If you’ve been to any ag meetings or conferences over the past few years, you’ve heard the message that we should all be talking to people about farming, food and ag online, in person, or at community events, etc…
And sometimes, at good conferences, they will even go into the “what” you should be talking to them about. So you might hear them say (and I’ve said this too) you need to be talking about:
- Animal Care
- Family Values
- Farm Technology
- Sustainability and the Environment
- Food Safety
- Good Farming Practices
- Employee Relations
And they might want you to address some of the controversial subjects like antibiotics, hormones, GMOs and animal treatment.
But what I don’t see a lot of talk about is “how” you could talk. In other words, what should your tone and manner be when you want to have an engaging conversation with your customer about ag.
When it comes these conversations, I suggest you try this three question approach.
- What am I trying to accomplish with this conversation?
- How am I seeing them?
- How do I want them to see me?
And this is where I think a lot of potentially good conversations go off the rails. I don’t think either conversation participant has thought these questions through and what began as a conversation turns into a war of words that someone needs to “win”.
Let’s do an example.
You are on Facebook and you share a positive dairy farming story about cow care on your Facebook page.
Someone writes on the page. “Don’t you think it’s better to have cows on the pasture to keep them cool?”
Now because almost all farmers I know do animal care differently (some on pasture and some not) this question could be considered a threat. I would always recommend clicking through to the person’s profile to see if they are a threat or not. Usually it’s pretty easy to tell if they are against animal ag. But let’s say they are not. They just have a question.
So you have to ask yourself: What am I trying to accomplish with this conversation?
I believe that it would be every farmer’s desire to have this person trust what the article says about dairy cows and technology and trust them as a dairy farmer taking care of cows.
What do people trust? They trust people that are experts in their field, that share their knowledge and that are consistent and reliable in what they share. Farmers have a lot of trust already (food and ag especially farmers test high in credibility and authority, according to Gallup.)
So, let’s answer the second question.
How am I seeing them? When it comes to your customers, you need to be honest with yourself in how you see them. When I speak at ag conferences and I show images of young urban millennials doing millennial things (snapchatting, hanging in coffee shops, shopping at a farmer’s market, etc.) I get a few snide remarks and put downs. If that’s how you think of your customers, then it will have a negative effect on the conversation.
So how should you see your customers? They are the heroes of this conversation. What? I didn’t say they were the heroes of your life and you need to be following their lead. What I’m trying to say is that when you are speaking with them, they are concerned with themselves – they are the heroes of their lives.
This brings us to the final questions, how do I want them to see me?
In most stories and movies, what does a hero almost always need to achieve his goal. You got it, a guide. Someone who knows how to help the hero – someone who loves the hero and, in a lot of movies, someone who sacrifices themselves for the sake of the hero.
I think you should consider yourself the hero’s good guide to good food production and good farming practices.
Your customers need someone to guide them. Someone they can trust that knows animals and the land. And this goes right along with other images that they hold about farmers – hard-working, strong, wholesome, happy and tough. You can see that image displayed most often in pickup truck ads like this Dodge one.
There’s an analogy I love to use in class mostly because almost everyone I know has seen the movies, Star Wars.
Your customers are like Luke Skywalkers. They are on a quest for good food that they don’t have to feel guilty about. They want to make sure the food they are serving their families is healthy, tastes great and wasn’t produced by the Evil Empire.
You are like Obi-Wan, a Jedi knight/farmer who knows the ways of good farming and great animal care. You show them insights (I’m not a fan of “educating” people on ag – the term, I believe, is often used in a condescending way by some ag leaders) into how you farm and why you do it that way.
But if you think of yourselves as Obi-Wan’s, then the tone and your attitude change. You don’t ever attack Luke. You are patient and thorough. You use clear language and you never put them down. You want them to be the hero – to rise up with their new information and share it with others because they trust you and your knowledge.
Is it tough to be Obi-Wan? Yes, of course, it is. But does it leave an impression on Luke? You bet it does. Will you still get attacked by negativity? Yes, but Obi-Wan always took the high road because that’s the road of integrity and trust.
Would you like help in being more like Obi-Wan? You can always reach out directly to me via firstname.lastname@example.org or contact your local State and Regional dairy checkoffs.
Would you like to spread more positive dairy stories on your social media pages and profiles? Please join the Dairy Amplification Center. This mobile and web application allows you to share positive dairy stories (that are updated almost daily) to your social feeds with just one click.
Don Schindler is the Senior Vice President of Digital Innovations at DMI. Don has been teaching farmers, staff and the dairy industry how to connect with consumers using social media and digital marketing for the past three years. He’s also responsible for new digital technologies at DMI. Before coming to DMI, Don directed the Communications team at the University of Notre Dame and taught classes at the Mendoza College of Business at ND. He grew up on beef and row crop farm in southeast Missouri.