Editor's note: Advancing technology is allowing ag communication experts to reach farm audiences in new and exciting ways. We invited leaders in the field to provide an update on their new tools. Following are the comments from those who chose to participate.
Agriculture Online®:, Des Moines, IA
by Tom Davis, publisher, Successful Farming
Agriculture Online offers an array of cutting-edge interactive marketing solutions. Producers have trusted Agriculture Online for more than a decade to be their first choice for timely, trusted information. We invite agri-marketers to explore this dynamic content and discover how they can tap this responsive audience to:
• Benefit from unrivaled traffic
— Averaging 3.7 million page views and 116,000 unique visitors per month in 2005
— Current news, weather and markets
— 24 discussion groups
— E-mail newsletters
• Extend brand awareness with sponsorships
— Micro sites
— Slide shows
— Customized games
• Generate leads and collect data
— Product information requests
• Utilize online market research
— Customized proprietary surveys and research projects with our Ag Adviser® panel
Agristar Global Networks, Chicago, IL
by Cliff Ganschow, chairman
The promise of fully interactive Internet communications is here. A multitude of rich media tools enable marketers, publishers and others to communicate in ways unthinkable a few years ago. So it's logical to conclude that agriculture, with a highly fragmented, widely dispersed customer base, will reap more benefits than any other industry. It's logical, but not yet fact.
The problem is broadband. Or more appropriately, lack of broadband. Nearly 3 out of 4 farm Internet users still rely on maddeningly slow dial-up speeds that average around 20 Kbps, which is where the urban world was way back in 1995. For perspective, rich media Web browsing today requires 300 Kbps for satisfactory performance. Even text-only email, requiring 30 Kbps, is too much for most farm dial-ups. Broadband is a must in order to benefit from all the new media tools discussed in this issue.
For most farm operations the only practical answer is satellite. Agristar Global Networks utilizes 6th generation satellite systems built by Hughes that deliver speeds of up to 700 Kbps down and 128 Kbps up for our Star100 service. Star 500, our fastest, delivers up to 2 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up.
Agristar also provides Multicasting capabilities that enable you to instantly transmit large files to an unlimited number of customers. High-resolution WindowsMedia streams can be sent at 1.2 Mbps, or a DVD's worth of content can be sent directly to a viewer's computer hard drive, using transport channels independent of the Internet.
Agristar is now enabling many ag entities, NK, Royster Clark, National Corn Growers Association, and the Dairy Farmers of America, to utilize all new media applications for the most effective business communications possible with their sales forces, channels and customers. They recognize that it is no longer 1995.
AgWeb.com, Lafayette, IN
by Brian Conrady, VP, Farm Journal Electronic Media
What does it mean to be "The Home Page of Agriculture?" Ask the site manager for www.agweb.com and you'll get a quick answer.
"It's a commitment to providing farmers and ranchers with the tools and information they need to run a more successful operation," says Derek Benthem. "In addition, it's a commitment to meeting the needs and expectations of advertisers." To do that, AgWeb has crafted an online platform that delivers a mix of news, commentary, discussion and custom content — services Benthem says offer both breadth and depth to a demanding audience.
Since launching a new, contemporary design last fall, AgWeb has seen a dramatic and steady increase in traffic. Each month some 300,000 unique guests visit the site, generating more than 1,000,000 user sessions.
The core of AgWeb continues to be news, weather and market information combined with a heavy dose of custom commentary and a robust discussions forum. Along with regular contributions from the Farm Journal editorial staff, AgWeb features unique content provided by a long list of well-known industry personalities like Jim Wiesemeyer, Bob Utterback, Dean Kleckner and many more.
For the user, eight featured sections make it easy to access the information that best fits their needs. From corn to equipment, cattle to cotton, these sections also allow advertisers to match their messages to specific content categories. Guests can also access articles from Farm Journal publications, and they can watch online versions of both U.S. Farm Report and AgDay Television.
In a never-ending effort to increase value to the user and drive traffic, Benthem says a number of new initiatives have been recently launche or are being launched on AgWeb. The list includes:
With the Internet still a relatively new tool for ag media, Benthem says AgWeb is committed to carrying on Farm Journal Media's legacy of innovation. "We're seeing just the beginning of how the Internet can be used to communicate and connect with a target audience. The possibilities are endless, and we're determined to be the first choice for both users and advertisers."
Brownfield, Jefferson City, MO
by Stan Kenigsfeld, Sr. VP
In addition to building brands through traditional media, the future of marketing agriculture products and services is providing companies with the information and tools to communicate directly with a highly targeted audience, providing that audience:
· what they want;
· when they want it; and
· where they want it.
For the daring and most enlightened agri-marketers, this means starting up a conversation with their customers, wherein listening is as important, or more than, talking.
During our 35-year history, Brownfield has effectively used radio to help our advertisers tell their stories to listeners throughout the country. Today, powerful new media tools are expanding and complimenting that reach.
RSS (Real Simple Syndication)
Stories that air on our network of 200+ radio stations are immediately posted to our Web site (BrownfieldAgNews.com) and, from there, "syndicated" (via RSS) to a growing number of content partners' Web sites.
With the explosive popularity of portable MP3 players (most notabaly, the iPod), anywhere/anytime, on-demand listening has become a reality and allowed us to reach listeners in new and creative ways. We currently offer half a dozen of our more popular feature programs such as Managing for Profit, Rural Issues Forum, Innovations, etc., as podcasts.
Perhaps even more exciting is the opportunity to put our knowledge and production skills to work helping produce podcasts for companies like Elanco, whose SwineCast (SwineCast.com) is pioneering the use of podcasting to reach a narrow, but critically important group of swine producers.
Weblogs, blogs ... call them what you will, they're changing the way business talk with customers. According to Technorati, there are 27.2 million blogs and that number is doubling every five and a half months. Savvy marketers are rushing to understand and use this powerful new media tool. Your company might not be ready to blog, but that doesn't mean your customers aren't blogging and blogging about you.
Old, Black Rotary Dial Telephones
Just kidding — but not really. We all need to be communicating and having a conversation with our customers in the way that is best suited to them. If an old telephone is the best way to do that, so be it. There are more choices today than ever before. And every day, more customers are wired. Or wireless. Reaching them and engaging them in a conversation demands new tools and people who understand how to use them.
DTN Mobile, Omaha, NE
by Tammie Freund, director of Ag Products
DTN launched a new mobile and Internet product for professionals in the agricultural industry, including DTN Grains, DTN Livestock, DTN Dairy and DTN Mobile.
Through the new wireless information services offered by DTN, subscribers now have significantly greater access to real-time market, weather and agriculture news and production information — no matter where they are located.
Whether at home, in the truck, or even out in the field, producers of dairy, grains and livestock can stay current on the latest trends and specific market information through DTN Mobile's alerting capabilities. DTN Mobile allows agricultural professionals access to real-time market quotes, weather and news information via their personal wireless device, cell phones, PDAs and SmartPhones.
The advanced remote capabilities of DTN Mobile allow users to customize their own parameters and receive real-time updates. When parameters are reached, DTN delivers an alert directly to users,' providing instant updates as well as access to ever-changing market and weather conditions. A companion to DTN's online and satellite services, DTN Mobile offers users the ability to acquire the time-critical information they need while on the move.
In addition to the advanced mobile alerting capabilities offered through DTN, producers can log on to the Internet 24 hours a day, seven days a week for an array of up-to-date, reliable agricultural information. Through advanced online capabilities, producers can view market updates throughout the trading day, as well as specific trading recommendations on a variety of commodities, such as corn, soybeans, wheat, cattle and swine. Producers can access over 2,500 local elevator cash prices and futures prices, extensive market commentary and coverage, and easy-to-use customizable analysis tools to better manage their risks.
Farm Progress Companies, Carol Stream, IL
by Rosemary Schimek, corporate marketing director
Farm Progress Cos. introduces its latest start-up publication next month, titled Rural Life. The magazine is published quarterly and serves an audience of 125,000 affluent rural, multiple-acre homeowners.
Rural Life's editorial package includes a range of topics in a seasonal thinking-ahead format to guide its readers to a greater enjoyment of their rural lifestyles. Dan Crummett has been named Rural Life executive editor. "We want to inspire our readers with down-to-earth projects to enhance their property and ideas to help them take full advantage of their rich rural lifestyle," he said. Crummett was most recently serving as a Farm Progress Magazine Group executive editor.
Rural Life audience demographics include $90,000+ average household annual income, home lot/acreage size of 10 to 80 acres, and 80 percent are computer owners and have Internet access. Additionally, its audience holds a strong do-it-yourself component.
"Our content provides detailed how-to projects paired with resource guides for supplies, tools and equipment to help readers get their projects planned and executed. The magazine's Web site carries greater detail and product locator information, as well," Crummett said.
Rural population trends over the past decade and more recent advertiser demand spurred the company's rural-consumer magazine from planning stages to the publishing of its first issue. "We are very pleased with the initial advertiser-support of Rural Life," said Don Tourte, national business development director.
"I've always felt that Farm Progress has the ability to reach the right audience for John Deere products," said Mike Gustafson, John Deere manager, ad creative. "Now, with Rural Life, Farm Progress gives us an even better opportunity to bring the John Deere quality story to part-time producers and those who love the rural lifestyle."
"This is an excellent growth opportunity for Farm Progress," said Jeff Lapin, Farm Progress president. "From editorial development to sales, circulation and marketing, formulating Rural Life has been a dynamic, creative process for all areas of the company. The project is very client-driven. We saw an opportunity to fill a gap in the rural/farm/consumer magazine categories with our audience development and delivery capabilities. This audience will be delivered with the editorial scope, quality and integrity readers and sponsors expect of Farm Progress."
Collectively, Farm Progress' publications now reach nearly 900,000 rural homes.
Beyond publishing, Rural Life is integrated into additional Farm Progress business units. The new magazine's companion Web site, www.RuralLifeMagazine.com, also launches in April. Two of the company's fall shows, Farm Progress Show and Husker Harvest Days, will have Rural Life tie-in components, as well.
In many ways, the company is returning to its roots of servicing all facets of rural readers. Twenty years ago, the trend was to serve larger-acre producers with business-oriented, production editorial. Today's population trends have created a new class of rural-living consumers and with it marketers' desires to impact this audience and a new publishing opportunity for Farm Progress.
GJA Communications, Guelph, ONT
by Frances Marciniak, president
GJA communications, formerly Ginty Jocius & associates, debuted 28 years ago with access to the industry's most modern tools of the day — from T-squares to stat cameras!
Today, we continue to use the latest tools available to help our clients deliver their message. From Web site design to the creation of electronic newsletters, GJA is dedicated to offering new media services to our clients as part of our integrated communications offering.
A presence on the Web is now essential for most companies, large and small. Our clients approach us to create visually appealing and informative Web sites that will augment their marketing strategies. Most are looking for an easily updated site that conveys pertinent company information.
We have worked with many clients to create Web sites that fit with their brand and company image. GJA has capabilities to handle all aspects of Web site creation, including design, copywriting, photo sourcing and imaging, domain posting, hosting arrangements and ongoing maintenance.
GJA has also managed several successful contest promotions that utilize the Web for both marketing purposes and for online entering ability. This approach has made running contests easier and less time-consuming to administer.
Electronic newsletters have become more popular amongst our clientele, especially our event communication clients. We have created simple, engaging electronic newsletters— called "E-News" — which they use to convey timely information to their current and potential exhibitors.
The E-News is an effective, cost-efficient means for keeping their exhibitors up-to-date on the latest progress in show development. It has also encouraged exhibitors to provide feedback — invaluable information to the organizers.
GJA will continue to evolve in the area of new media marketing to fulfill our promise of providing integrated marketing communications solutions.
RFD-TV, Omaha, NE
by Mike Hansen, Exec. VP of sales and marketing
Recent advances in technology are taking the communication's revolution down each and every country road, challenging not only agri-marketers, but rural media as well, to keep up with this rapidly changing landscape on almost a daily basis.
Communication options have changed more in the last five years than in the previous 50 years combined and based on our firsthand experience, we firmly believe that this trend will continue, and even accelerate, over the next five years.
Rural American's are embracing new technology at an even faster rate than their city cousins, as proven by the recent Leichtman Research Group study and our own extensive viewer surveys. Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS), satellite radio (XM & Sirius), Video On Demand (VOD), satellite cell phones, high speed and wireless Internet, and Personal Video Recorders (PVRs), in addition to traditional media options, are creating tremendous opportunities to create and deliver complete marketing plans to reach rural America in such a wide variety of ways that were never even possible before now.
John Deere has been most aggressive with RFD-TV in recent months, launching a series of monthly interactive, one-hour "live" shows directed at both rural lifestylers, as well as, agricultural viewers. Included have been individual programs which focused on the launch of the new 8630 series tractors, which provided a tour of the production plant and 26-minute overview of the tractor followed by questions answered by product experts from Deere, and another "live" program which followed the same format but was directed at small acreage owners on tips for buying one's first tractor and small tractor safety. In addition, John Deere is the major sponsor for an original series of vignettes featuring Baxter Black poetry on RFD-TV, as well as, the "Living The Country Life" weekly television series produced by that publication.
Other recent additions to the RFD-TV lineup includes ADM and its sponsorship of the "This Week In Agribusiness" show featuring Orion Samuelson and Max Armstrong, along with Monsanto and the American Farm Bureau Federation with their support of the new "America's Heartland" weekly series on the rural television network.
"Everyone is just beginning to understand the power of using satellite technology to reach rural America", says Jim Kanter, VP of RFD-TV The Magazine. "With 34 percent of our audience and magazine subscribers living on a small acreage, and with another 22 percent being farmers & ranchers, RFD Communications delivers and understands rural America like no other entity. As more companies start taking advantage of this technology everyone will win, especially the consumers who strongly desire this information and want to live the best possible life in the country."
VistaComm, Sioux Falls, SD
by Troy Long, President
Is it possible to build and reinforce you-and-me-together customer relationships with a concept as intensely technical as advanced Web analytics? Actually, it's a lot of fun, introducing high-tech solutions and yet keeping the delivery personal.
The heart of VistaComm's approach is no big secret: first we listen. Starting out with our initial client Web sites, seven years ago, we were probably no different from anybody else, except for the way we arrived at a client's location without an agenda, without a neat little package of pre-conceived proposals.
Words are the starting point for everything we do. We're essentially a cadre of journalists who've learned to love technology. Recently we added in-house software engineers so we can provide our clients intuitive pathways to apt words.
Our WebRx Service powered by VistaComm is a good example of how we approach electronic communication and marketing. It's a quarterly tune-up process for those who don't know the actual meaning of those Web analytics reports just about everyone gets.
Every bell and each whistle on a Web site ought to connect with the ultimate customer — answer a question, solve a problem, or ask for the order. That's what we hear our clients saying and that's what we deliver with our WebRx Service. It's the power to see truth — what customers like about a site and what supposedly wonderful feature is completely ignored.
Once we apply WebRx analysis to site data we help our clients remodel, rebuild, or supplement their sites to deliver on customer expectations. We also emphasize site effectiveness as an ongoing goal, since customer sophistication grows and expectations constantly change.
As we move to action steps our clients learn to love our process. When we do what we do it's streamlined, disciplined, and fast! Those concepts are hard to quantify, but easy to like. We move swiftly from listening to planning to customized programming to writing to design to photography to proofreading.
Every day we firm up connections between our clients and their customers with continuously updated site content (there's that journalism emphasis shining through), e-Communication tools such as e-Newsletters and e-Promotions, e-mail databases, company Intranets, search engine optimization, and online ordering. That's not the whole list, of course, because we're always creating new technology tools for our clients that make their lives better and easier.
These unique set of tools subtly build relationships and strengthen our clients' brands. We believe the goal should be smart technology behind every well-chosen word.