OPENING DOORS WITH BRAND BUZZ
Meet Dan, the Answer Plot Man, a bold little fellow who can be found on computer desks, collectible shelves and other places of honor in the homes of some 21,000 growers across the country.
He's also the new sidekick of CROPLAN GENETICS seed expert agronomists. While Dan can't quite manage the phone by himself, he's been amazingly adept at opening doors for his sales force buddies.
Dan arrived at his new homes as part of a CROPLAN GENETICS seed marketing program that included a series of mailings to a targeted grower audience. At first glance, the program featuring Dan might appear to be just another direct mail project. But the buzz created by this new CROPLAN GENETICS brand icon tells the real story.
"This effort has created at least ten times the response in customer calls and sales force activity over any other marketing program we've done in the past," says Laura Heiden, CROPLAN GENETICS Seed Mktg Mgr for the Western Region. "Our goal is to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace with our diverse genetics and agronomic expertise. This program was the best jump-start we could have had to reach that goal."
Colle+McVoy, an integrated marketing communications agency located in Minneapolis, MN, worked with its client, CROPLAN GENETICS seed, a brand of Land O'Lakes, Inc., to design a program that would catch the eyes of growers in key corn and soybean markets. While the overall goal was to create brand awareness, the program also set out to boost grower attendance at Answer Plot locations, which are educational test plots conducted by staff from CROPLAN GENETICS seed and their partners Agriliance LLC, at more than 100 locations across the country.
"Taking a different marketing approach with CROPLAN GENETICS seed seemed the natural thing to do," says Lori Wohletz, Acc't Supvr for CROPLAN GENETICS at Colle+McVoy. "This brand often goes down a different path, starting with the way its seed is sold (through cooperatives) and its heavy emphasis on grower education with the Answer Plot program."
The Colle+McVoy team proposed a three-part mailing to high-acreage corn and soybean growers across the states with Answer Plot locations. The first mailing, which dropped in June 2006, featured postcards with versioned messages for corn and soybean growers, promoting CROPLAN GENETICS expertise with an invitation to visit a nearby Answer Plot location.
The second mailing one month later focused on CROPLAN GENETICS traits and genetic diversity and included another invitation to see crop performance firsthand at local Answer Plot locations. Both mailings referred growers to their local CROPLAN GENETICS representatives to learn more.
An action figure, representing CROPLAN GENETICS seed expert agronomists, was created for the third mailing in October. Dan, the Answer Plot Man, a 5-inch-high character, donned a CROPLAN GENETICS shirt and cap, and held a corn stalk with a highlighted root system, just like his live counterparts during training sessions at Answer Plot locations. The package also included a field sign personalized with each recipient's name and additional field signs for seed partners' products.
"We wanted to send growers something that personified the CROPLAN GENETICS seed expert agronomists — something they would want to keep on their desks and tell people about," says Greg Wetzel, Creative Dir for the CROPLAN GENETICS brand at Colle+McVoy. "This wasn't just your typical postcard that gets tossed in the wastebasket. My guess is that no one threw Dan away."
MANAGING THE BUZZ
Even before the third mailing dropped with customers, the CROPLAN GENETICS sales force was asking for samples of Dan. The program had been rolled out to the internal sales group during a June meeting to prepare the team to maximize the mailing's effectiveness.
"Our internal personnel can be our toughest critics," Heiden explained. "When we introduced Dan at the June sales meeting, we saw a lot of blank looks. It was, 'You're going to send what?' But after they heard about the entire program and made the connection between all the messages and pieces, Dan made sense to them."
Message training with the sales force was key to the program's success. "At the June meeting, we prepared them to turn all the different types of comments they would hear as a result of the mailing into opportunities to talk about CROPLAN GENETICS seed," Wohletz notes. "Even if they were kidded about sending out Dan, we explained how that could be turned into a positive because it meant the CROPLAN GENETICS brand was on the radar of growers who hadn't been thinking about it. And that's exactly what happened."
Buzz from the program began immediately after Dan hit grower mailboxes. Heiden's phone began ringing with calls from field staff and growers, as well. "We thought we'd have a bigger response from this program than other efforts, but this was much more than we'd anticipated," she notes. "I even had growers calling to ask for additional Dan figures for business partners and family members. And our sales field staff reported many interesting examples of how Dan opened the door for new customers."
In southeastern Minnesota, for example, the local CROPLAN GENETICS DSM was invited to present to a large grower buying group that had previously not considered purchasing CROPLAN GENETICS seed. However, after noticing excellent hybrid performance and trait offerings in recent years, they said they just couldn't ignore the CROPLAN GENETICS brand any longer. Coincidentally, about half of the growers in this buying group had received Dan, the Answer Plot Man, in the mail.
"While Dan isn't a determining factor in buying decisions, that promotion has people noticing us and making inquiries for the first time," Heiden explains.
In one Illinois region where CROPLAN GENETICS has a relatively new presence, the local DSM heard that a group of growers, which meets daily at a local coffee shop, had been making fun of the CROPLAN GENETICS seed action figure. The manager used the opportunity to stop at the coffee shop and meet the growers. After receiving a bit of good-natured ribbing about Dan, he later closed a sale with the growers.
Another surprising aspect of the program was the enthusiastic reception it received from the CROPLAN GENETICS sales force and field staff. The program even brought out the creative side of some staff, including an agronomist in North Dakota, who took photos of Dan ice-fishing, riding along in the truck and at meetings, then e-mailed them to customers along
with light-hearted commentary and a CROPLAN GENETICS message.
WHEN BUZZ WORKS BEST
"Depending on the life cycle of the product or service you're selling, buzz-type marketing can be a smart tactic for new products right out of the chute, or for older, established brands to help shake things up and get noticed again," says Wetzel. "It's a great way to reveal your company's personality and show your staff members as real people who are not afraid to have fun."
Colle+McVoy frequently adds buzz tactics to the marketing mix for other clients, too, including a recent campaign for New Holland. Unusually colored animals, including green, gold, red and blue chickens, horses, sheep and pigs are being used in print and online ads, magazine belly bands and bumper stickers to drive target audiences to www.whyblueisbetter.com, a microsite that demonstrates the advantages of New Holland tractors.
"The colored-animal concept was aimed at a targeted audience to help make a fast connection to New
Holland and how the tractor brand differs from the competition," explains Jamie Moran, Acc't Supvr for New Holland at Colle+McVoy. "And the fun play on blue grabbed their attention, while reinforcing a unique and memorable element of the New Holland brand.
"It really got New Holland noticed and drove large numbers of prospects to the microsite. Dealers also found it a very effective way to share a laugh about the colored animals with prospects, which led to more serious tractor discussions."
KEEPING THE BUZZ ALIVE
So what happens next in the lifecycle of Dan, the Answer Plot Man?
"I wish I had a dollar for every time I've been asked that question," says Heiden. "'Will there be a Danielle?' 'Are they going to have children?' 'Are they buying a farm?' Everyone wants to know what's next for Dan."
Heiden and Colle+McVoy are still strategizing about whether Dan's story will continue. "We need to determine the value of delving further into Dan's life," says Wohletz. "The important thing is growers are continuing to ask about Dan, and the dialogue keeps opening doors for the sales force."