This article was originally published at Forbes.com.
While some are heralding agriculture as a major greenhouse gas contributor, others have championed farmers as environmental saviors.
Farmers can’t go one day without reading about carbon programs, new sequestration initiatives and other opportunities to get into the war on climate change.
As a marketer in the agriculture industry, how do you position these new and emerging opportunities (and challenges) in a way that resonates and builds trust? Our team works exclusively with ag and rural-facing clients, including commodity groups and carbon programs.
Four Steps for Creating a Carbon Communications Framework
1. Who are your potential customers?
There are dozens of ways to segment agricultural decision-makers geographically, ethnographically or behaviorally. You will need to segment the practicing farmer (sometimes a landowner or many times a tenant) versus the non-operational landowner.
Financially-driven: These decision-makers are focused on return on investment, cash flow, equity stakes and debt-load. Consider talking about your carbon opportunity in terms of costs and benefits per acre. Many times, this audience is risk-averse if the data doesn’t showcase the financial opportunity.
Stewardship-driven: These decision-makers are focused on how the crop and livestock are produced and interested in the carbon program’s process. They may want to learn more about using a carbon program to bring a new generation into the operation or be a millennial themself. They want to align their farming practices with their personal values and beliefs and make decisions accordingly.
Ideology-driven: Often an absentee landowner, these decision-makers beliefs take them back to the “good ol’ days” of agriculture. They think of agriculture as their grandparents or parents farmed. They want an emotional tie to the operation and make decisions accordingly.
2. Who else is involved in your carbon marketplace?
When it comes to communicating about carbon programs, every step in the supply chain is a potential audience. Identify and prioritize those beyond the farm gate, too.
Consumers: Sustainability and traceability have quickly turned into actionable climate change requirements for consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers. How does your carbon program play a role in meeting consumer expectations?
CPG manufacturers: If your program impacts consumers, then you’ll need to collaborate with supply chain partners to ensure your message resonates. Ensure you have messaging available for them which aligns with how they’re serving up content to those consumers.
Commodity groups: These farmer-led organizations are trusted partners in the agriculture industry. Not only do these groups possess access to decision-maker contact lists and control trusted channels, but hold the purse strings of major research and communication programs. By building long-term relationships, you can leverage these state and national groups.
3. What messages are you using today?
Climate change, carbon sequestration and sustainability programs are rooted in science. Frequently that science is confusing or hard to follow. If you are marketing a new carbon program or opportunity, avoid jargon and acronyms. Don’t assume your decision-maker (farmer) audience knows the definition of a ‘greenhouse gas (GHG) life cycle analysis (LCA)’, can calculate carbon emission modeling or follows detailed policy discussions.
As the carbon market barrels forward, continue to be cautious of adding new lingo too quickly. The adoption curve of your language choice should match that of the industry itself. Too often, new phrases like “ecosystems services” pop up in content before your farmer audience understands the highest level concepts of a carbon program.
It’s best to focus on “why” your science is important versus just stating “what” your scientific benefits are.
4. Who are your competitors?
In this step of your analysis, consider others offering similar programs or products, but also consider those decision-makers who are not engaged at all. Understand the potential risks your farmer audience is weighing as they decide when and how to get involved in the carbon marketplace.
Many early conservation and stewardship adopters are frustrated that new programs don’t allow past farming operations to take advantage of new revenue opportunities.
Some producers are concerned that carbon programs are “trendy” and could come and go as quickly as political administrations change.
Never forget that crop and livestock producers are making hundreds of input and marketing decisions each year and that they only get one crop per year to get it right.
Creating a Key Insight and Messaging from Your Framework
Next, it is time to start executing on clear, concise messaging that hits three marks. Is it unique? Is it believable? Is it compelling?
Unique: Through your framework process, you should have identified what you offer that no other carbon program offers. This is a key positioning insight you’ll have to utilize with frequency.
Believable: Lean on primary and secondary market research to ensure you’re talking about your carbon offering in a believable way. If it sounds too good to be true, you’ve missed a step in building trust with potential customers.
Compelling: Focus on the “why” behind your program. This may require segmentation targeting to showcase the right “why” for each audience. Be clear and align those motivators with the advantages available with your carbon program.
Going to Market with Your Carbon Program
As an ag marketer, you know the landscape for communicating with farmers is crowded. In the carbon marketplace, it’s even harder to have your voice heard.
Use plain language on your website and ensure you’ve created a strong SEO background. Keep your barrier to entry low when asking for email sign-ups in your lead generation program. Until you’ve built trust, you won’t be able to demand much information when asking for personal contact information.
Continue to reach your audience using multiple tactics. Ag decision-makers today use a mash-up of digital, paper and in-person resources, so invest in a multi-touchpoint approach.
Your work is important for your clients and the environment. Spend the time to work through a strategic process to identify your customers, analyze the marketplace, discern your message choices and be realistic about what the competition is doing.