Part 5 of 7 in our Ag Challenger series.
Just because farmers buy your product repeatedly doesn’t mean they like you. For the moment, that might be okay. But not for long.
Repeat buying has been synonymous with loyalty in the agricultural industry for years. But it’s a misguided notion. There are plenty of reasons, beyond loyalty and the emotional commitment it implies, for a customer to use a product year after year. The key is to figure out why they buy from you and help secure and bolster that reasoning year over year.
Let’s look at an example of a brand that has true customer loyalty. Without naming names, I invite you to go to the kitchen or home section of a rural hardware store. Now look for a cookie jar, mailbox or bath towel that’s emblazoned with the logo of a brand normally associated with farm products. Believe me, they exist! When a customer is willing to pay to display a brand—much like they buy merchandise for their favorite sports team—you know that that brand commands a deep down emotional connection with its customers.
When a customer is willing to pay to display a brand, you know that that brand commands a deep down emotional connection with their customers.
These brands transcend mere functional competitive advantages. They have an emotional engagement with customers that even helps them withstand the occasional product bomb. But such brands are a rarity.
Most other brands rely on other forms of retention. In some cases, farmers use a product because it’s the only one on the market that fulfills a particular functional need (at least until a competitor fulfills an equivalent role). Or, it could be part of an integrated and proprietary system, that’s so effective or convenient, that farmers feel compelled or locked-in to using it (despite how the farmer might otherwise feel about the brand). It could be that the product is a shopping cart topper that helps farmers boost their total purchase and get more out of a manufacturer’s rebate or discount program. Or, of course, the brand could keep customers simply by being the cheapest product in a commoditized category.
But all these forms of retention are vulnerable to disruption. That’s because these retention tactics are, at the end of the day, product-centric. Loyalty, on the other hand, is the customer’s response to a great brand experience and the best way to fend off disruption. These experiences are customer-centric, and most often help the customer solve a problem—big or small—that they really need solved.
What’s really required to create a great brand (and true loyalty) is continuous innovation that’s based on a real understanding of customers. Ideally this innovation takes place across all business functions, not just one, so that marketing, sales, loyalty programming, customer events and product design all have a role to play. Look at what Larry Keeley at The Doblin Group has to say for a fascinating longer read on this topic.
The key to this kind of innovation is to ensure that it’s based on an understanding of the customer that’s shared across the organization.
The key to this kind of innovation is to ensure that it’s based on an understanding of the customer that’s shared across the organization. When you have this kind of alignment—between customer motivation and company innovation, and across an agricultural company’s business functions—that’s when customer-centric thinking leads to great customer experiences.