November 30, 2017

Generational Marketing and the Family Farm

The family farm is a Western Canadian symbol steeped in nostalgia – hazy harvest evenings, food grown from the land we’re all so proud to call home and knowledge and wisdom passed down through generations. Family farms can’t help but be multi-generational operations.

Growers in Canada are aging. Around 54% will reach retirement age in the next ten years, which means that a not so small number of operations, both big and small, will be changing hands. As farmers age out of day-to-day operations and new decision-makers take over the family farm, ag-related companies are adapting their marketing to target this new generation of farmers and their attitudes towards business, technology and brand loyalty.

We could argue that no industry values brand loyalty as much as the ag industry. If you’re a Deere family, you’re a Deere family. If your baseball cap is red, it tends to stay red. And if you have your say, that red (or green or yellow) cap is handed down. In ag, brand loyalty is a legacy.

Or at least it was.

Millennials won’t simply stay loyal to your brand because their father was. Though their brand loyalty is enduring, it must be earned.

BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN BOOMERS AND MILLENNIALS

As the current generation makes plans to hand the operation over to young blood, how can we make sure that brand loyalty is handed over as well? Or, how do we capture the loyalty of the new generation as they consider switching it up?

Marketing to baby boomers is still important. For the next decade, they’ll still be influencing some, if not all, of the direction of their operations.

This generation is extremely brand loyal and nostalgic, and they consider themselves hardworking, ethical and moral.

They’d rather make a phone call than send a text, or even better, talk in person. They aren’t afraid to read, especially information that is valuable to their decision-making process. And they’re on social media – but marketing to them there will feel like an intrusion.

Millennials, on the other hand, are brand loyal when they feel a brand reflects their core values.

They don’t trust advertising, instead placing a high value on the opinions of their friends and family, and on reviews. They crave experiences and one-to-one interactions. This is different than the phone calls and in-person conversations that boomers want – the millennial generation still prefers to do their purchasing and interacting online, but they want to feel like the brand is engaged with them as an individual when they do.

So where’s the common ground?

Word-of-mouth is of high value to both generations. The difference is simply in how they want to hear the message. While a millennial is likely to turn to their social networks for referrals, a boomer is going to pick up the phone and call his neighbour.

You also don’t need to reinvent your entire portfolio to appeal to a younger generation. Boomers have the money and are willing to spend it on premium upgrades of familiar products. At the same time, millennials are attracted to innovation. New features appeal to everyone.

And both generations are digitally savvy, so don’t discount your boomer customers when it comes to the content you create for digital consumption – just remember their preferences. They prefer Facebook to other faster moving platforms, slower paced, information-rich videos, and they are willing to take action after they see something on social media, usually in the form of seeking more to read on the topic.

SUPPORTING LEGACY PLANNING EFFORTS CAN HAVE A POSITIVE IMPACT FOR COMPANIES WITH NEW DECISION-MAKERS

Beyond the product or service you already offer, helping farmers through this transitional decade can have a positive impact. Over the last ten years or so, legacy planning has become a major concern among farmers. Unlike the generation before them, baby boomers want to plan out the transfer of the farm. For a generation that has long juggled individual choice, conflict avoidance and prosperity, it makes sense that they would want to leave knowing that things will continue.

Legacy planning has become such a common need that programs like the Farm Journal Legacy Project have been created to help growers and their families navigate the minefield that is succession planning. The Farm Journal Legacy Project, sponsored by Farm Journal, is a concerted effort to address the succession planning needs of America’s farm families. It uses all Farm Journal Media properties to provide comprehensive succession planning information to members. The official mission of the project: to cultivate multigenerational success in the agricultural community.

So one of the largest ag media companies is putting a major push behind legacy and succession planning. Additionally, insurance companies have developed succession planning services, consultants specializing in ag legacy planning have popped up, and any given ag publication will regularly feature editorial content on the best ways to service your legacy.

It’s no longer a trend; it’s a movement, and it isn’t going anywhere. Savvy ag-related companies like Farm Journal and Nationwide have proven that they want to talk loudly and clearly to both generations. By getting in the ears of the outgoing and incoming decision-makers, these companies are ensuring that their legacies will endure with the younger generation.

GROWERS WHO PLAN FOR THE FUTURE HAVE A TENDENCY TO MAKE MORE INFORMED DECISIONS

WS (like anyone who has worked in ag for the last decade or more) knows that today’s farmers aren’t “old-school” savvy; they’re “internet” savvy, meaning that they’re current on the latest trends, active on social media, and can conduct deep research with a few swipes of the finger (especially while they’re in a combine that’s being guided by a satellite). In short, they make informed decisions at every turn, and if they’re looking toward the future when it comes to their operation and legacy, they’re probably handing things off to some smart operators as well.

The “kids” taking over the family farms are even more informed, and they don’t make a single purchase without proper vetting. So, as the farm switches hands, it’s more important than ever to get your brand’s messages heard across the generation gap. Brand loyalty still exists, but only if the new generation agrees that the old generation’s loyalty was in the right place from an economic or efficiency standpoint. An old-school New Holland farm might not stay that way if the new operator can be convinced that CLAAS is a more efficient combine. And the converse is true; if you have the parents hooked, they may be your strongest advocate. Long story short: make sure your message is heard, and that it resonates with both sides of the equation.

SUPPORT FOR SUCCESSION PLANNING GOES BEYOND A PROGRAM SPONSORSHIP

Smart companies are finding ways to support their customers and show that they are invested in the long-term success of the family farm. It is important to know what resources are available and how your company aligns with those resources to help your grower customers.

But it’s also important to show that you care. It’s a simple thing and seems obvious, but that emotional connection with the new as well as the old is vital. It goes back to messaging. If you support valued added programs, telling them why those services are important to you is almost as important as offering them to begin with.

This is why it’s more important than ever to partner with a communications agency, like WS, that is intimately familiar with your audience. Young or old, retiring or just starting out, growers can smell when you’re not being true. It takes knowledge and authenticity to truly connect. And not just anyone can do that.