W With four out of five ag tradeshows going either semi-virtual or full virtual, and recent Farm Bureau research indicating that 65% of US farmers have concerns about on-farm visits due to COVID-19, it’s clear that the new agrimarketing reality thrust upon us four months ago is showing no signs of letting up.
What’s more, with nearly two quarters of COVID-19 operations under our belts, we are now getting a good picture of who was and wasn’t ready and able to adapt their agrimarketing practices to the new reality. And as a result, we’re also getting some great intel on what does and doesn’t work in today’s environment. Building on that information, we’ve put together this list of what we see as the top three do’s and don’ts for agrimarketers in the COVID-19 era.
- Embrace Digital as a Business Driver – With social distancing eliminating most traditional “belly-to-belly” sales and marketing tactics, COVID-19 has underscored the need for truly digital business solutions. This goes far beyond websites and social presence, and into the realm of CRM, sales enablement, marketing automation and even e-commerce. At the end of the day, ag companies that are able to develop and nurture relationships with prospects, leads and customers, all through digital means, will continue to succeed.
- Create User-Oriented Digital Experiences – When developing our Virtual Crop Tour and Virtual Tradeshow Booth solutions, we were surprised at the lack of user experience strategy applied to the available alternatives. This is likely because most digital solutions in ag are developed by industry professionals who know more about ag than they do about digital. This inevitably results in user experiences that are overly complex and content-heavy when compared to non-ag solutions. Unfortunately, these experiences will likely result in lower consumption metrics, and higher bounce-rates will also come into play. And that means many of these prospecting opportunities will be lost along the way.
- Enable Digital Dialogue – Agriculture has long been a highly social industry, where frequent communication between the customer and the ag company is the norm. As such, while it can be difficult to achieve this kind of dialogue when you are not permitted to “visit” your customers, it is still very possible to build dialogue functionality into the digital experiences you create. Unfortunately, this has not been the trend so far.
Instead, many of the digital solutions we’ve seen coming online in ag have tended to be very “broadcast heavy”—that is, focused on communicating to the audience through lots of written, visual and video-based content. Or to put it another way: talking AT customers rather than WITH them. To help remedy this, we suggest integrating live chat features, scheduled group calls and/or calendar meeting functionality into your planning so that users are more free to participate and respond when and how they prefer. With this, your customer dialogue can remain a two-way street.
- Don’t Go for Form Over Function – Now is not the time to try novel, and possibly gimmicky, digital experiences with your audiences. As your customers are no doubt being inundated with digital solutions from all aspects of the industry, simplicity is key to maintaining online engagement and driving the conversions you want to see. While that 360° view camera-based plot navigation feature may seem “unique”, if it is more cumbersome to use than a typical map-view, then eliminate it. This doesn’t mean that your experiences can’t be highly engaging and appealing, it’s just that they need to stand out by providing great value to the user—not just by being different.
- Don’t Simply Cut Costs to Offset potential losses – Coming into 2020, many agrimarketers had already expected to see reduced budgets due to difficult global and local market conditions. While cost-saving measures are part of our responsibility to ensure business profitability, just cutting a certain percentage of all agrimarketing efforts across the board is unwise. Instead, agrimarketers are best served to consider their new budget with a bottom-up approach, reallocating spend to where it is required most (versus maintaining the same allocations, with less spending going to each area). One of these areas is tradeshows. Many ag companies are simply pocketing the money they would have spent on certain shows, versus reallocating it towards the development of digital business solutions that can benefit the organization, long after tradeshows come back to life.
- Don’t Wait for the New Normal – With every challenge comes opportunity, and our current reality is no different. While we may like to think that it was “smooth sailing” in agrimarketing before COVID hit, this just wasn’t the case, as years of moderate to low performance had already exposed flaws in our approach.
Our focus here is on digital, because that’s one of the areas where agrimarketing has most clearly shown to be lacking. Simply stated, agriculture needs to embrace digital business practices at a deeper level more than ever before, if only to catch up with the other industries that also serve our farmer/rural customers (automotive, recreation, lifestyle, banking, etc.). So, you can either wait to see if the future of ag is going to be more digitally based, or you can put systems in place to get a jump on the future now. And hey, who knows: with ingenuity, effort and a little bit of luck, the “new normal” just might turn out to be a better normal than before.