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THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB
Every marketer knows the importance of consistency in creating a unified brand. It sounds simple enough, but the more people and messages involved, the more often that consistency goes out the window. John Deere knows this problem all too well.

As a dealer organization, John Deere, Moline, Ill., relies on 1,560 independent agricultural dealers in the United States and Canada to carry the John Deere brand and message to customers. This is easier said than done, as each dealer offers different services to different types of customers.

"It's very hard for us to do a national advertising campaign on equipment service, other than very generic messages such as how our dealers have John Deere-trained technicians," says Scott Ford, worldwide manager of advertising and retail for John Deere Parts and Service Marketing. "We can't really get into the pricing or specifics of what might be offered because that varies by dealer." In the past, most direct marketing campaigns were left up to individual dealers.

In Nate Sutton's three years at Tri-County Implement in DeWitt, Iowa, he has seen many mailing campaigns come and go. "In the past, whenever we ever wanted to send out pre-season or post-season mailings, it was a heck of a project," Sutton says. The employees at the dealership had to take time out of their busy schedules to design brochures or postcards, print them out, and prepare and mail them.

"Our dealers have got so many things on their plates, and I wouldn't say that many of them consider themselves advertising experts. The last thing they want to do is spend time trying to throw together promotional pieces," Ford says.

Dealer Direct mailers make it simple for dealers to customize marketing materials by adding their own text and selecting graphics.
But with the development of John Deere Dealer Direct, in cooperation with USA Direct, York, Pa., dealers no longer have to be design wizards or marketing strategists. The Web site allows dealers to log in and create customized direct marketing materials, which are then printed and mailed for them.

The site, which was created for agricultural dealers in November 2002, makes things easier for them and for John Deere. "We were at a turning point, trying to determine what we could do on service promotions for our dealers to provide more flexibility," Ford says. "We really needed something where dealers could drive content, but we also like the idea that we can maintain the overall look and feel of a piece."

The service offers dealers many direct mail templates in postcard and self-mailer formats, which they can then customize by adding information such as prices, discounts, expiration dates and details of service. On some templates, John Deere even provides users with several high-quality image options so that they may choose the one that best fits the user's trade area. Sounds simple, but even photos were a problem in the past.

"Many times, as soon as we chose a photo, we had dealers in one part of the country questioning why we chose it, saying 'We don't grow corn here.' This provides flexibility," Ford explains.

Dealer Direct also offers different sites for the United States and Canada, and a French-language site is currently in the works for the 29 dealers in Quebec.

In addition to providing the materials, Dealer Direct gives John Deere the opportunity to offer mailing lists to dealers. The Commercial & Consumer Equipment division currently offers several lists for sale, and the Agricultural Division is working on putting together additional ones. But the company also recognizes the important relationship that dealers have with their customers, and the site allows dealers to upload their own mailing lists directly from their hard drive.

"In the short time that Dealer Direct has been available, the feedback has been unbelievably positive," Ford says. "I expect that the number of dealers relying on it to promote ag parts and service will quadruple next year."

For Nate Sutton, Dealer Direct means less time struggling with marketing materials and more time to actually work with customers. And that's important to John Deere, which relies on dealers to act as the voice of the company in building relationships with consumers.

"For a company with independent dealers, this is tailor-made," Ford says. "Otherwise, it would be impossible to meet individual dealers' needs on a national or even regional level." AM


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