I have a friend who works for a marketing agency. Her job is to help her clients figure out how best to accomplish marketing goals, develop their brands, and determine how to spend their advertising budgets. That last one can be the hardest. She has to answer questions about how best to maximize the return on every dollar her clients spend.

A cost-benefit analysis of marketing dollars is really difficult. There are a lot of reasons for that. First, marketing dollars have a lasting effect. Memories of specific advertisements or impressions decline with time, but they create psychological impacts that work unconsciously to influence attitudes for longer periods than any measure of benefit could realistically track.

Second, source credibility matters. If a message comes from a trusted friend, it carries much more weight than a company advertisement.

Third, most transactions in agriculture are completed today with the help of a salesperson. It’s really hard to separate out the message from how it’s delivered. The local sales representative for most products is a valued advisor. A company that tries to measure the influence of an advertisement versus a competitor’s personal relationship has the deck stacked against them.

Last, and maybe most important, product parity in the market means that most value propositions are differentiated on highly nuanced factors that promote marginal differences from other products.
Is it any wonder, then, that with difficulty measuring benefits, the costs for each impression are helping to drive a lot of marketing communication choices. Digital and social media plays a really important role today in determining how a message will reach the marketplace, in large part because it is so efficient. The cost for an impression delivered on Facebook, for example, is measured in thousands of impressions and costs about $.002 per impression. If one is comparing that with $5.00 (or more) per impression for a direct mail piece, Facebook seems like a bargain. The cost for using a salesperson to deliver a message is even higher, and even harder to deliver consistently.

Historically, sales and marketing have been separate systems for delivering messages. Marketers took a long-term focus, doing things that would pay off over a longer period of time. Marketers considered products and brands. Marketing created ads in print, on billboards, and on the radio. Marketing’s job was to develop glossy brochures and catalogs. The marketing department made decisions about messages and sent stuff out to customers with programs designed to get customers to engage with the sales force. Salespeople talked to customers, presented products, and closed deals.

Thirty years ago, we began talking about field marketers – recognizing that salespeople need to use a market-oriented approach – segmenting customers, communicating unique value propositions rather than just products, and thinking about the long term. Conversely, marketing has shifted to a more transactional approach. Cost-benefit or marketing ROI tries to look at marketing as a shorter term activity. Marketers have to be more nimble, fit within a stream of information wherever the customer gets it, develop a “conversation” with the marketplace.

Marketing and sales approaches that have evolved along with grower consolidation, channel consolidation, consumer demand, and digital communication have essentially merged. The planning horizons are necessarily short, because things move fast. The outcomes have to be measured. We have to deliver on results. The thing is, with consolidation, there are so few producers that control so much production today, salespeople are integral to marketing communication. Mass communication may be less important in influencing the market. And marketers, who communicate value propositions, have to think about how they do that uniquely for every customer, rather than identifying a single message that works for everyone.

Today, these two functions have shifted.  Marketers today don’t have the relatively simple tasks of informing, persuading, or reminding.  Salespeople don’t have the relatively simple task of convincing someone to buy from them.  For both of these functions, the challenges today aren’t about outgoing messages at all, but about gathering incoming data about how buyers make decisions.

My friend sees this shift. The question she advises – how to allocate a marketing communication budget – isn’t relevant without considering recommendations for listening. We have usually thought about communication as outbound. Today, the challenge is inbound. We have years of history and experience to help guide outbound expenditures, and we’ll share some of that at our National Conference for Food and Agribusiness in November. But we’ll also talk about strategic listening – how our customers want their voices heard.

Check out our upcoming programs and exceed your professional development goals! Position yourself to excel in your career by attending one of our professional development workshops. Each educational program focuses on different business topics and concepts related to the agribusiness industry you serve, including: marketing, sales, finance, talent management and strategy. Not sure which one is right for you? Let’s chat!