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By Diane Martin, Rhea+Kaiser

Use of more strategic rigor in ag marketing can ease consumer skepticism.

For decades, ag marketers have been rolling out new technologies and products that greatly enhance farmers' productivity and profitability and make life easier for the farmer. A tangible benefit to consumers has rarely been overtly evident in these products and technologies. So as consumers have become more concerned about the quality and safety of their food, they're increasingly skeptical and even reject these technologies and products. They don't trust Big Ag.

Ag marketers, though, can help, in a small way, to slow the eroding trust by considering consumer attitudes when crafting marketing strategies. As a bonus, farmers will feel like you've got their backs.

First, accept the fact that agriculture cannot hide from consumers any more. Just because you aren't actively targeting consumers doesn't mean they aren't seeing, reacting to and publicly skewering ag products and practices. The livestock sector knows this better than anybody.

Next, plan for consumer involvement with your brand and its messaging. Plan beyond the traditional crisis communication plan that you hope to never activate. Treat consumers as a legitimate audience - an important center of influence - when building strategies for marketing to farmers. Consider consumers as an audience, even if you don't plan to market to them. You should use the filter of WWCD (What Will the Consumer Do) at every stage in strategy development.

WWCD fits in all stages of marketing strategy and implementation:

Target Audience Definition. Objectively explore consumer belief systems around your brand and its category. Look at prior behavior relative to the category. Identify particularly vocal groups - pro and con - to leverage or mollify.

Value Proposition. Don't stop with the value proposition to farmers; extend it all the way through the value chain to consumers. How will the brand deliver tangible value to consumers and the environment?

Brand Position. After you've vetted the position against core ag audiences, run it through the WWCD filter. For example, what emotions will trigger consumers, will they also benefit from the brand promise and will they find it credible? Tweak, if necessary, to ensure you're not vulnerable with the vocal, anti-big-ag factions.

Communications Strategy. Identify where consumers may come in contact with your message. Delve into how consumers will react to the messages and how and where they'll express that reaction. Formulate a crisis communications plan here, now.

Activation. Ensure farmers are aware of the WWCD filters used. More importantly, make sure they can articulate how your brand can benefit consumers and encourage them to proactively advocate for it.

Consumers want to know that Big Ag - marketers and farmers - cares about public interest. And farmers want to know what brands are doing to support their reputation with consumers. By using the WWCD filter, marketers can begin to slow the erosion of trust with appropriate marketing and messaging, and in turn build stronger relationships and conviction with their farm audiences.

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