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Source: National Agri-Marketing Association news release

Jeff Hartz spent his first 6 to 12 months at Wyffels Hybrids just listening. He asked a lot of questions and attended a lot of meetings. He talked to employees, seed reps and customers...and even competitors.

Through this intense discovery period, he defined what Wyffels stood for, how they are different than competitors, what the marketing team needed to focus its efforts on (see information on branding in "Innovative Ability" section) and new, strategic growth strategies.

One of the major challenges he found (besides awareness) was the lack of loyalty in the seed business. Seed corn is purchased one time a year - they have one chance, each year, to earn back the loyalty of customers and win over new customers.

He identified early on that retention of new customers was at a disappointing 50% -- a rate not uncommon in the seed industry. He immediately started putting strategies and programs in place to target this customer segment and made a concentrated effort in monitoring and measuring along the way (see specific examples in "Innovative Ability" section).

He has been instrumental in improving customer retention year over year. Each year his goal is to meet or exceed 60% of new customers' business in year two. As of today, Wyffels Hybrids has reached 67% retention rate of new customers and 78% continued customer retention, the highest in the business along with one of the industry leaders, according to market research.

Jeff also played an integral role in taking the company's summer customer meeting to an entirely new level. "Corn Strategies" started out in a hotel banquet room with a handful of Wyffels customers and a few presentations. He helped turn it into a can't-miss event for customers and prospects.

It's now held on a customer's farmstead, under a huge air-conditioned tent, with 4-5 nationally-known speakers including market analysts, economists and agronomists - all speaking to nearly 500 elite corn growers about profit-building strategies.

Innovative Ability

Jeff understood that Wyffels Hybrids is a challenger brand in a cluttered and confusing market. He took what he already knew through his years of experience about challenger brands and applied that knowledge, along with market research, to Wyffels. He also considered what he found to be true about the company's products and people through his discovery process. And then, he built a branding document around that knowledge and insight that company leaders and all employees now use to help guide nearly every decision they make.

This is no ordinary branding document. The 20-page narrative establishes brand positioning, brand personality and brand affiliation to successfully define the Wyffels brand and guide the execution of programs and tactics to build equity in that brand. It truly hit at the heart of the Wyffels situation, created a consistent identity and formed a vision for what it would take to achieve greater success.

He reinvented key aspects of the company's marketing efforts while staying true to its brand; he broke from traditional schools of thought in order to force rapid reappraisal from customers and prospects, including:
Personal messages from every district sales manager to every customer
Ad messaging wrapped around truck trailers
Clever and simple, yet bold television advertising that poked a bit of fun at advertising itself and Wyffels, to further demonstrate the personable, clever Wyffels brand

Jeff brought leadership and sophistication to Wyffels' marketing and brand planning, and through this brand document helped validate what the sales force already believed about Wyffels, but didn't know how to articulate. Jeff helped give them a consistent identity to stand behind and tools to better communicate it.

Marketing/Sales Responsibility

As the marketing director, Jeff oversees all strategic marketing efforts including advertising and public relations and the development of the Wyffels brand. He works closely with growers, the sales force and the National Sales Director to develop programs and materials that meet their needs and reinforce Wyffels' position as one of the leading independent seed corn companies in the industry. And his role is constantly evolving as a member of the leadership team.

The other major challenge that Wyffels Hybrids had was low brand awareness. Even in its target markets, brand awareness was low and they were one of countless seed companies. He knew Wyffels needed to stand out in a market that is becoming increasingly commoditized.

He believed mediocrity and playing by existing rules would not create leverage - his goal was to develop exceptional, differentiating ideas to create a voice for Wyffels and recognition within their customers' lives.

With the brand document as his guide, Jeff directed awareness, retention and advertising campaigns that stood out from the pack. The new "black & gold" campaign is simple by design with bold, yet honest copy.

All ad messages are based on a truth - something the company believes in, the way they do business, product performance, etc. But it's stated in a clever way, reinforcing the company's brand.

While other companies adopt the "let's work together" approach and focus on emotional benefits in their marketing, Jeff went the other direction. He's not shy about talking about the Wyffels brand and why they do what they confident and unexpected ways. They say things other companies wouldn't. Jeff believes that's what a challenger company needs to do survive and grow.

These new efforts brought awareness in Iowa and Illinois (the company's main target markets) to an all-time high according to proprietary research. That research also confirmed that growers in those two states now view Wyffels as a brand focused on bringing the best technology to the farm, one of the key messages that Jeff weaved through every piece of marketing communications. Northwest Iowa, a relatively new area of market penetration, is experiencing brand recognition for the very first time.

The new brand standards and communications campaign that Jeff created for both direct customer communications and mass advertising has even prompted customers to proactively initiate contact with the company - practically unheard of in this market. But the most telling statistic is that sales have increased 13.5% since he joined the company, in the face of heavy competition, in a competitive market, and against the biggest brands in the industry. Wyffels achieved its highest purchase volume ever recorded during the summer/fall 2013 early order period.

He also has built a true marketing team within a company that was previously straight sales-only driven. He brings a different way of thinking to the company's leadership team, providing analysis and insights from an entirely new perspective. He's gained the respect of everyone in the company, from the owners to the guys loading seed bags. And his efforts are helping poise the company for even more success in the future.

NAMA/Industry Involvement

Jeff became active on a national scale with NAMA when he joined the Careers Committee in 2008 and provided value to that committee for three years, motivating these future members of the ag marketing industry. He also encouraged one of his team members to join the committee, securing a continued commitment from Wyffels Hybrids.

His work as vice chair, then chair of the Best of NAMA Committee in 2012 ensured members received recognition for the outstanding work accomplished. He also served as a national awards judge in 2010. As a former advertising creative copywriter, Jeff has always had an eye for excellence in marketing communications efforts and thrives on applauding the creative efforts of his peers, realizing that some of the best work in today's marketplace is coming from those in agriculture.

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