Be emotional so your audience will act emotionally

You watch the commercials. You see the duotone photography. You hear Paul Harvey’s voice as the open-top tractor winds its way down the field. You think of your father. Or your grandfather. And that’s the point.

The best ag marketing (or the best marketing, period) strikes an emotional chord in its audience. It tells you a story; it reminds you of things that you love or of things you want to love. Emotion makes people act. And more importantly for our purposes, it dictates how people buy things.

Successful brands stand the test of time because people connect on both a rational level (points of differentiation from other brands) and an emotional level (how your brand makes your audience feel). That intersection is the sweet spot.

Why you love the brands you love

Think of the most popular brands in the world, and the first images that pop into your mind. Santa drinking a Coke. Michael Jordan in his Nikes. Apple in silhouette. There are dozens of great examples from just these three brands, but the one thing they have in common is they ping something inside you that makes you never forget them. That’s your emotions talking. And even if you aren’t an Apple disciple or a Coke drinker, part of you, deep down, wouldn’t mind being one!

These examples and brands make it obvious that emotional marketing works, but they also have the distinct advantage of being “positive” retail experiences. You might not have an iPhone, but you need a phone. If you don’t have a pair of Air Jordans, you might have some Lebrons. You NEED these things, at least in some way. And to many, these brands are sexy purchases. There’s emotion in the marketing, but there’s also emotion in the purchasing.

An ag-old romance

In the ag industry, we don’t often have this luxury, at least not directly. Try as we might, pest control products ain’t sexy. No one is shedding a tear when they sign an invoice for performance minerals. So how do we use emotion in production agriculture marketing?

The answer is actually pretty simple: the same damn way. Strike that chord and they will come. Refer to the Paul Harvey commercial from the intro paragraph. It’s a Dodge commercial, of all things, and it makes the hardscrabble life of the small-time farmer look appealing…to everyone. It’s quite the feat. Then again, while the details of farming aren’t exactly romantic, the basic idea of farming (golden ears of corn, majestic horses, big ol’ pickups) is a very romantic American concept. It’s a tradition, and it’s always been emotional here amongst the amber waves of grain.

But what about nontraditional farming that doesn’t have that built-in connection to the American ideal? We’re talking about specialty fruits, nuts, specific vegetables, etc. How do you twang those emotional strings in the average consumer who doesn’t exactly relate? These more “niche” or specialty crops need successful marketing even more than more standard ag industry arenas.

Charging the lead

Many specialty crops rely upon hot-button issues in their marketing. Phrases like “organic” and “non-GMO” are politically charged, no matter how they’re played in the actual pieces. And “politically charged” means “emotional.” Those phrases get people talking, and no matter what side of the argument an arguer is arguing, if they’re arguing about a specific crop or product, the growers, distributors and marketers of that crop or product are pretty happy.

Take the recent controversy about the proposed border wall. One of the lost details in the pro-wall/anti-wall argument is the effect such a wall can have on the price of avocados. Chances are, if you’re arguing with your neighbor about the Mexican border, the last topic to come up would be avocados. But that didn’t stop Big Avocado from plunking down the money for a Super Bowl 50 commercial. They took a controversial, emotional topic and used it to the industry’s advantage. Was it effective? Well, here we are, months later, talking about an avocado commercial that aired once in early February.

Fresh and safe messaging

Even specialty ag can connect with a broad audience by using emotional marketing. But you have to do more than use words like “fresh” and “natural.” You have to go deeper. You have to connect on a lifestyle level. It’s not enough to get that non-GMO certification; in many instances, you have to tell the audience why they care about GMO vs. non-GMO. It’s not easy, and you often risk alienating people who feel strongly about one side of the topic.  Remember when Chipotle went “all natural” and the social media world exploded? Well, Chipotle took a stance, created some beautifully emotional marketing  that went beyond simple buzzwords and package labels, and thrived in the face of controversy (recent unrelated issues not withstanding).

The point here is that no matter what industry you’re working in or with, you have to get an audience (not necessarily your audience) to care, one way or another. Because if someone cares, someone is emotional. And emotional people have emotional reactions.

And a reaction is usually exactly what we’re looking for.