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THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
BOEHRINGER INGELHEIM JUST WANTS TO HAVE A LITTLE 'FUN' WITH ROOT FOR LOOT
FUN. It's a simple word. One dictionary defines "fun" as "a source of enjoyment or pleasure; amusing diversion." I've contended for years that those of us in agrimarketing don't have enough fun with our promotional programs. With the economic situation facing agriculture today, sometimes it's tough to have fun - constantly being told "we're cutting our budgets" can put a damper on the fun quotient.

So, when Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., the animal health company based in St. Joseph, Mo., introduced its Root for Loot program in 2001 for swine producers (and a greatly expanded program for 2002), one word came to mind as I reviewed the program - fun.

"You can have fun and associate it with a serious business like selling animal health products to swine producers," says Klaas Okkinga, manager of swine marketing for Boehringer Ingelheim. "We did this program because we wanted to get to know our customers that we cannot touch directly. You can do that and have fun. We probably don't do enough of that in our industry."

At a time when incentive programs for airlines, hotels, rental cars, etc. are running rampant in efforts to lure consumers to their products and services, it's interesting that more ag companies haven't jumped on the bandwagon in a more substantial way. (BASF's Harvest Partners is another example of a reward program for purchases.)

"We're trying to create some loyalty for Boehringer Ingelheim products here. With the small number of sales reps that the company has across the country, it's impossible to get the face-to-face contact needed to establish that," says Jeff Wilson, account lead for the Boehringer Ingelheim business at Solutions Inc., a creative marketing firm based in Des Moines, Iowa.

In addition to Boehringer Ingelheim, Solutions Inc. counts among its clients: Garst Seed Company, AgriPro Seeds, Miraco, Iowa Department of Agriculture, OAASI, Farmchem, Gutwein Seeds, and PSA Genetics.

Like many companies in the animal health business, most products are sold either through veterinarians or distributors. Companies like Boehringer Ingelheim need other methods to directly reach producers. Root for Loot is one way for Boehringer Ingelheim to do just that.

FROM THE BEGINNING

The program in 2001 was more of a pilot project. It was designed as a three-month promotion in June, July and August to increase sales of DenagardTM 10. "We got called in by the client and were asked to come up with a program to increase sales of the product," Wilson says. The agency has represented the client for about 18 months. "We nailed the concept of Root for Loot that day and developed the details of the program." Once the program was implemented, the company soon decided to extend it until the end of 2001.

At some point during the fall of 2001, it was clear the company knew where it was going in 2002. More products, more rewards, more fun! How does a big screen TV sound? Or a John Deere Gator? How about a pickup truck? Other electronic equipment, lots of tools, appliances, computers, grills and more round out the list of goodies.

The program is fairly simple: Buy products, get points for purchases, reach certain levels and redeem a reward. Okkinga says to make a program like this work, make sure to discuss it with others in the company and have basic rules. "Keep the program manageable and clearly state when it ends and how long you have to redeem points," he says.

To alert producers to the program, Boehringer Ingelheim has run ads in publications like National Hog Farmer, Feedstuffs and Pork magazine. Two direct mail pieces were sent in the beginning - one to announce the program, the other to announce the extension of Root for Loot.

For 2002, ads appeared in the same publications, plus a business reply card was included in National Hog Farmer and Feedstuffs. The business reply card also was included in the program's reward catalog.

"We've expanded our public relations efforts and added DTN to our plan," says Jolene Koopmann of Solutions, Inc., who's managing the program at the agency for Boehringer Ingelheim in 2002. "We're also promoting the contest at other livestock events, World Pork Expo and the Iowa Pork Congress."

News releases to create interest in Root for Loot were sent to major farm magazines. "The sales force can't begin to cover all their territory and promote the program," Koopmann says.

The www.rootforloot.com Web site allows producers to register online. In fact, for 2002, 17 percent of those entered in the program did so online. Producers can go to the Web site and look at rewards and check their point totals. Trudy Ritter, a specialist in marketing services for Boehringer Ingelheim, says Root for Loot is unique in the animal health arena. "We're only aware of one other company doing this with a limited product range," she says. "It's on a much smaller scale."

REACHING TOP PRODUCERS

Okkinga says capturing demographic information is a key component of this program. He believes the top 5,000 swine producers in the U.S. represent those who have more than 1,000 sows. Although the program is for small, medium and large operations, it's clear that reaching the top 5,000 producers is paramount in Root for Loot. "If we can reach a good portion of 20 percent of these top producers in two years through this program, we will be pleased," he says.

As one might imagine, the sales reps are thrilled with the program. "This is about permanent, long-term relationships with customers," Okkinga continues. "We're not just rewarding customers through short-term sales. We're trying to generate long-term relationships and possibly even use the database as an opportunity to do simple market research."

And then there's that question of fun. "Root for Loot should put a smile on your face," Okkinga says. "This is all about fun. It's one way for our sales reps to talk about something other than taking care of sick hogs. It doesn't always have to be all about something serious."

Wilson says the value of a program of this type is once you get the producer interested in one Boehringer Ingelheim product, it's much easier to get them to try others. "Imagine the possibilities," he says. "What a great way to build loyalty. The sales reps have total buy-in on this for obvious reasons. They haven't been able to really get to know a lot of their producers. This way they can personally deliver a portable CD player to a hog producer and say thank you for your loyalty."

Okkinga admits that Root for Loot is something new and different for his company. "This is a substantial program for us," Okkinga says. "We were determined to find a way to capture more sales to hog producers." With the program expanding, Okkinga is already seeing "an enormous boost in registrations."

Let's get back to having fun. "There's a fine line between fun and going over the top," says Okkinga in describing promotional programs at the ag level. "Ag audiences as a general rule are down to earth. There's not too much time for nonsense. We as marketers have to be careful not to be ridiculous, but at the same time have fun with some of the marketing programs we do. We think we have that with Root for Loot." AM

Den Gardner owns Gardner & Gardner Communications, New Prague, Minn.


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