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Agriculture needs a digital strategy

How to develop a digital communications strategy
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Agriculture needs a digital strategy

As rural connectivity improves across the UK, more and more farmers are getting online.  And its no longer just the under 40s with smartphones in their back pockets. Agribusinesses need to get serious about going digital if they are to capitalise on the opportunities to drive real growth, while continuing to provide value for customers.

IS DATA OUR MOST VALUABLE HARVEST?

Data collection platforms and management tools are being developed to help farmers make better-informed decisions, on the go. These are increasingly accessible and useable from hand-held devices in the field or the tractor cab.

But, data sets are often complex, and include anything from meteorological data, inputs, varieties, and yields, to livestock parameters, movements, and individual animal treatments to name a few.

Agribusinesses that can turn this data into useful, relevant insight are more likely to connect with farmers and drive engagement with their brands, products or services.  

Ownership and control of this agronomic data can be incredibly powerful, and valuable. Which is why farmers are increasingly asking how is my data being used? Who has access to it? How long have they been collecting it and how long do they keep it, and, crucially, did I give them permission?

There is ambiguity around the value and ownership of this data, and farmers are often the least likely to recognise the power that their data can wield. The challenge is how to use this rich data to drive competitive advantage whilst ensuring the customer receives something of value in return.

UNDERSTAND BUYER BEHAVIOUR

Farmers are consumers, and consumers are digitally savvy. Industry data suggests that they expect ‘easy, frictionless, and personalized experiences in their moments of need…’

The behaviour of people buying for business is also changing as rapidly as the digital landscape itself. Today prospective purchasers are already up to 90% of the way through their buying journey when they make contact with a brand. They’ve researched their needs and assessed the options, before making contact.

Agricultural brands are no different from any other. Agribusinesses should be adopting best practice through effective digital strategy to engage, inform, influence and convert its audience into customers.

One of the fundamentals of good digital strategy is thinking ‘audience first’.

Designing digital communications around the audiences’ needs and motivations is a more effective basis than designing around your company’s.  If the message is not meeting your customers’ needs, they just won’t engage.

PROFILE YOUR AUDIENCE

Understanding what your customers need or want your product or service for is vital.

This sounds perfectly logical. But some companies organise their website navigation around their internal structure and use menu headings that mean nothing to the customer.

For example, products and services that have started off with a technology solution first and then worked out how people will use it as a secondary priority.   Increasingly, websites or apps that look amazing until you try and use them and realise that you can’t find what you need.

Customers will go elsewhere if the user experience is poor. In our busy lives we just don’t have the time to find things that aren’t obvious.

Building personas is a technique that puts content owners in the shoes of their users and makes them think of the product or service from their viewpoint. This approach keeps the user at the heart of everything the company does.

Once your company has its personas, you can start mapping your user journey. Where are the touch points? Where will your audience find you? It’s important to consider offline as well as online.

IS FARMING STILL UNSOCIABLE?

There is limited UK data on social media usage by farmers but Social:Farmers  conducted research with its social master-class attendees.   They found that respondents believed that 49% of those actively farming in the UK, were using social media, and that this percentage would increase to 68% by 2020.

Compare this to a Farm Futures survey in 2016 that found about 46% of U.S. farmers use Facebook for personal reasons, compared to 9% of farmers who use it for farm business reasons. The percentage of farmers in the 35 and under age group using Facebook for business purposes was over double - at about 1 in 5.

The survey found that Facebook was by far the most popular social media used by U.S. farmers, followed by Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr and Periscope. And not surprisingly, younger farmers tended to use social media more than average.

At our recent roundtable, we found that different agribusiness sectors preferred different social media channels.  Companies involved in crop protection had better engagement with farmers on Twitter, whereas machinery manufacturers found Facebook more successful.  This was a small sample, but it is interesting to note the different platform preferences of the companies, depending on the sector.

CONTENT IS CRITICAL

Before you Tweet, post, blog or publish a new page, consider what content will make your audience tick? How and when would they prefer to find the information they are looking for?  Considered segmentation by presenting your content across different channels to suit different personas makes for a more personal and engaging experience.

Brands are competing in a world full of attention grabbing media, and we have just a few seconds to make that ‘meaningful connection,’ which may be in the form of an impression (being viewed in a feed), a comment or share, referral or click through.

Seeing your content at the right time in the right place can make all the difference between customer engagement and ‘scroll past’, but channel choice should be driven by purpose rather than the desire to ‘sell’. 

Consistent messaging is key. Will your audience recognise you across all your channels? Do you speak with the same voice at all customer touch-points?

Matching audience insight and digital interactions with each stage of the buying process can help you build a relationship with your potential customer, making you their first choice when it comes to purchase.

MEASURE SUCCESS

Guests at our recent roundtable agreed that gathering data is most helpful when used to analyse what the company was doing well and what could be improved.

The ability to track engagement and activity across multiple channels, including emails, website, content on third-party platforms, social media and through surveys was understood, though most companies recognised they still had some way to go to get the best from it.

In short, audience understanding and behavioural data is crucial to appreciate what interests customers and how an improved experience encourages business understanding, engagement and ultimately purchase.

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