Understanding the Consumer

Often things said on agriculture social media can be taken out of context, this is partly due to the consumers not understanding the agriculture world, but also stems from the agriculture world not understanding the consumer. When it comes to social media there is your reality of your operation and there are a million perceptions of your reality. Sometimes on social media it can be difficult to convey your reality to someone because of a cultural difference between someone in the agriculture industry and the consumer. It’s not that either side is ignorant or does not have the ability to learn about the other, it’s more of either side has not been exposed to each other’s way of life. Sometimes the lack of understanding is simply due to a terminology barrier, many times agriculture terminology does not translate well to the consumer terminology without a little extra explanation.

When I listen to podcasts I will hear people say things like “I am a 4th generation farmer”, people who understand the agriculture world know that being a 4th generation farmer has some value behind it. People who understand agriculture know what is involved for a family to be able to successfully farm the land for that many years. For a family to still be working the same land for over 100 years it typically means the family has a good understanding of their operation, the family has taken care of the land so that the land has been able to give back to them. More than likely the family has had to change with the times and adjust the way they do business because farming today is a whole lot different today than it was 100 years ago.

When a consumer hears someone say they have been farming for 4 generations the consumer may have a complete different train of thought, they may think you are still working that land the same way your great grandfather worked the land. So the reality is that your family has made necessary changes to their operation in order to stay profitable, but the perception from the consumer may be that your ways are outdated. Through positive agriculture advocacy hopefully the consumer can learn what being a 4th generation farmer really means.

Earlier this year meat supplies in the grocery stores was very low, often there were times where the meat shelves were completely empty. To the consumer that is a meat shortage, if the consumer cannot buy meat to feed their kids then that by definition in the consumer world is a shortage. The consumer is not aware of why the meat shelves were empty, they just know that they need to find something else to feed their kids.

During the few weeks that meat was hard to find I saw several agriculture people post on social media that there was not a meat shortage, while yes that is partly correct, try explaining that to the consumer when they are standing in the grocery store staring at blank shelves. If they can’t buy meat then no matter how you spin it they are going to call it a shortage, and to the consumer your credibility as an agriculture advocate just went out the window and anything you say going forward probably will be met with skepticism. So the agriculture reality is that there was not a meat shortage, but the perception of the consumer is that there was a shortage of meat because the consumer was not aware of what it takes to get the meat from the field to the grocery store.

Through agriculture advocacy there were some social media posts that did a good job explaining that there was not a shortage and they explained very well why the shelves were empty. Those posts were able to break the process down for the consumer to understand where the meat was. Once the consumer heard the advocates acknowledge that the shelves were bare and here is the real reason why, then the consumer gained more confidence that the matter was being handled and that shortly the meat supply would return.

Every year grocery stores and food manufacturing companies spend millions of dollars studying the consumer and their purchasing habits. They know where the best place in a store is to place a certain item so that it gets high visibility. The packaging of a product is geared to catch you attention, they use key words that are hot topics such as gluten free, or non-GMO, the manufactures know that those terms are hot topics among the consumer in today’s society. As someone who works in the agriculture industry you may not agree with some of those marketing terms, but the manufactures have studied the consumer and they know what to say to motivate the consumer to buy those products.  The food manufactures know how to create an interest in a product because they know how the consumer will react.

A good example was the dairy industry changing the wording of how much fat is in a jug of milk. Consumers are more receptive to the term 97% fat free than saying the term whole milk. The milk is the same but you just word it so that the consumer is drawn to it because today a lot of consumers are concerned about the amount of fat they have in their diet and saying 97 percent fat free just sounds healthier.

So in summary if you are a person who wants to be social media influencer and an advocate for the agriculture world, it may be beneficial to understand the consumer culture, if you understand a little more of the consumers background it may help you structure your thoughts so that the consumers perception of your reality may actually be closer to the message you are trying to convey. Sometimes the best thing to do is simply ask a consumer questions. Ask the consumer directly the reasons why they feel a certain way. Consumers are big on feelings, a lot of their actions are based on how something makes them feel. Just like slapping gluten free on a can of peanuts, the peanuts have always been gluten free, but it makes the consumer feel good that they are eating a gluten free food because they have a perception that gluten free food is healthier. If you can learn what their feelings are you may be able to use that to explain your reality in a way that would make them feel good. Instead of making the consumers understand your wording maybe try to break your wording down to something they can understand or relate to. What may seem simple to you to understand may not make any sense to a consumer.

If you can find a way to appeal to the consumer’s interest it may be a good way to peak their interest enough for them to ask you more about the agriculture world, then you have a win win situation, both the consumer and the agriculture producer can gain a little deeper understanding of each other’s culture.

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