The quote stuck with me, and, like many others, I tucked it away. When I found it the other day, once again, it spoke to me and today’s agriculture.
“Our company’s marketing strategy is based on memory, romance and trust,” said Rick Schneiders, now retired president and CEO of SYSCO Corporation, back in 2003 in a keynote to the Practical Farmers of Iowa annual conference.
Memory, romance and trust — the social capital farmers own. Farmer-philosopher Fred Kirschenmann took it a step further, discussing Schneiders’ comments in 2003: “Memory is when a customer eats a product and says, ‘Wow, I want that again.’ Romance is the story behind the food’s production. Trust creates an opportunity to form a relationship between the consumer and the producer.”
I like the idea of “story,” of consumers making a connection with farmers, because that’s what we champion each week when we bring you stories of the region’s farm families.
But romance? Romance is not a word you typically connect with farming. I mean, there’s no place for manure in romantic notions of food production. Romance conveys idyllic farm scenes, not sweaty, smelly hay-making, or 18-hour work days.
Still, I get it. Consumers have an emotional attraction to those who grow their food, a fascination for what you do. There’s awe, there’s mystery, and, yes, there’s romance.
It is a challenge, in today’s agriculture, to build and maintain social capital — that respect, that bond — that bridges the consumer-producer gap. And we don’t think about it every day (way too “touchy-feely” for our liking).
It can be built through the little things like plowing a nonfarm neighbor’s driveway, or trashed quickly by spreading manure on the same day as that neighbor’s annual summer barbecue.
The memory part kicks in then, and it takes a long time for them to forget that. Consumers look for both end result and motivation, performance and purpose. They benefit from your management, your efficiency, and your know-how, but they want to know that you farm for “romantic” reasons, too — tradition, history, passion, the love of the land.
If you don’t care, no one will. That’s where the story part comes in. Today’s consumer is online, globally connected, social media-savvy and willing to talk about it. That means today’s farmer needs to be all those things, too.
Daily news that used to be shared as neighbors met in the grocery store is now shared on Facebook. As individuals, we’ve always put more stock in the opinions of people we know, respect and trust, but the online world has broadened the definition of who we “know.”
The neighborhood just got bigger. How will today’s consumer get to know you? Consumers want to be courted, romanced by your passion for agriculture. And they can only learn about that passion — they can only get to know you — if you are willing to share your story.
That connection builds trust, which may be the most important crop food producers can cultivate.