New media takes root with ag pros

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The agriculture industry has typically lagged other b-to-b markets in its adoption of new media technologies, but marketers interested in reaching this lucrative audience will find that has started to change. While traditional media like print and radio are still go-to sources of information for this group, online media, video and mobile usage are on the rise. In fact, according to “Agriculture New Media Usage Study,” published in August by marketing communications agency Nicholson Kovac, large-acreage growers have a high level of engagement with new media tools and devices. The study was based on 250 completed personal phone interviews conducted in May. Forty-seven percent of respondents said they spend five or more hours per week online; 85% said they visit Web sites related to their farm operations. The study also found that text messaging is considered a routine, valuable way of communicating for business among farmers. Sixty-two percent of large-crop growers had sent or received text messages during the previous year; almost 60% sent or received 16 or more texts per week; and 48% sent or received more than five text messages a day, the study found. “They're using [texting] as a business tool,” said Sheree Johnson, senior VP-director of media services at Nicholson Kovac. “They're not in their house a lot; they're out on the tractor, they're out in the truck, out in the field. So this is a real viable tool for them to use.” Traditional media will continue to be a valued source of information for farmers, Johnson said, but marketers are considering how they can use new media. “You'll see more advertisers redeploying some of their media budgets into tools like search marketing and trying things like social media and text marketing,” she said. Ann Camden, senior VP-agribusiness and food practice at public relations agency Gibbs & Soell, said her firm has worked with Syngenta Crop Protection on text messaging campaigns, sending out information about market trends relevant to top-tier growers as well as “pest alerts” when a certain disease or pest is known to be moving into their area. Camden also said she is seeing agriculture marketers and media companies use video more to reach their audience. “With YouTube and the Flip camera, trade magazines and corporate sponsors are taking video of anything—for example, a harvest crew or a milking crew—and putting those online to be educational,” she said. “You can find a lot of that on YouTube.” Larger industry players and agriculture media companies also are using online communities and blogs, Camden said, pointing as an example to the All Aboard 2009 Wheat Harvest project, a blog sponsored by High Plains Journal and DuPont Crop Protection that followed two correspondents on their families' journeys from Texas to the Dakotas harvesting wheat. The two posted weekly updates on the blog, via e-mail and on Facebook and Twitter. A weekly print column also ran in High Plains Journal. Overall, marketers must keep in mind that farmers are businesspeople, said Steve Custer, exec VP-publishing at Farm Journal Media (see Q&A, below). “A lot of marketers that are nonendemic to the category don't understand the sophistication of these guys today,” he said. “It's not common, but you still sometimes see an advertiser approaching this market with an image of a farmer from the '60s.” Agrarian culture is something that isn't well understood by people outside it, Custer said. “These are people who, if they weren't farming, would be in another business,” he said. “They're businesspeople, and farming happens to be their business.” Sally Behringer, PR account supervisor at Nicholson Kovac, said growers have become business-savvy because, typically, a farm has to be relatively large to survive economically. “These are extremely business-minded people, and they're just voracious in wanting information about products, and services and [finding ways] to be more profitable.” Marketers must understand that mindset, she said, and understand the particular needs of their target audience. For instance, she said, large-acreage corn soybean growers, swine operators and cattle ranchers all have different needs and interests. “The rhythms of production are different from one type of grower to another,” she said. In determining how best to reach their audience, marketers must consider what times of the year are busy for the farmers they are targeting and how these people might consume media differently at different times of the year, Behringer said. M
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