David C. Aeschliman
Editor's Note: In the last of a three-part series on changing agricultural media strategies, the author investigates how traditional reach and frequency plans have changed as marketers rely on multi-pronged approaches to reach tomorrow's farmer.
So much is happening to the demography of farming; seismic impacts are being made on traditional reach-and-frequency media approaches.
Look at how things have evolved. Back in 1997, marketing strategist John Volk of Chicago conducted a survey of individuals involved in ag media purchasing. Combining the client and agency perspective, Volk presented in his published report the top five considerations in how media was purchased. Those five were: 1) geography covered; 2) editorial content; 3) cost per thousand readers; 4) percentage of class 1 and 1A farmers reached (a measurement of quality); and 5) specific crop or livestock coverage.
Today, that fifth consideration is moving upward in importance at the agribusiness level, and the media buying community now purchases print based on cost per thousand acres as much as per thousand readers. But, there's more. Traditional "soft scores" that measure the quality and the effectiveness of those "hard score" reach figures are being given much greater credence. Couple this with the innovative approaches created by today's media companies where combinations of traditional and nontraditional types of media and marketing communication tactics make the measurement of reach even more difficult.
FACING THE FIGURES
Recent demographic shifts add more evidence. For example, in a breakout of Iowa farmers' ages, eight of 10 farms are still owned by farmers more than 45 years old. (Study the inverse of that.) Worse, 25 percent of all corn acres are managed by the 65- to 86-year-old farm group. Agribusinesses enter the quandary of wanting to reach this significant market, while acknowledging that age group doesn't represent a sustainable market in 10 years.
Look at the complexities. If you want to reach farmers, you're targeting the 45 to 85 age group that owns 80 percent of the farms. If you want to reach farmers defined by their acres, you target the 45- to 65-year-olds who manage 50 percent of the acres. If you target 1,000+-acre saturation, you target the 18 to 45 age group, where 26 percent of the farms have that many corn acres versus 9 percent of the farms in the 65+ age group. One can see how carefully strategy must play into tactical execution of the media directive.
Further complicating reach is the fact that 50 percent of all Iowa farm ground is owned by non-occupants - with much greater percentages in Illinois. Are agribusinesses talking to these owners and managers? Farm management firms, frequently ignored by agribusinesses, manage 25 percent of all ground in Iowa. They make buying decisions, often including who gets to farm the ground. And psychographics of decisionmakers continue to change with marketers striving to understand how they should be factored into reach.
A desire to measure response or return on marketing investments, the need to understand today's role of media in the branding and purchase decision process and the spectrum of any given industry's ad budget are all fueling media planning innovation. The budget issue is particularly poignant in the current chemical industry, where biotechnology traits have forever reshaped chemical industry expenditures. Continued mergers and acquisitions further deteriorate some budgets.
"We all know merged companies seek efficiencies," Volk says. "That's not only true in research and development, it's also true of advertising dollars. When you suck those volumes out of the industry, it's going to impact someone somewhere." And cause agribusinesses to demand that their dollars work harder.
Agency media strategists are listening and taking a broader view of message distribution. Media planners are taking serious note of advertisers' strategic plans and how they impact media thinking. Shifting media dollars among national, regional, state or local publications and broadcast medias, even shifting budgets into dealer-controlled co-op budgets has always been part of the arsenal but is becoming more favorable now.
But recent studies - *The Adoption of Agricultural Brands in The 21st Century, sponsored by ABM AgriCouncil - confirm that the innovative and successful producers, even with new alternative forms of media, still rely heavily on the "traditional" forms (especially publications and ag newspapers). They depend on these forms of media to stay current with the pace of change in farming and ranching, to learn about new products, equipment and suppliers, and make the entire sales process more efficient and effective.
Media companies are listening to all this input, too, and are taking a more innovative, multi-pronged tactical approach to provide more effective reach to targeted audiences and acres, but yet not straying from the underlying benefit that they bring to the brand building and purchase-decision process.
Numerous examples of these innovative approaches created by ag media companies, including Successful Farming, Farm Journal, Vance's Food Industry Group, and others, have been featured extensively in Agri Marketing over the past several years. The bottom line is that this industry has responded to the dynamics of the marketplace.
To illustrate further, however, note the efforts of Minnesota Farm Guide and the Farm & Ranch Guide in the Dakotas. "Five years ago, we ran around asking if companies wanted to buy a half-page ad 26 times a year," notes Brian Kroshus, general manager. "Today, we're addressing how many wheat, sugar beet or soybean acres we saturate. And we're taking four to five proposals to each client."
Kroshus says a typical approach today features many prongs. "We may run a core ad campaign and a continuous Web presence with our site linked to theirs. Then, they might jump into a target market effort," Kroshus explains. "Then, they might join either our Harvest Express publications, consisting of several advertisers sharing costs, or they might want an exclusive publication done just for them, which gets tipped into our newspaper. Or, we may target a very specific group in our database. That's pretty common today."
In his five years with these farm newspapers, he says, "Clients are moving from glitz to measured response. We're seeing it big as sales continue to climb annually, and I attribute it to more creative approaches on our part and measured response by clients. They see the results."
Tom Taylor, publisher of the High Plains Journal, Dodge City, Kan., concurs. "I think agencies are being held to the candle by their clients on measuring return on media investment," he says. "We're offering pre- and post-campaign measurement for clients in our mainstream publication. We're also taking clients and their agencies a lot more variables we can work with than we used to. Our sales reps are spending more time strategically with our advertisers and agencies."
Taylor, who reports ad revenues are up this year over last, is fighting the downsizing in number of farmers and advertisers in an assertive manner. "We're adding to our editorial staff because we think advertisers are realizing local is more in tune and in focus with readers. We're also diversifying our products and services to better meet marketplace needs and to tap into new revenue streams." For example, they've launched the Outdoor Destination Guide, a directory of travel destinations for farmers, ranchers, outdoorsmen and ATV owners, and they've expanded the geographical reach with new extensions of their core High Plains publication into other ag markets.
"The trend of fewer farmers and larger farms won't go away," notes Taylor. "We're constantly working on getting better as advertisers push us beyond traditional reach and frequency."
THE REVOLUTION CONTINUES
Agricultural marketplace dynamics aren't complicated. Fewer farmers. Bigger farms. Renewed focus on profit versus lifestyle. The contemporary farmer has learned he can't have one without the other. And the contemporary farmer looks for business partners who can educate, inform, guide and help in the achievement
of those goals.
What's not so easy is interpreting how those dynamics affect what to do about them. And everyone is trying to do what's right.
There's an old analogy that points to the White Cliffs of Dover. When a grain of sand falls from those cliffs, so the story goes, the cliffs will never again be the same. And so it is in many ways with agriculture and with those who serve it. What you wake up to tomorrow will not be the same agriculture with which you went to bed. You're living in the midst of a revolution. AM
*The complete study was summarized in the July/August 2002 issue of Agri Marketing.
David Aeschliman is the owner of Results Inc., Davenport, Iowa, a comprehensive sales and marketing strategic planning and execution firm. For more information, visit resultsimc.com.