Send the right message and grow your business at the next agriculture event.
There’s nothing like a good, honest handshake. Technology and connectivity have provided the agriculture industry with many new ways to communicate – but this can’t replace the personal and direct engagement you get at trade shows and other industry events.
As producers finish harvest and begin to plan for next year’s growing season, an effective presence at shows becomes a very valuable commodity. Whether you’re planning a site tour or field day for next season, or promoting your brand at one of this season’s many trade shows, our guide to marketing your brand at industry events will help you get the most return on your investment.
DO Include Events in Your Marketing Strategy.
From an international supplier to the most independent retailer, attending or hosting events should be considered when planning the year’s marketing strategy and budget.
Jack Phipps, marketing director at The Western Producer, thinks that every level of the value chain can find benefits at trade shows and other events.
“In my opinion, it should be in the top three of your marketing priorities,” he says. “Events are the only place farmers can really interact with retailers or wholesalers, and they come out in full force. You’ve got to be there.”
For smaller organizations without the budget or resources to join large-scale events, hosting crop tours and other customer events can create engagement on their own territory.
“The producers want to see the varieties, and find out what will suit their land,” says Harlene Simmonds, owner of AgriTeam Services in Saskatchewan, who hosted their annual crop tour in August. “When we host a crop tour, we try to treat them royally.”
Kevin Yaworsky, director of sales and marketing for Glacier FarmMedia Syndication, notes that attending locally-based shows or hosting a crop tour offers an opportunity to not only connect with customers, but to gain important insights.
“That may influence your marketing plan for the year – finding out first-hand information at shows, and reacting to things that are going on in the industry,” he says. “You can find very valuable information at these events.”
DON'T Get Lost in the Crowd.
Registering as an exhibitor for an industry tradeshow or hosting a producer meeting is an investment, and it’s essential to ensure that you send out the right message in order to see positive results.
A clean look and singular message on signage and displays is an easy way to make the right first impression. “Branding is very important,” says Phipps. “Make sure you have a strong, focused message with a clear presentation of who and what you are. Potential customers are walking by – if you don’t get their attention in the first glance, they will just keep going, and you’ll lose potential business.”
“It’s got to be eye-catching and inviting,” says Yaworsky. “Make sure your booth isn’t cluttered or messy, keep it clean, crisp and to the point.”
While there are many best practices and great examples to follow for trade show booths, it’s important to remember that a good design should help you stand out from the crowd.
A tradeshow veteran, Greg Setter of Setter Manufacturing believes that variety is the spice of any show. “Everyone has a unique idea of what works for a booth design – and that makes the trade show interesting,” he says. “Make sure you’re doing something that’s not the same as everyone else.”
He also advises a practical approach to setup, taking the environment into account when arranging your space.
“Make sure you’ve got things in the right place,” he says. “At an outdoor event, you don’t want your electronics going blank because the sun is too bright, so you’ll want to set up a sheltered space – but our sprayers are outside. Placement of your wares is very important.”
Technology has made it easier for many industries to collect and share information, however Phipps warns that the majority of producers are still
unlikely to use the gadgets themselves.
“Video has become more common in the last few years. Tablets are big at conferences, and many companies use them to collect information from customers,” he says. “But I’ll be honest – I’ve been working at shows for five years, and frankly farmers aren’t really willing to type. Use paper to collect information, and save the tablet for your presentation.”
When it comes to making connections and collecting leads in agri-retail, some of the tried-and-true methods are still the best.
“I think a business card is still your number one way to make a connection,” says Yaworsky. “I try to get a business card from everyone I talk to, and I’ll make a little note about what we talked about and what to follow up with. I think you need business cards with you at all times.”
Racking up the names may seem like a worthwhile way to gauge your success, but seasoned exhibitors know that it’s quality, and not quantity
DO Use the Right People.
Just as crucial as appearance is playing to the strengths of the people present at your events. Make sure to use some outgoing staff members who are comfortable drawing people in and speaking about your company.
“If you just sit there and expect people to come up to you, it’s not always going to happen,” says Yaworsky. “Your reps have to reach out and have ways to bring people into the booth. Standing out there, being friendly and making eye contact is really important.”
Once customers are engaged, however, the knowledge of your representatives will be put to the test. Jason Steinley, territory manager for Dutch Openers, recommends including a few reps who have hands-on experience in the field, and are familiar with the local area.
“It’s good to have professionals present who can discuss what producers are seeing in the field,” he says. “During seeding, we spend a lot of time in the field with our products. Then, when a customer visits our booth, I can actually show them a video of it being used.”
“Farmers are a very tight-knit group, so we also find it’s helpful to be able to provide the name of perhaps a neighbour who has used the product before, that they can speak to. That gives them a little more peace of mind.”
For on-site events at agri-retail locations, Simmonds notes that supplier reps can be leveraged to provide the science and specific product information producers are looking for. “We do have our agronomists on hand,” she says, “but we also invite the representatives from Dekalb, Canterra, BrettYoung and InVigor, and they talk about what’s new and up-and-coming.”
The long-term approach and getting to know your customer on a deeper level is still the best way to approach new business, says Setter. “We don’t go to trade shows with high-pressure promotions and time-sensitive sales,” he says.
“We like to talk with our customer to find out what their needs are, and work on the relationship to get the repeat business in the future.”
Post-event, it is crucial to track leads and sales from one year to the next, in order to measure the effectiveness of the event as a marketing tool.
DON'T Underestimate Practical Promotional Items.
While not mandatory, many retailers and suppliers find that a bit of ‘swag’ can go a long way in building customer loyalty and brand recognition.
Steinley has found that consistently offering a simple but useful promotional item has created a name for Dutch Openers at many shows.
“For years, we have handed out little notepads that fit in your pocket and have the contact information for all of our territory managers on the back,” he says. “We’ve become known for it now – event attendees will come into our booths asking for a notepad.”
“It’s almost better than a business card, because it’s actually something they can use. But it still has all the important information about our company.”
Non-traditional, consumable giveaways have also found a place at trade shows, and can be helpful in collecting leads and building contact lists.
At the 2016 Ag in Motion show, Glacier FarmMedia saw success with their “Have One on Us” promotion, where a voucher for a free beverage at the event refreshment stand was offered to those who signed up for a new membership program. “It drove business an incredible amount, and for the cost of one beer,” says Phipps.
For long-lasting brand awareness, the classic giveaways should not be discounted. “I might be old fashioned, but I think that in the ag business, hats are still a great option for swag,” says Yaworsky. “It’s an opportunity to have your brand out there, and it’s something the customers will use every day.”
When the market seems saturated with give-aways and offers, some agri-retailers choose to stand out by offering an experience rather than an item. “We’ve done give-aways in other years, but so many people have give-aways that we found it doesn’t seem to make a difference,” says Simmonds.
Her solution was to offer up a unique activity at their latest customer event. “We did our crop tour, and then we had skeet shooting afterwards,” she says.
DO Use Social Media to Your Advantage.
If time and resources allow, getting into the social media conversation to promote your exhibitor presence or customer event is a valuable exercise. Many companies leverage their social media accounts and event hashtags prior to the start date, in order to drum up interest and excitement.
“Manitoba Ag Days does a lot of promoting, so at their event I’ll take a photo of our booth and tag them, and they will retweet it on their feed,” says Steinley. “If there’s 700 or 800 followers on their page, it will instantly hit those people and they will know right where we are.”
Phipps notes that posting and using hashtags to promote your presence can help draw interest for contests or giveaways at your booth, which in turn may bring in more traffic. “If you’re giving away something great, you can promote it on Twitter in advance of the event to get more people interested,” he says.
Social media also offers the opportunity to engage customers not present at the show. Posting photos or information about new industry products or trends seen at the event can provide useful information to your followers, and has the potential to spark engagement with online leads.
For those with social media channels that are still in their infancy, shows and tours are a good opportunity to gain more followers. A banner, poster or business card featuring a Twitter handle or Facebook URL is an easy way to let producers know how to follow you.
Even if a Twitter account is not yet on the horizon for your organization, your events can still be integrated with your online channels. Setter uses his website to promote his presence at upcoming shows to his customers.
“We list the shows we are attending on our website, so that our customers can come and see us if they need help solving a problem, or have questions,” he says. “They know they can come to that show and seek us out.”
DON'T Assume Everyone is Tired of Your Brand.
Working in the marketing and promotions side of an agri-retail can tend to make the company message seem repetitive. Before you worry that you have over-saturated the market with your brand, remember that your customers likely don’t see it this way.
“People tend to get sick of their own brand long before anyone else will. In many cases, when companies begin to tire of their brand and consider changing it, most of their customers are only just getting used to it,” says Yaworsky.
Setter agrees, noting that when planning for shows, it’s important to realize you’re much closer to the starting line than you think.
“You might think that you’ve told your story a hundred million times and that everyone already knows your message,” he says. “When you understand that you’re just starting – that’s when you’re doing it right.”
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