Two industry experts weigh in on their experiences with cause marketing and how it can benefit agri-retailers.
Ray Redfern – Redfern Farm Services
Ray Redfern is the president of Redfern Farm Services, which he founded in 1972 in Rivers, Man. Today, he operates 11 locations in southwestern Manitoba, employs more than 80 staff and contributes to a number of initiatives in the community. Since 2014, Redferns has contributed monetary awards to winning students of the Agribusiness Plan Competition at Assiniboine Community College, which encourages agribusiness students to develop their business-planning skills for their future careers.
Jodi Starodub – ADAMA Agricultural Solutions Canada
Jodi Starodub is the demand creation manager at ADAMA Agricultural Solutions Canada, and is involved with the marketing, brand identity, and analytics for the ADAMA Canada team. Last year, she was involved in executing ADAMA’s Thank-A-Retailer Contest, where the public voted on a deserving agri-retailer in Alberta and British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Eastern Canada. The retailer with the most votes in each of the four regions was awarded $15,000 to donate to a community project of their choice.
The Communicator: How would you define cause marketing?
Ray Redfern: Cause marketing, in a broad sense, is understanding what opportunities or issues are important to the community that is your target audience. How do you look like you’re part of the solution and how do you play an active role in creating that solution?
Jodi Starodub: I don’t know if I could say that any better. I absolutely agree, and I think that it’s a way of being more in touch with your customers. As Ray said, if you know what’s important to them and you work with them to try and improve whatever that may be, it brings you closer to them.
The Communicator: What are the advantages of aligning a company’s marketing with a particular cause?
I think (cause marketing) is a way of being more in touch with your customers. If you know what’s important to them and you work with them to try and improve whatever that may be, it brings you closer to them.
JS: It brings unification between the company and the customer. Knowing what’s important to your customers, backing them and talking about the community aspects of it. A lot of companies are the heartbeat of their community, so the more they can add to and elevate their community – whether they’re adding to community centres or organizations within that community – it really does tie them to their community and elevate their status within it.
RR: Many of us buy into the belief of encouraging a relationship that looks like we’re partners with our customers – in other words, we’re on the same side of the table – as compared to being adversaries trying to negotiate a transactional price on an activity we do together. The buyer-seller relationship does not build continuity or confidence of partnership. I think many agri-retailer organizations, by nature, want to have a relationship with the customer that encourages and fosters ongoing solutions when things go off the rails, as compared to customers walking away without any feedback. And so, the term partnership often means that you understand what’s important to the client in every respect.
You understand the nuances of the customers and you confirm that in many cases by saying, ‘My role is to be your partner and to try and accomplish your goals.’ If customers bring up a community issue, we sometimes use that as an excuse for why this isn’t our fight, this isn’t our agenda or this isn’t our mandate to support. We should try to make sure that we’re not remote, that we in fact look like we’re in touch and we’re trying to paint a portrait that we’re part of the community.
These things about being involved in the community and not being remote all give rise to the idea of an ongoing relationship – we’re building a two-way relationship where we are a part of our customers’ future.
The Communicator: What would you say are some of the disadvantages of aligning the company’s marketing with a particular cause?
RR: In many respects, when you’re committed to a particular cause, you often have to take a bigger place in that cause. Then, you’ve shepherded a significant part of your resources into it, compared to playing a more minor role in just anything that comes along. So, the challenge is that you need to have made sure – because you’re now committed – that this cause makes sense, not only to the community, but frankly, to your staff who are participating in it.
If your staff don’t feel good about their involvement, or aren’t personally and passionately committed to it, then you’ve invested in something that doesn’t have the support of the core people involved.
We tell our staff that we work hard at being a part of the community. We need to make sure the activity or cause that we’ve embraced is one that our staff can say, ‘I can buy into that.’ I need to caution us all and say you’d better make sure you research it on both sides of the equation.
JS: I agree. I think knowing what’s important to the people that are most affected by the cause is the key to having a successful campaign. If you don’t, you run the risk of alienating some people if you choose the wrong path. But I also think when you’re in a transactional relationship with some people, and if they don’t buy into that cause, there’s always that question of, ‘Well, why wouldn’t you just reduce your prices instead of giving that money away to something else?’ So, you definitely have to collaborate with whomever is affected to ensure that you’re going to have positive feedback.
The Communicator: Agri-retailers are seen as very integrated with their local communities – what benefits can they realize from cause marketing?
I think that’s what cause marketing is all about – that we’ve brought success to more than just ourselves.
RR: As retailers in the ag community, we all want to look like we are closer to our communities than the average business. Most retailers can benefit – if an initiative works, we are all winners. Whether or not it benefitted me more or less than somebody else, we should all assume that we’re better off having initiatives where the community pulls together and feels that they’ve worked together to be successful. I think that’s what cause marketing is all about – that we’ve brought success to more than just ourselves.
JS: Retailers who support their communities tend to have a stronger partnership with their customers. Having a cause that is important to the community shows that they are in touch with the community. In small communities, word of mouth means a lot, so if you are supporting the community, you get people talking about you in a positive way. That spreads like wildfire.
Any time you can have a positive experience within the community, it just makes it easier to have more business conversations with people who know you are invested in their community. Therefore, they will want to support that. Agriculture is a changing business, but any time a retailer can show that they are invested in their community, it builds trust for the customers.
The Communicator: What has been your company’s experience, good and bad, with the cause marketing you have undertaken?
JS: Whether you’re a small or large business, you’re always trying to figure out your budget and where to put your money when it comes to marketing. It’s not always easy to say how much money
spent on marketing led to X-amount of growth, for example.
Our experience has been if you can help someone else do something that is important to them, there are so many other parts of marketing that are a win. We had so many local newspapers write articles about the program that we ran – we didn’t ask for that and we didn’t pay to get that type of advertising – but it worked. When retailers were starting to receive votes, all of a sudden, the community was behind them and our names were being tweeted and emailed out to people all over. That brand recognition started to happen for them as well as us. If you can get people behind you, your marketing dollars will go a lot further than you initially thought they could.
RR: Jodi said it exactly right – those are all the pluses that you sometimes have to look for and you realize, ‘This did more things for me than I would have known.’
If you are struggling to stand out as an organization, you want to have your name used in a way that doesn’t get tuned out. The customers were behind the Thank-A-Retailer Contest
and I could see that the retailers already had support – it was vindicating for them that people were going to put their energy into supporting them: the cause was right. The best indication of approval you can get is support from people who don’t have to give it. I think it adds credibility.
If we have had any limitations, it’s because we have sometimes bitten off more than we could chew, in terms of resources needed to be successful. Looking back, if we had thought better about certain initiatives, we would have solicited more outside support, instead of assuming that our organization could do it all. Pick your partners and know that you don’t have to carry the load on your own. Be willing to give up some of the potential limelight if you’re going to call it your personal cause. Bring in partners that have the same dreams that you and your community have, and it will go further.
The Communicator: Do you have any final thoughts on cause marketing as a whole?
If we can make a difference in people being attracted to a career in agriculture, that’s a cause in itself.
RR: Cause marketing is also valuable if it highlights the industry’s needs and opportunities. For example, causes that would stimulate the interest of young people to remain in agriculture and remain in small communities. It’s crucial to create an ag environment that builds success for the next generation and, ultimately, success for the community. If we can make a difference in people being attracted to a career in agriculture, that’s a cause in itself.
JS: We all have to try and do things differently from what worked 20, or even 10, years ago. Everything is evolving, and cause marketing will continue to evolve.
As a society, we are much more socially aware. Social responsibility is highly valued, and if you look at some of the younger people in our industry and our communities, that is very important to them. I feel that as we evolve, social responsibility is going to become more and more important and the sooner we embrace it, the sooner we will see the effects.
RR: Many people looking for jobs have decided whether they will join our company based on how we are seen in the community. Depending on how you present yourself, you could lose the opportunity to have people say, “I think I want to find out more about working there.” We could miss opportunities if we don’t enhance our support for social causes. There’s a huge benefit for embracing it rather than resisting it.
Editor’s Note: This discussion has been edited for length and clarity.
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