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Best of NAMA 2023

Direct marketing activities range from the simplest of projects, like mailing a postcard, to highly sophisticated ones.

But the common bond in most direct marketing efforts is to develop and deliver a targeted message that connects the prospect with the supplier.

That is what Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Johnston, IA, has certainly accomplished with its GrowingPoint program. Begun in 2000, the program features both the Web site and Pioneer GrowingPoint magazine.

In a unique twist, the GrowingPoint Web site was launched before the magazine. "The Internet was still ramping up when we started the GrowingPoint Web site," says Bill Belzer, E-Business manager. "It seemed that all of the other ag Web sites that were started in the late '90s were focused on going direct to the grower and circumventing the sales agent and their local expertise. We disagreed with this methodology. So, we created a Web site that elevated the presence of the local sales representative with customers and made their local expertise readily available online."

The overall goal of the Web site is to reward the loyalty of Pioneer customers with true value-added information products and tools and to motivate prospects to initiate a purchasing relationship.

To accomplish that goal, prospects have access to general information including topline news, weather, Pioneer product information and commodity futures prices. However, they must register to enter the site and are offered regular e-mail updates from the company.

When Pioneer customers log in, though, they are met with a robust Web site that is chockfull of information, including:
• Localized weather (including 3-day, hour-by-hour forecasts).
• Local commodity markets.
• In-depth crop production resources (including agronomy publications, agronomy research materials and a crop production information database).
• Electronic versions of local agronomy publications written by Pioneer agronomists.
• Business planning advice (including tax tips and calculators).
• Livestock nutrition information.
• Family Health (including safety tips and recipes).
• Fun and games (including "Herculex I the Destroyer" game ... a farmer shooting ugly yield-robbing insects).
• Country store (order your Pioneer caps, memorabilia and other useful items here!)

"We want to do all we can do to help our customers maximize their productivity from our products," Belzer says. "And, we want to be available to help them 24/7. The GrowingPoint Web site allows us to do just that.
"In addition," he continues, "we want to reward their loyalty. They aren't just customers, we have a trusting relationship with them, one of belonging to our community. We want them to feel that buying a
Pioneer product is more than just a purchase - it is a satisfying experience."

A feature that was rolled out two years ago is the "My Farm & Accounts" section. It allows customers to look up their purchase and payment records (both current and previous year) online. Customers utilizing the PHI Financial Services Deferred Payment loan program to finance their purchase. Pioneer products can review their loan's status and pay their loan off electronically. In addition, customers can manage required product documentation online by signing Technology Licensing agreements in a click, saving time for both the customer and the sales rep.

Being introduced this month is a new online record keeping system. "Working with our sales reps, customers can get their yield map data processed and loaded into our mapping system," Belzer says. "Once this data is in our secure system, customers will be presented their field information (field names, attributes, etc.) online where they can load the crop inputs used in each field including, planting operations, pesticide applications and more. The system will generate valuable reports for the user including field operation plans, field operation summaries and restricted use pesticide records. In addition, customers using the system will be able to track field by field accumulation of Growing Degree Units, precipitation and estimated crop growth stage."

Over time, the system will add functionality and forecast information for hybrids such as expected tassel date, physiological maturity date and potentially yield level.

To make people aware of the Web site, Belzer says it is part of Pioneer sales calls, articles in the GrowingPoint magazine encourage its use, and a weekly outbound
e-mail update is sent to all those who have registered. Also, nearly all Pioneer advertising carries the URL.

Additionally, they conduct a direct mailings annually and will issue news releases about the site's new features and services.

What happens when a Pioneer customer becomes a former customer? "Unfortunately that sometimes happens and we can track it in their purchasing records," Belzer says. "When it does, the user is demoted and no longer receives customer-level content."

Pioneer evaluates the success of the Web site by the amount of use it has and they are very pleased with the results. "Over 61,000 farm operators are registered on the site," Belzer says. "In addition, the site averages thousands of unique visitors each day and continues to grow."

A year after the Web site was launched, Pioneer introduced its GrowingPoint magazine. "As good as the Web site is, we still needed to have a communication vehicle that reached all of our customers," explains Jerry Harrington, Sales and Marketing Public Relations Manager.

"The goal of the magazine is to position Pioneer as the leader in crop genetics and technology information, while speaking to the ag producer as the business people that they are," he says. "We provide them with information and sources they can't normally find in the general farm media and link several of the articles in each issue to the GrowingPoint Web site for additional information about that topic."

Our agency, McCormick Company, plays a fundamental role in producing Pioneer GrowingPoint magazine. From editorial calendar development to article writing to creative layout development, the communications professionals at McCormick - led by Alan Bill, Lorie North and Gary Vincent - are central to producing the publication.

The 48-page magazine is sent to all - and only to - Pioneer customers. Eight issues are sent annually to U.S. customers and four to Canadian customers, featuring English and French languages. The list is supplied by Pioneer sales reps and from the purchase records in the company's database.

To personalize it, the local Pioneer sales agent's name is ink jetted on the magazine's back cover. Also, during the year, two canola, sunflower, sorghum, and four dairy special editorial reports are inserted in the issues of customers who have purchased those products.

"Most of the writing is done by McCormick, based on interviews with outside experts and Pioneer sources," Harrington says. "However, we also sub-brand content from other parties that have special expertise. Including reports from the Wall Street Journal, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on weather, and financial management from the Illinois and Iowa Farm Business/Farm Management programs.

"One of the greatest values of the magazine," he continues, "is its ability to explain, in-depth, some rather complicated crop genetics and technology issues."

The company also utilizes the magazine to announce its Pioneer Rewards Program which outlines the value-enhanced financing programs and other key communications, such as Insect Resistance Management (IRM) education.

The company allows a varying number of ad pages in each issue from the DuPont/Pioneer business units.

To measure the magazine's effectiveness, the company conducts a market research study among its recipients. "We are very pleased with the responses," Harrington says. "Over half of the audience reads half or more of each issue, and, on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5, 41% gave the magazine a 4 or 5 rating, with 79% giving it a 3 or better."

The company has an advisory panel that meets annually to review the magazine and the Web site, to evaluate additional services/articles that are on the drawing board, and to provide new ideas. "Their feedback and ideas are invaluable and an integral part of the program and had helped make it the success it is," Belzer says.

Others in the industry have noticed the program's success as well. The magazine was the winner of Best of NAMA's "Company & Association Magazine - External" last year.

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