THE ROLE DIRECT/RELATIONSHIP MARKETING PLAYS IN OUR COMPANY
by Daniel Kelley
Direct/relationship marketing presents a unique challenge to marketing departments within the agricultural industry. Narrowing the marketing strategy to target audiences often only a few thousand strong is similar to asking marketers to hit a bulls-eye with each shot. Although the target audience may be smaller, the importance of the campaign is amplified because the product is specifically tailored for this set of prospective buyers.
Direct marketing gives a company the opportunity to personally reach out to producers. This chance to make a great impression cannot be squandered. Of course, marketing strategies vary within companies, but a few stand out from the crowd.
AGCO Corporation, Duluth, GA, has had much success with direct/relationship marketing in past years. Doug Durand, director of corporate marketing and brand communications, says the program's success stems from understanding the customer or prospect's profile and then delivering relevant messages.
"We define direct/relationship marketing as a strategy focused on delivering specific messages to narrowly defined target audiences," Durand explains. "We use personalized tactics such as direct mail and telemarketing with the goal of creating a one-to-one, interactive relationship between the customer or prospect, our dealer and AGCO, the manufacturer. The ultimate goal of our programs is to generate qualified sales leads for our dealer network."
Customer relations manager Jeff Springsteen with Bayer CropScience, Research Triangle Park, NC, says a message must not only resonate with producers' needs, but also be smoothly synchronized with the efforts of other departments. "We use advertising to communicate the attributes of our products, and we use relationship marketing to enhance our value to customers through the services, resources and offers that we bring to them alongside our quality products.
"Our relationship marketing efforts strive to establish a dialogue with customers in order to align our value offering with their unique needs and interests. It is important to synchronize these efforts across sales, marketing and customer support in order to deliver a seamless, consistent experience to customers."
David Patterson, communications manager with John Deere Credit, Johnston, IA, says the ultimate goal of direct marketing/relationship marketing is to increase products/services per customer, and ideally profit-per-customer. John Deere Credit closely aligns their marketing efforts with the John Deere Ag Equipment Division.
"At John Deere Credit, we define direct marketing as a marketing strategy that includes a variety of tactical options for most efficiently 'touching' a targeted audience segment," Patterson explains. "It begins with the strategy, i.e. acquisition, retention, cross-sell, up-sell, etc. Then, depending upon the audience definition and strategy, we select from a mix of tactical options including direct mail, e-mail/online applications, telephone, fax, statement stuffer, statement messaging, even selective-binding applications using targeted trade publications."
Patterson says relationship marketing plays a crucial role in the company's marketing efforts. "Our relationship marketing strategy is a key strategic subset of our direct marketing efforts, with the goal to develop relationships with high-opportunity customers and prospects, using interactive approaches. These high-opportunity producers are defined as those with the potential need to utilize multiple John Deere/John Deere Credit products and services."
TEAMWORK ENCOURAGES SUCCESS
A cohesive marketing campaign stems from the collaborative effort between departments, outside agencies and dealers. There are many moving parts in a marketing campaign and each must be in sync for success.
"Our overall marketing strategy is a collaborative effort at Bayer CropScience between multiple teams in sales and marketing," Springsteen says. "Product marketing plans are developed by our product managers in collaboration with sales, internal marketing support teams, and outside communications partners."
Durand says AGCO relies upon efforts within the company and dealers. "In most cases, it is a joint effort between the brand marketing and communications teams and the dealer. The execution involves the communications team and outside creative talent that specializes in the development and execution of direct marketing programs."
Patterson says the marketing strategy is crafted by the John Deere Credit market development professionals that support each John Deere Credit business unit. These professionals align strategies with the John Deere Ag Equipment Division.
"Once our strategies are in place, the John Deere Credit marketing services professionals — and specifically database, campaign management and e-business experts — interpret those strategies into direct marketing/relationship marketing recommendations," Patterson says.
When the strategies are approved, the campaign is executed using one or a combination of the following approaches: 1.) enlisting one of their marketing agencies to create/deliver the direct mail/print magazine component of the campaign; 2.) engaging internal resources to develop/deliver e-marketing, telemarketing efforts and/or statement messaging efforts; 3.) plan, create, and execute producer-directed campaigns working with the John Deere Marketing Communications team in Lenexa, KS.
WHAT DEFINES A SUCCESSFUL PROGRAM?
There are many values companies use to gauge success, yet within direct/relationship marketing campaigns the common goal of reaching strong customers remains vital.
Springsteen says Bayer CropScience's launch of the Smart Potatoes and Grower Dividends reward programs, (similar to the point based programs utilized by airlines) in the potato and cereal markets are examples of successful programs.
"The programs have been successful in delivering added value to growers and retailers and helping to sustain sales in these declining markets," Springsteen says. "The programs have allowed us to interact with customers more frequently. This dialogue helped us align offers and rewards with the individual customers and ultimately strengthen these relationships."
John Deere Credit has had similar success with a program that has gained in popularity through the years, Patterson says. "Our relationship marketing campaign features a series of high-impact touches to a carefully targeted segment of ag producers. This campaign over the years has delivered significant increases in both equipment sales and financing. Its success is driven by smart, data-driven targeting, relevant value proposition/offers, and clean, concise creative."
Durand reports AGCO has undertaken several localized direct mail and telemarketing programs that have generated excellent levels of response and qualified leads, which helps makes dealer sales and marketing teams more effective and efficient.
Even with high levels of success, the objectives of a direct/relationship marketing campaign can always be improved upon, Patterson explained.
"Even though our results have been good, we choose to never be satisfied with our direct marketing/ relationship marketing campaign results," Patterson says. "So, we are always trying to improve our response rates and conversion rates with every campaign, constantly testing and evaluating. I believe the secret to maximizing marketing return on investment (MROI) is to maximize every potential 'touch' with the target audience."
Daniel Kelley is a freelance writer based in Chesterfield, MO.