THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
KRONE ON THE ‘CUTTING’ EDGE
Underexposed Krone Is Americanized On A Limited Budget
by Den Gardner, Contributing Editor
"We have a limited budget." Where have agencies heard those words before? Everywhere and too often, they will tell you. Well, this is a story about how the North American distributor for a German hay and forage equipment company with that infamous "limited budget" found an agency in Memphis willing to help it mow down the competition. The company is Krone-North America. The agency is Chandler Ehrlich. Both are based in Memphis. A chance meeting at a holiday gathering a couple years ago resulted in new business for Chandler Ehrlich and a new adventure for Krone. The end result was excellent sales for the company, a happy client, a pleased agency and all "on a limited budget."
Let’s let Rusty Fowler, president/CEO of Krone-North America, explain how it all started about two years ago. "We were suffering from underexposure," Fowler, the 14-year veteran of Krone explains. "We were doing our advertising and promotions in-house and, frankly, not doing it very well. We came to the realization that we knew sales, but not marketing communications." As Daney Kepple, account group manager for Chandler Ehrlich, likes to say: "They never went to marketing school. But they sure are good salesmen."
Fowler and his partners had rescued Krone-North America in 1987 with, as he says, "one foot in the grave." He wasn’t about to see 14 years of work head south at a time the company (and its 300 dealers across the country) was about to introduce a revolutionary piece of mowing equipment to the U.S. market.
Enter Chandler Ehrlich. A Christmas party hosted by Stoneville Pedigreed Seed - the company where Fowler’s wife Merinello works - got the ball rolling. "I said to the advertising manager of Stoneville, ‘Everywhere I go I see news and information about Stoneville,’" Fowler recalls. "He said, ‘Call Chandler Ehrlich.’" The discussions began.
This was no snap decision. Kepple says the agency met with Fowler and his folks for a year before deciding to do business together in late summer of 1999.
The full introduction was rolled out in January, in time for the 2000 selling season. Because of the limited budget, the ad buy was to just a few publications: one vertical pub, one national (using its beef edition) and the dairy edition of state farm magazines. Media kits were delivered to print and broadcast media, and Krone dealers received product information at the same time.
To increase budget efficiency, sometimes editors received the same mailings as dealers, Kepple says. "We had to tell all our audiences that ‘Hey, Krone has arrived. This is our new culture.’ It all hit at the same time. A ‘surround sound’ launch in the first half of 2000."
The Big M was new technology that changed Krone from a company predominantly interested in the eastern half of the U.S. and the smaller producer, to a nationwide company now marketing to larger producers in the West and elsewhere. The mower and conditioning machine is the largest of its type in the world. The self-propelled 300-hp, 30-foot wide swath of the machine has changed the face of mowing technology since its introduction in 1999.
Fowler recognized that he had "the best field people in the industry," but says the new equipment fit in areas "where we didn’t have people, where they didn’t know us or anything about our new high-priced, high-tech equipment."
INTEGRATING AND MORE
Kepple knew the transition and integration of Chandler Ehrlich and Krone - North America was going to be a challenge in and of itself, not to mention introducing a new technology to the hay and forage market in a part of the U.S. where it hadn’t been before.
Oh, did I mention that the company had to do all this, plus accomplish its goals, on a limited budget?
Kepple says transitioning to an agency was only half of the challenge. The company also had to deal with transitioning from marketing communications dedicated almost exclusively to featuring its individual equipment (usually in black and white ads and other promotional material) to a nationwide branding effort that "emphasizes the fact that Krone equipment makes the U.S. hay and forage growers’ job easier." And in a four-color scheme that brought continuity from the smallest piece of equipment to the largest and newest technology.
"I was truly apprehensive on the idea of brand building," Fowler admits. "I was scared to death of it. I didn’t really understand it and I was not comfortable with it. But I’m glad we took the risk because it worked. Chandler Ehrlich showed us that we could take the name Krone and focus on its products and services as a leading manufacturer of cutting edge technology.
"By the time they were finished, from the ads to spec sheets to the literature on racks at trade shows, even from a distance you could see this was a piece of Krone literature. It was all part of a grand scheme."
Kepple says, only somewhat facetiously, that everyone at Krone in the U.S. is in sales. Rusty gives everyone a voice and the whole team has been together for a long time. Fowler believes in collegiality and leads by doing. So, making a drastic change like this took a lot of time and effort.
"I remember scratching my head a lot in the beginning, trying to figure out how to reach two segments of the market on a limited budget. These buyers don’t read the same publications; don’t go about their business the same way. It was an impossible task, I thought, given the budget limitations. But I learn lessons over and over again in this business."
Another challenge was developing a campaign that assisted the company in competing with other short line equipment companies as well as the big boys like CNH and Deere.
"We had to have a campaign that showed Krone as a significant player in the market," Kepple says. "Rusty told me he was tired of seeing his competitors’ products showing up in the new product sections of all the farm magazines. We showed him how public relations works - how sometimes simply providing decent photographs instead of snapshots taken by a salesman will work."
Some successes included a two-page spread feature in Hay and Forage Grower and a feature currently in research at Progressive Farmer. Also, new product information appeared in many publications.
Another important key for Krone was to show customers that its products weren’t just for the small and weekend farmer anymore. "But we couldn’t lose sight of our meat and potatoes market," Kepple says. "It was just that now we were interested in the big guy as well as the small guy."
Speaking of the big guy, the company also started using former Alabama head coach and football legend Gene Stallings in its promotions. Stallings is now retired from coaching and ranching in his home state - Texas. He has a good relationship with his Paris, Texas, dealer, and the company used Stallings for a print ad (summer of 2000), as well as direct mail and as a speaker. He spoke at the company’s annual sales meeting in August. "He’s used our equipment and we wanted a true endorsement. That effort was quite effective," Fowler says.
Having worked with clients in the past that often admit to knowing little about advertising and promotions (but act like they do anyway), it was a joy to hear Kepple (and Ken Woodmansee and Hayley Daniel, the other account team members) extol the virtues of working with Fowler.
"You can’t look at this and say we were the heroes," Kepple says. "This truly was a partnership. For example, we helped by preparing them for trade show activities. Things like, ‘here’s how you work with the press, here is a photo op,’ etc. But they had to do the real work. For example, Krone exhibited, or will exhibit, in more than 25 farm shows during 2001. Another promotional effort is taking the Big M on the road. "It was like the Oscar Mayer hot dog wagon coming to town," Kepple says. "Getting the machine out in the country got a lot of attention. We helped a little behind the scenes, but they did all the work on the road."
What else did Kepple learn? "It re-enforced for me that it sure is fun to work for nice people. Rusty told me the other day they believe we played a significant role in bringing the new equipment to the market, while making sure they didn’t lose their base market of smaller producers. That’s good to hear because that’s the challenge they put to us. We define success as meeting our clients’ goals."
Adds Fowler: "Certainly our brand building image worked. It was that and our intensive continuous work at building relationships with customers and dealers in our new markets. I don’t think there are many people out West who don’t know our name now. And we’ve sold a lot of big equipment and sold completely out of the Big M for 2001. Before we sold very little to larger producers."
And all this on a limited budget! AM
Den Gardner owns Gardner & Gardner Communications, New Prague, Minn.