What Do Farming and Marketing Have in Common?

by Greg Guse
October 14, 2015

What do a farmer and a marketing practitioner have in common? At first glance, your reply is likely, “Not much.”

But after pondering that question, I’ve come to realize that we have a great deal in common, brought together by the cycles of the seasons and basic functions we both must manage in our respective professions. Let me explain.

If you think about the phases of a farmer’s production year, they go something like this:

For example, in anticipation of a new crop year, ag producers are heavily involved in research—analyzing plot data, reading farm magazines, attending grower meetings and hours of Internet research on a wide range of topics, not to mention all that can be learned at the local coffee shop.

Once the research is completed, planning for the new crop year begins—expense planning and budgeting, meetings with trusted advisors including lenders, crop insurance representatives, agronomists and local ag retailers, and determining acreage allocations for various crops and land use. This plan is critical since it’s the roadmap for the new season, and the success of the farm enterprise is riding on it.

Come spring it’s time to put the plan in action and production begins with a flurry of activities including tillage and fertilization, planting, then spraying. Flexibility is important, as the plan may change due to weather or market conditions.

Mid-summer is a time to monitor the progress of the crop and make adjustments as needed. Timely reaction to weed, insect and fertility problems can be extremely valuable in preventing yield losses at harvest.

As harvest begins in early fall, it’s time for the evaluation phase to begin. Today’s farming operation generates a huge amount of data to be analyzed and interpreted. How are yields compared to projections? How about grain quality and moisture content? Part of this evaluation is a performance assessment. How did those hybrids perform? Was there improvement over last year? How did we manage expenses? What’s the market outlook for selling the crop? Were there any surprises—good or bad? What lessons can be learned to apply next year, as the research phase begins again for a new crop year?

In the agency business we employ a similar process for our clients that includes—you guessed it—research, planning, production, monitoring and evaluation. Since most of our clients here at Paulsen are ag-related, we follow a similar calendar to that of most farmers as well.

For the past month or so, we’ve been focused on the evaluation phase by reviewing sales results and seeking feedback from our clients’ sales teams and dealer networks. We ask a lot of questions: “What worked?…What didn’t?…Why? How did the competition fare? What lessons can we learn from this campaign going forward? Etc., etc.”

And like the farmer, we have a great deal of data to analyze from our clients’ online marketing activities. These analytics are the basis for future marketing recommendations.

On the heels of our evaluation, we begin our research efforts to identify important “truths” about the brand, the products, the dealers and the end users. Sometimes this research is more formal by way of phone or online surveys, focus groups or one-on-one in-depth interviews with key producers and dealers. Other times it’s more informal research like riding with a sales rep for a day or a thorough review of key competitors’ ads and sales literature.

Once the evaluation is complete, the planning process begins. Marketing objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs) are established. Budgets are determined. Media strategies, plans and calendars are developed. Creative briefs are prepared, and the marketing plan is presented to the client for approval.

We are heavily involved in the planning process for several agency clients right now. We’ve found there is absolutely no substitute for a carefully designed and well-thought marketing plan. Whoever said, “plan the work and work the plan” and “fail to plan, plan to fail” must have been a very successful marketing professional.

The research and planning functions represent the heavy lifting. The production phase includes copywriting, design, video production, digital programming, printing and distribution of ad materials to media outlets. When we’re working from a pre-approved plan, the production phase typically goes more smoothly.

Of course, we monitor our campaigns’ progress after launch and optimize based on the data we’re seeing. While “working the plan” is important, so are flexibility and the need to respond quickly when necessary. We’ve come to rely on analytics to drive where we take our marketing programs next.

So, yes indeed, farmers and agency folks do have a lot in common. We’re both doing the best we can to reduce uncertainty and risk. We both thrive on challenges, long hours and the ability to produce. And farmers and marketing people are eternal optimists—our best crops and best campaigns are still yet to come!

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