By Kim Kennett, Magpie Marketing
The agriculture-consumer conundrum
Ok, so most of us involved in agriculture recognize the importance of reaching out to consumers if we’re going to be considered credible sources of information. The plethora of mistruths on social media has called us to action because we have finally understood that if we don’t share our story, then someone else will. And this has happened all too often.
“Building public trust” and “social license” have been terms we’ve been throwing around for several years now. Conceptually, they have a lot of merit. There’s also a general consensus that farmers and others involved in agriculture need to get out there and be seen and heard by consumers. Organizations such as Farm & Food Care deserve kudos for organizing training sessions for the industry on speaking to non-agricultural audiences. Agriculture in the Classroom also recently developed their “snapAG” information sheets for the purpose of educating non-agricultural urban students and teachers.
But how do we get beyond concepts and into application? Understanding some of the theoretical underpinnings behind storytelling (commonly referred to as “narrative” in academia) is a good place to start.
Supporting the “science” of agriculture with the “art” of storytelling
Stories are a part of every society and culture. We often remember events in terms of stories, and it is in this form that we frequently pass along our family history. We also share our day to day experiences through narrative via, for example, conversations, social media and blogs. Stories serve to personalize facts, reinforce information and ideas, can pull at peoples’ heartstrings, as well as entertain. (Of course, we’re talking about real life experiences here, not fiction.)
A major challenge for those of us immersed in agriculture, a science-based discipline, is that so many consumers distrust science. A 2017 Ontario Science Centre study discovered that 43% of Canadians believe science is a matter of opinion and nearly one in three Canadians (31%) don’t understand, believe in or trust science reported in the news.
Research demonstrates that effectively engaging consumers is more likely when you utilize narrative as a tool. Humans are wired to remember stories more than data, facts, and figures. When data and story are used together, audiences are moved both emotionally and intellectually. In fact, incorporating narrative is up to 22% more memorable than facts alone. Stories support and reinforce data by providing examples that people can more easily understand and relate to than numbers which often require interpretation or further explanation.
Perhaps most important is that stories have the power to create alliances. How many times have you shared a story with someone and discovered a common interest? Or relayed an experience that leads to meaningful discussion? Connection is the crux of the matter – and having those meaningful conversations with the public is where agriculture needs to go. Engaging consumers is not about simply providing them with information, but building bridges towards common understandings. This involves bringing a non-agriculture audience into your world, finding commonalities and developing relationships.
The marriage between story and science is what agriculture should be aiming for. Share your story, then use facts and figures to support it. When you have established a connection, then the application of science adds credibility to the discussion.
Don’t discount feelings
International market research conducted by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research indicated that consumers buy from companies that make them feel good. In other words, we can no longer discount emotions in terms of getting our message out to consumers. Many people consider feelings just as valid as facts, if not more so. We all understand that effective marketing appeals to emotions more than reason. The recent focus on “fake news” compounds the challenge and has influenced consumers to be less trusting and more suspicious about mainstream media content.
What consumers want from the agriculture industry (besides safe food) is the intangible – they want to know the people behind the food: that you have families you care about, that you’re passionate about agriculture and that you have feelings, too. It translates into getting down and personal. Being yourself. Being vulnerable. Being open.
Agriculture may focus on science, but it’s also about people. There are plenty of stories in agriculture circles that have the human element embedded in them. Many of us are very adept at storytelling and do it every day, but just don’t realize it. We all have rich stories to share with consumers.
 Weber Shandwick & KRC Research (2017), The Company Behind the Brand II: In Goodness We Trust, http://webershandwick.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/CBB-report-FINAL.pdf
Magpie Marketing is a communications consulting firm whose primary services include strategic thinking initiatives, content creation and technical writing, and project/general management. Partners Kim Kennett and Jean Clavelle work closely together, using their complementary and individual strengths, educations and professional experience in a synergistic manner to produce thought-provoking, carefully crafted information.
At the heart of our communications efforts lies our ability to communicate in a unique and compelling way through sharing stories.
Notes to readers:
- This is an original article written for SAIFood and is based on a series of workshops developed by Magpie Marketing for the agriculture industry.
- No funds or sponsorships were exchanged for this post between SAIFood and Magpie Marketing.
- Agriculture in the Classroom is a client of Magpie Marketing, but Farm & Food Care is not.