September 4, 2014 / Point of View
Do consumers trust agriculture? That was the crux of several questions posed during a recent symposium hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City (KC Fed) and it’s a question asked by a growing number of ag marketers and the food companies they supply.
Given its location in the country’s bountiful midsection, the KC Fed has built a long-standing reputation for expertise in agriculture and rural economic issues. Each year, the KC Fed gathers the best and brightest thought leaders from around the country to share their perspectives on the trends that will shape food and agriculture policy for the foreseeable future. I was invited to attend this year’s symposium, which focused on structural transitions in global agriculture.
During the symposium, experts provided meaningful insights on a vast array of global agriculture topics, from the need for continued infrastructure investment to how decreasing farm income is expected to affect rural communities, lending philosophy, land values and global trade. But the role of consumer choice on global food production was ever-present.
Understanding is Key
In response to questions about consumer trust and understanding, symposium panelist Mary Shelman, who directs Harvard University’s agribusiness program, stressed the need for new coalitions in agriculture that focus on finding common ground with consumers — communicating with them about the issues that matter to them rather than emphasizing the issues that matter to those of us inside the ag industry. Using science-based platforms that magnify our points of difference only separates us more. Before we can address the differences, we must first build trust.
Trust and belief are developed by identifying and establishing common ground through those values shared with the people who buy food. Below are five steps we find are most effective for building belief.
1. Listen and learn. “Know thy customer” is the first rule when communicating about products or issues. Gaining clarity about factors that influence food choices (while leaving corporate agendas at home) will provide a greater understanding of the values we share, as well as those that need more discussion.
2. Turn influencers into belief builders. Part of building belief with people also involves earning the right to engage with the thought leaders they trust. You can obtain credibility with thought leaders by identifying common values first, rather than defending a point of view.
3. Cultivate peers as trusted sources. Peers have become the trusted sources for information and opinions. That’s why it’s important to develop inspiring stories that can be easily shared with the help of influential peers through earned and social media channels.
4. Inspire story sharing, not just story angles. Inspiration fuels awareness. And to inspire, connect by recounting stories that engage people through shared values, rather than those that simply tell one side of the story.
5. Constantly engage, rather than react. Two-way engagement lives in the moment and can build relationships with target audiences. Leverage up-to-the-minute discussions to remain in step with issues and trends relevant right now.
Agriculture feeds us and powers our lives. There’s no more important mission than that. And we, as an industry, should execute that mission with pride. But we can’t let pride continue to be the brick wall separating the agriculture industry from the people who buy our food. It’s about finding common ground.