trying to fit proverbial square pegs into round holes (constantly exhausting time, money and resources while doing so).
Finally, whether you are an ag-tech start-up, a mid-sized independent retailer or a multinational life science company, now is the time to be extremely intentional about your culture. Not only because of the benefits it will bring, but because Trend 4 below (Embracing Distributed Labor) is only going to put greater pressure on the competition for the best talent (given that exceptionally talented individuals will have greater flexibility than ever before to decide both where and from where they would like to work).
As the world continues to experience significant divisiveness, ag organizations must turn to and leverage intentional corporate cultures to unite and inspire their workforces.
Leveraging Equity-Rich Brands
In last year’s Evolution of Agrimarketing piece we spoke to the fact that, when compared to other industries, agriculture wasn’t as strategic in the development and management of brands. More specifically, we called out the fact that the lack of strong differentiation and brand stewardship (i.e. brand equity building) in agriculture meant that agribusinesses were leaving value and even dollars on the table at a time when it is increasingly difficult to generate margin based on product performance alone (given the parity of performance now being achieved between most products in ag). While the discipline of brand strategy should remain a trend all agrimarketers continue to follow and advance within their organizations, this year we want to speak more directly to a specific brand strategy emerging/re-emerging in other industries that also target the farmer customer.
While this brand strategy isn’t new (it’s been used in the beverage and consumer packaged goods industries for decades), there are some great examples of it in the marketplace today that agrimarketers can learn from and apply to their future brand strategies.
Take for example the automotive industry and the recent extensions of the Mustang and Hummer brands. In both instances, these businesses have identified key new market opportunities that they wish to enter into (namely the electric vehicle market) and have made the strategic decision to do so under existing product brands instead of developing them anew. Furthermore, not only have they made the decision to use existing product brands that have never been “extended” previously, but in both cases they have chosen brands with very rich back-stories and strong consumer equity, in very different markets.
In the case of Mustang, Ford is taking an iconic brand that is best known for defining the sports car market and using it to redefine what consumers should expect from an electric vehicle. Whereas with Hummer, GM is using a brand that signifies rugged, off-road prowess, to show that our electric futures aren’t just relegated to city and highway driving. Even more interesting is the fact that in both cases, one can see that this brand extension strategy isn’t intended to simply leverage brand name recognition and appeal to improve new market entry, but also to significantly grow these existing brands by overcoming some of their strategic weaknesses.
Unfortunately, while the Mustang was a vehicle that used attributes like raw horsepower to generate consumer appeal, it did so at the expense of fuel economy. Likewise, while Hummer used size and heft to showcase strength and ruggedness, it did so at the cost of extremely poor fuel performance and a perceived indifference to the environment. As such, in both cases, Ford and GM are using the brand expansions to reposition not just what consumers should expect from products in the electric vehicle market, but also to reposition what consumers should expect from these iconic brands.
We’ve made the case previously that agriculture generally suffers from having too many brands, and from the tendency to create new brands for new markets when it may not be necessary to do so. Brand extension, in contrast, provides a different strategic approach that offers benefits beyond the leveraging of a name. So if your company is developing a new product or entering a new market in 2021, you might consider making brand extension the core of your strategy, as it may net you the best results.
To build greater equity in the brands they steward, ag organizations should consider the once-again popular strategy of brand extension when introducing new products and services, and/or entering new markets.
Gaining Traction in Consumer Distraction
While 2020 may well be remembered as a year of challenges, our hope is that agrimarketers will look back on it as the year that the consumer narrative on ag began to change. More specifically, it is no secret that leading into 2020, agriculture was losing the fight for positive public sentiment, with 2019 being marked by constant cases of widespread consumer misconceptions negatively affecting our industry. Whether it be continued disdain for GMO foods and modern agricultural practices, growing concerns about animal health and safety in ag, or rising consumer anxiety about ag’s impact on the environment, our industry had its proverbial “back against the wall”, with little success coming from the many communications initiatives attempting to address these issues.
Thankfully, the global news cycle is a fickle beast, and while we may all be very tired of hearing any mention of COVID and the U.S. Presidential Election, these once-in-a-lifetime storylines provided ag the great service of shifting consumer attention away from many of the issues outlined above. Furthermore, given the magnitude of these 2020 storylines and others like them (i.e. Black Lives Matter), consumer attention has been drawn towards much larger, morally significant issues of public concern. This, in turn, has made previous issues, like eating organic versus non-organic or animal protein versus alternative protein, seem much smaller, more personal and even somewhat insignificant in comparison.
This major swing in the public psyche and consumer attention is very akin to what took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when gun-control was the major concern dominating public discussion. At that time, mass shootings at schools like Columbine were the main focus of media and consumer attention—until September 11th, 2001. The significance of the 9-11 attacks were again so unprecedented that the news cycle changed overnight, and with it, the public’s attention.
However, this isn’t to say that consumers have lost all interest in the concerns they were expressing en masse prior to COVID, it’s just that they are not as prominent nor as pressing as they once were. As such, for agrimarketers, 2021 may well be the ideal time to engage consumers given that:
Interest over time
With COVID and the U.S. elections having shifted consumer and media attention away from agricultural and food production misbeliefs, 2021 presents an ideal opportunity for ag organizations to re-engage these audiences in open, honest and meaningful dialogue.
Shaping the Agribusinesses of Tomorrow
In 2021, the generational shifts that we outlined in last year’s Evolution of Agrimarketing will no doubt continue, as ag will still face the generational divide created by large influxes of young, entry-level workers, sizeable decreases in late generation, senior/executive-level leadership, and rising pressure on middle-aged management to navigate the gap while taking on greater leadership responsibilities and empowering others around them. That said, these trends aren’t new or novel to ag, and because generational aging is the main factor at play, they will need to be dealt with whether the ag industry wants to or not.
As such, we’d instead like to focus on a couple of workforce-related trends that are more strategic in nature (i.e. that ag can choose to embrace or not), as we believe that these will play a more pivotal role in shaping agribusiness’s winners and losers over the next number of years.
While this trend was thrust upon all businesses in 2020, when COVID required the closing of physical offices in favor of safer, work-from-home environments, it will be very telling to see how many in ag continue to embrace the distributed workforce model when it is no longer a necessity.
Based on our own experience serving many businesses in ag and other industries, ag was both:
a) more hesitant of/disrupted by the initial shift to “work-from-home” (lacking the proper infrastructure and tools to support it)
b) much quicker in trying to embrace and even enforce “return to work” policies
From what we’ve seen, ag appears to be less inclined to strategically consider the significant benefits a distributed labor model can provide, even when these benefits may well be critical to ensuring our ability to compete for the best market talent.
What’s more surprising is that while there are indeed areas of agricultural manufacturing, grain handling, distribution, etc. that will continue to require on-site labor, ag is no newcomer to distributed labor as it has long relied on it for critical positions in field-level sales, agronomy, consultation, etc. As such, one could argue that ag is well positioned to further embrace the distributed workforce model by continuing to shift other non-workplace reliant departments and staff going forward.
Non-Workplace Reliant Positions
Finally, as agriculture continues to deal with a shrinking experienced labor pool (given the ongoing growth of urban populations and multi-generational disconnect from farming/rural family roots), we will increasingly need to compete against other industries for the best talent available (not just the best talent in ag).
When these other industries have embraced “work from anywhere” policies for years, ag may need to consider adopting them more thoroughly just to remain competitive. This may be especially true in marketing and digital-related positions where ag may want to start tapping into labor-rich markets like Silicon Valley, New York, Toronto, etc. to access some of the most highly skilled, progressive and experienced talent the world can provide.
As an agency that focuses much of our work on helping clients leverage digital to drive business success, we have experienced a significant difference in the types of contacts we engage with in ag versus other industries. For example, in agriculture, the majority of our client and new business contacts would fall in positions including but not limited to Chief Marketing Officer, VP Marketing, Director of Marketing, Marketing Manager, Product Manager, Communications Director, etc. Whereas in industries outside of ag, we would have some of these positions but many more Chief Experience Officers, Chief Digital Officers, Sales Enablement Directors, Digital Directors, E-Commerce Managers, etc. This isn’t to say that some of these other roles don’t exist in ag, but one need go no further than a quick LinkedIn search to see that they are significantly less common in our industry.
From a trend perspective, this is very much aligned with the fact that ag has typically been a laggard in marketing and digital progression when compared to other industries that serve the farmer customer (i.e. automotive, sports and recreation, outdoor leisure and lifestyle).
Likewise, we are also seeing that ag companies are beginning to embrace the fact that, similar to deep agricultural knowledge, these major digital roles require significant formal training and years of experience to develop a high degree of acumen and ability in. Meaning that ag companies are starting to understand that filling these positions with existing ag talent who need to “learn digital” may be more costly and less effective than originally thought.
At the end of the day, resources will continue to be limited, so ag companies will likely be faced with some tough decisions to invest in a CMO versus a CXO, a Director of Marketing versus a Sales Enablement Director, or a Marketing Manager versus an E-Commerce Manager. Regardless, it is our belief that a LinkedIn search for these roles in ag will and should solicit much different results at the end of 2021 than they do today.
Director of Marketing
Chief Marketing Officer
Chief Customer Officer
Chief Experience Officer
Director of Sales Enablement
Director of Growth Marketing
Digital Brand Manager
As ag organizations are increasingly forced to compete with other industries for the best talent available, embracing distributed labor models and elevating their focus on digital disciplines may become prerequisites to remaining competitive.
Growing Size of Wallet Versus Share of Wallet
For decades, the primary focus for many agribusinesses has been the quest to grow share of wallet with farmer customers. This led to much of the consolidation we have seen over the years, where some of the largest ag entities in the world have continually acquired stakes in many if not all of the major crop input (i.e. seed, chem, fertilizer) and essential service offerings (i.e. data, marketing, consultation) as a means of providing customers with one-stop business alternatives.
This has also led to many of the major ag retailers acquiring their own product lines or white labeling those of manufacturers, as a means of offering more than a point of access to the products and services of others.
For these businesses, diversification of product/service offering allowed them to achieve a number of benefits including but not limited to:
Spreading profitability, financial risk and business success across many offerings allows them to better weather downturns or lack of competitiveness in single areas
Through product bundling, these businesses could offset lesser margin offerings with higher margin ones to improve overall profitability
Similar to being with Apple or Android, by tying customers to a “family of offerings” these businesses lessened the risk and ease of switching
While few companies can be true leaders in each and every product/service category they are in, having offerings in many categories allows them to still remain part of the decision set
Ease of Expansion
As noted previously, these businesses can leverage existing brands and customer trust to enter new and emerging categories
More specifically, when customers have relatively the same amount or less to spend year after year, their focus will inherently remain on priority purchases (i.e. the essential crop inputs) meaning that the only way for a single business to grow is to:
That said, as many of the major players have already diversified their offerings to provide most, if not all of the priority offerings, this leaves them with only the steal share option.
Now, while fighting for market share or share of wallet isn’t a bad thing, when the customer’s main focus is on priority purchases, it leaves little if any room for growth into value-added offerings such as biologicals and precision agriculture. And as we have seen in our experiences with companies and brands in these value-added spaces, it has likely been the farmer customer’s lack of discretionary dollars over the past few years, and not their questioning of the product’s validity, that has hindered the growth of these markets the most. Moreover, we’ve seen a growing number of instances where the farmer customer has reduced their purchase costs on priority crop input products by switching to generics so that they can “free up” some dollars to spend on value-adds like biologicals.
As we move through 2021 and beyond, agrimarketers who wish to grow their value-added products while maintaining the success of their priority offerings will need to find ways to grow their customer’s overall wallet size. To do so, they will need to make the significant shift of thinking about their customer’s profitability as well as their own and embrace ways of driving down costs—not to simply increase their own margin but to free up customer spending.
A great example of this “size of wallet” approach can be seen in the CRM and sales enablement software industry, specifically with companies such as Salesforce and HubSpot. While both of these companies provide a significant range of offerings and obviously desire a large share of their customer’s wallet, they understand that to continually grow they can’t simply rely on their own pricing and profitability. Instead, they have both tied their success to their customers’ success, knowing that the more profitable their customers are, the more income they will have to spend on more offerings. And, in turn, these new offerings focus on making the customer even more profitable so that the cycle of growth can continue.
In this approach, there is less of the perceived conflict between the business’s margins and the customer’s profitability that can exist in agriculture, as both parties understand and embrace the notion that mutual growth and success is the best means of ensuring win-win outcomes.
Growing companies are more likely to prioritize customer success
Making the company’s customers successful is:
As an increasing number of new and existing ag organizations look to grow their businesses in value-added (non-essential) market offerings, focus will need to shift from carving off and/or increasing share of a finite wallet to growing the size of the wallet altogether.
Moving from MarCom to Sales Enablement
For most of the agrimarketers that we work with, this may well be the toughest trend to embrace, as it requires us to be fully open and honest about the roles we play and the value we provide. Now, before we get into this trend, it is important to distinguish between the functions of Marketing and MarCom (aka Marketing Communications) as they are very different, and it is the latter, not the former, that is in question.
More specifically, the function of Marketing (or Strategic Marketing), which involves the disciplines of market identification, segmentation, product development, pricing, branding, brand strategy, etc. is always going to be of critical importance to businesses, as it provides direction to where and how success will be achieved. Whereas MarCom, which involves advertising, campaigning, tactical development/execution, etc. has always been a means of achieving a larger plan/strategy, and therefore comes into question when other, more effective means become available.
Marketers who work in this area have struggled to provide firm ROI metrics, relying instead on measures such as awareness (i.e. brand recall/affinity), engagement (i.e. tactical/online interaction) and even reach (i.e. views, impressions, etc.) to prove performance. Unfortunately, as research now supports, these efforts still provide only a correlation to sales and not the direct causation that we must all strive for.
As a result, what has started to take shape in other industries is a shift away from and even outright abandonment of the MarCom function in favor of Sales Enablement. This relatively new discipline is best defined by its much deeper connection to sales, functioning as the “feeder of the sales funnel”, versus the creator of awareness/engagement. In this new function/discipline, advertising, campaigning and tactical execution are still performed, but only as they are required to either:
Unlike a MarCom team which coordinates much of its efforts around campaigns, events, launches, etc. and an annual MarCom plan that they create independently, a Sales Enablement team coordinates its efforts around the sales process and a service level agreement (SLA) that they create in unison with the sales team. From a measurement perspective, a Sales Enablement team has a direct connection to and impact on sales, given that their goals and objectives (namely quantity, quality and frequency of leads required, and the speed and probability of conversions) are reverse-engineered directly from sales goals and the measurable performance of the sales process.
Marketing & Sales SLA
Point of Contact:
Point of Contact:
Traffic: (e.g. 7,000 landing page views a month)
Leads: (e.g. 300 leads per month)
MQLs: (e.g. 50 MQL’s per month)
Opps / Demos: (e.g. 30 demos per month)
Deals: (e.g. 10 deals per month)
Revenue: (e.g. $150,000 per month)
Initiatives for [Time Frame]
In [Time], Marketing will be focusing on…
(e.g. Driving Traffic to Landing Page)
In [Time], Sales will be focusing on…
(e.g. Following up with MQL’s within 24 hours)
If Marketing does not meet its goal, it will…
(e.g. Receive “1 Strike” – Strike System keeps employees accountable)
If Sales does not meet its goal, it will…
(e.g. Receive “1 Strike” – Strike System keeps employees accountable)
Slack – Utilized for [Purpose]. Updates will be sent by [person] every [frequency].
Email – Utilized for [Purpose]. Updates will be sent by [person] every [frequency].
Meetings – To be held by [person] every [frequency].
What is possibly the biggest benefit of Sales Enablement as compared to MarCom isn’t just measurability or the more direct connection to sales, but the near scientific objectivity that it brings to the table. With Sales Enablement, businesses are able to apply mathematical rigor to what has long been a more subjective discipline. And, more importantly, as is the case with anything scientific, these businesses can take solace in knowing that they can measure and identify what works and what doesn’t, gaining the immense confidence of understanding exactly how they can reliably replicate results year after year.
With ag organizations demanding greater return on their agrimarketing investments, less measurable, less sales-focused functions/departments such as MarCom will start and continue to give way to more reliably effective, sales-driven disciplines such as Sales Enablement.
In agriculture, customer-centricity has long been a subject of debate. This can possibly best be seen on many ag/farming related forums, where one will inevitably find an ongoing discord related to who takes precedence in agriculture: the farmer, the channel (i.e. agri-retailers, life science companies, equipment manufacturers, etc.) or the end consumer.
Much of this debate stems from an apparent underlying sentiment amongst the farming audience that they are potentially under-served and even under-appreciated for the critical role they play (which often gets expressed by their discontent over increasing input prices and the industry’s seemingly deeper focus on the end consumer’s wants/needs). One can even see this debate within the channel itself, as crop input companies and manufacturers continue to wrestle with prioritizing the farmer or the dealer/retailer as their primary customer.
Furthermore, there appears to be uncertainty as to what customer-centricity truly entails and what it takes to know your customer at a level deep enough to build your business around them. A great example of this is the ongoing debate on whether e-commerce will ever fully “take off” in ag. Even with the expanding number of businesses coming to market with e-commerce solutions, the industry still seems fixated on the challenges (i.e. size of purchase, distribution, lack of channel support) and why it won’t work versus why it will. More importantly, the debate itself is rather un-customer centric, as the question shouldn’t be whether it will be successful for the businesses investing in it, but rather how do we make sure it is successful for the betterment of the farmer customer.
And, at the heart of this deep customer understanding is data. Gone are the days where relative knowledge is enough (i.e. our team also farms so we understand farmers), as being able to relate to someone still doesn’t tell you about their specific needs, wants and desires.
Thankfully, there are areas in agriculture where the quest for and collection of customer data is already significant (namely in precision agriculture where software and hardware are combining to provide a wealth of objective data for each farmer’s specific operations). However, for agrimarketers, this data tells us very little about the customer’s purchase, research, and content/digital consumption habits, all of which are key to us being able to tailor our experiences to fit the needs of their unique customer journey and path to purchase.
Fortunately for agrimarketers, the means of and tools for collecting customer data at all stages of the customer journey are more readily available and highly progressive today than they have ever been. Take for example solutions such as Salesforce and HubSpot, which allow businesses to collect and marry data including but not limited to:
Salesforce even has their own term for their approach to customer-centricity, coining it the “single source of truth”. More specifically, their belief is that by being able to collect, amalgamate and attribute data from all these various sources to a single customer, businesses will have a 360-degree understanding of that customer’s reality (wants, needs, likes, dislikes, behaviors, beliefs, etc.) allowing them to create experiences perfectly tailored to attracting, engaging and delighting them time and again. Furthermore, through built-in tools like Einstein Analytics, Salesforce can help businesses proactively prescribe solutions to their customers by applying predictive analytics across the overall data set. For example, Salesforce’s Einstein program can instantly notify sales reps that they should discuss with customers subject matter that is trending live within various data sources (e.g. increased mentions of disease issues on service calls + increased clicks on fungicide products on the website + more improved consumption of disease management content + in-field moisture data = speak to your customers about fungicide product X).
While some of this may feel “big brother-ish” or like a breach of customer privacy, the reality is that it opens up a means of better serving the customer if, and only if, that is the ultimate desire. As all of us would know through our experiences with companies like Netflix, Amazon and Google, customer-centricity can bring significant value to our lives by streamlining and catering experiences to our individual preferences. But it is a fine line that we as marketers must learn to balance, ensuring that we aren’t taking advantage of the amazing tools at our disposal at the customer’s expense.
As brands such as Netflix, Amazon and Google have taught us, when used correctly, customer data can significantly improve and add value to our lives and purchase experiences. To do the same for the farmer customer, agrimarketers must seek out and lean into customer data like never before.
Signs of a Bright Future Ahead – A Note from the Writer
As I’ve been in the agrimarketing profession for over two decades now, I have seen the ups and downs, and ebb and flow that comes with a global industry as significant as agriculture. So, as we close this year’s piece, I wanted to share one final thought on the future ahead. In late 2019, when putting the finishing touches on the trends for last year, I have to admit that things weren’t looking great. At the time, agriculture was facing a near perfect storm of challenges including but not limited to global trade issues, declining consumer trust, historically poor crops in key markets, low commodity prices and a fiscal tightening of marketing like I’ve rarely witnessed before.
Fast forward to today, and while there are still challenges aplenty, we are starting to see improvements in nearly all of the major issues above. And, while I’m an agrimarketer and not an economist, I can’t help but feel optimistic for the coming years in agriculture. Years that I hope will be defined more by many innovations and accomplishments versus challenges and setbacks. So, I wish you all the best and encourage you to reach out should you wish to talk more about the bright future ahead.