Farmers are embracing mobile tech and retailers must follow

Agriculture has never been about sitting behind a desk, so it should come as no surprise that producers have embraced the evolving world of mobile technology. According to a 2014 survey by Farm Credit Canada, 76 per cent of producers now own a smartphone. Agri-retailers who take advantage of opportunities to optimize their business for mobile technology will not only see increased engagement with producers, but might even find ways to provide efficiencies to their customers.

Producers are Early Adopters

“We don’t necessarily like being around the office and often have to spend so much time away from it, but want to remain connected to either the operation or the employees,” says Andrew Campbell, a dairy and grain farmer who also runs Fresh Air Media, an agriculture marketing and communications company.

“Suddenly we found we can get the weather, market information, and now we’re looking at how we can basically operate our farms from our phone,” he says. “It just makes sense to have the mobile connection in our pockets.”

“Access to relevant and timely content is becoming really important for growers,” says Arron Madson, president of agriculture project management at digital marketing firm AgCall. “They want to be able to find out the answers to the questions they have, wherever they may be, instead of having to go back to the office, back to the house, or looking it up later.”

“I think of mobile technology as immediacy. It’s relevant, timely, local  and often customized content,” says Madson. “The advancement of mobile technology has enabled us to get information wherever we are.”

Optimizing Your Communications

Communications not specially designed – or optimized – for mobile platforms may come across the screen as too small or unreadable, and therefore ineffective. “Retails have to ask themselves: are you working to make sure that the information you’re providing is easily accessible, and viewable, from a smartphone?” says Campbell.

“Optimizing your existing channels is very important,” says Madson. “There’s not a lot of people anymore who aren’t building their websites to be optimized for mobile. In fact, if you’re building something that’s not optimized, you’re making something that’s already obsolete.”

Other communications channels, such as email, are important to optimize because of a shift in the way customers take in information. The message is likely to be lost or disregarded if a customer opens up your email on a smartphone, and the message isn’t mobile optimized.

Blair’s Digital Strategy

Blair’s Family of Companies, a crop inputs, specialty products, agronomy consulting and logistics agri-retailer has taken the steps to implement mobile functionality on their company website.

“Our customers primarily use our site to check where the markets and weather are at – we have a feed that’s updated several times a day,” says Patty Smith, director of business development and human resources. “Our goal was to make this information as accessible as possible to our customers.”

The Blair’s team carefully strategized their goals and objectives before researching a company that would handle their online communications and mobile optimization. “We currently work with Impact Group out of Calgary,” says Smith. “It requires ongoing investment, of course. But our goal is to add value in the many ways we have contact with our customers, and an optimized site that works on a smartphone is a critical aspect of that.”

Smith also adds that customer feedback has been invaluable in shaping the company’s evolving online strategy. “We originally had a lot more data on our site, but customers quickly let us know that it was taking too long to load on their phones,” she says. “You’ve got to remember your audience – many are in rural areas with varying degrees of service. It’s nice to provide a lot of information, but it’s more important to us that our mobile site is streamlined and provides the core essentials of what our customers want.”

Quick Connections

One of the most casual uses of mobile technology has had an impact on agri-retail and industry communications. Texting (or SMS) has become extremely relevant in the fast-moving world of agriculture, and a boon to the sales and marketing sector.

“Studies are showing that once you’ve engaged a grower, that’s their preferred method of contact,” says Madson. “Get your salespeople on SMS – you want that casualness of engagement. A grower wants to know that they will be able to reach out and get that information when they need it.”

“As farmers get more comfortable with texting, this avenue becomes more useful,” says Campbell. “It is a situation where you can easily get information, or respond to something, without dropping everything else that you’re doing.”

Campbell believes we have only begun to scratch the surface with regards to how mobile technology can increase efficiency and help both producers’ and retailers’ operations. “As we move more into this technology, perhaps we can move a lot of our paper information and mass mailings into that mobile space,” he says. “For example, contracts – maybe instead of faxing it and hoping that the farmer sees it on the printer and signs it and sends it back to you – what if we can adopt the technology where they can “sign” with their thumb tap and send back to you in a matter of minutes? All of a sudden you’re saving time, effort and possibly frustration on your customer’s side.”

However it’s being used, there’s no question that mobile technology seems perfectly suited to the agriculture sector. The opportunities we can realize will only continue to grow, as more farmers and agri-retailers embrace the idea of optimization.

4 Ways to Optimize Your Business

Upgrading your communication channels to exist on a whole new platform may seem like a tall order. Here are four simple steps to take the guesswork out of approaching mobile optimization.

Start With Your Website

Speak to your digital marketing company (or in-house web department) about making your existing site “responsive”. Many of today’s website templates already include mobile-ready formatting that is easy to implement.

To make websites with a lot of information easier to navigate, you may want to consider creating a “purpose-built” website designed specifically for mobile users (purpose-built sites often have “m.example.com” as the URL).

Examine your site’s analytics to see if a significant percentage of visitors are using a mobile device, and the average length of a visit. This will help you decide whether a responsive or purpose-built platform is right for your website.

Consider Your Content

When a website is optimized for mobile viewing, less information will be available at any given time. Make sure the most pertinent and valuable content is at the top, such as your company’s contact information and product/service offering.

But don’t forget your audience! Long-form content can go a long way in filling a farmer’s day, if they happen to be visiting your site while out on the combine. Make your informative content mobile-friendly and easy to access by optimizing the site navigation.

Enhance Your Email

Because so many emails are now read using mobile devices, take steps to ensure they will grab attention, be easy to absorb and have an effective call-to-action.

Subject lines should be brief – take into account the “preview” amount of the subject line that shows up on any given smartphone.

Consider including a call-to-action “button” at the end of your message, allowing a customer to reply to you, or navigate directly to your product information, with a simple thumb-tap.

Embrace a Text Approach

Text (or SMS)-based communications are now fairly commonplace within the sales arena, and work best for rapid-fire exchanges of small amounts of information. Messages can be used, for example, to inform of a spot price or to arrange delivery/pickup times.

If a farmer has entered a texting relationship with your rep, don’t take that privilege for granted. Ensure that your text communications don’t become too frequent or irrelevant to the point that they are considered “spam”.

>>CASL Compliance

When planning any text- or email-based communications, make sure your plan is compliant with the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation. Visit www.fightspam.gc.ca

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