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Solving the agtech marketing challenges

Agtech start-ups must resolve their marketing challenges as well as their market offering.

Agtech has attracted the biggest influx of bright ideas, new thinking, fresh talent and vital funding the agricultural industry’s seen for years.

Agtech marketing challenges

While agtech brings much-needed innovation and funding to agriculture, startups face challenges in bringing their product to market.

Indeed, the nineteenth-century agricultural revolution was probably the last occasion when so many came flocking to agriculture to share their expertise and apply their ingenuity. Then, engineers and entrepreneurs – people who’d honed their skills in other industries – competed to provide solutions that improved efficiency and productivity, transforming the industry as they went.

I’ve always been determined to make my career out of agriculture and I’m proud to have done so. I’ve long argued that agriculture is the most exciting, and the most relevant industry on the planet. And now others see it in the same way! It’s a thrill to see the resurgence of our industry, as it becomes the darling of investors and innovators the world over. Welcome, agritech pioneers – we salute you.

Look at how many of these enthusiasts come to agriculture from different backgrounds – finance or technology, for example. This is a rich vein of new talent. These people bring a different perspective to our world. They’re not hamstrung by the ‘legacy’ approach that often holds back innovation, the idea that you can’t do something ‘like that’, because it’s always been done ‘like this’. They are to farming what Apple is to tech – they’re not afraid to ditch the floppy disk, the CD-ROM drive or the 3.5mm headphone jack.

But as a marketer and PR strategist in this sector, I’m acutely aware of one crucial area in which these pioneers’ non-agricultural backgrounds can be disadvantageous. No matter how good your product or service, to be successful it needs an effective marketing strategy – if for no other reason than to be aware of, and avoid, the agricultural industry’s particular pitfalls – set to trip the unsuspecting, or over-eager agricultural marketer. These are the agtech marketing challenges:

Make the right approach

While farmers operate in a B2B marketplace, they’re also consumers. Agtech marketing strategies should be similarly aligned, to appeal to the target customer as both a consumer and a business owner. Investors will also be reassured by agtechs who not only have a minimum viable product, but who can demonstrate confidence in dealing with the agricultural marketplace.

Define the target

Universal appeal? Forget it, unless you have the 21st century equivalent of Harry Ferguson’s three-point hitch. So examine your target audience carefully, and define it precisely. Farm size? Crops grown? Early adopters, or reluctant advancers?

Refine the value proposition

While at GFIA in Abu Dhabi, Agro Mavens heard a talk from Nick Brozovic, Director of Policy at the Daugherty Water for Food Institute. In addressing the tremendous opportunities agtech presents for improving water use efficiency, he drew upon his experience of the US agtech scene and highlighted an issue that we too have recognised: the value proposition.

It’s one of the biggest obstacles faced by agtech start-ups: how well can they define a value proposition that’s clear and unambiguous?

Cut to the chase: we’re taking pain points. What pain point does an agtech product address? Benefits? Why are they benefits? Don’t get hung up by simply talking about features, nor the technology involved. If the technology’s good enough (think the original iPhone) then it becomes invisible to the user. They’re only concerned with how well it does its job.

Understand the marketing channels

What’s the most effective route to market? This is the other great challenge facing an agtech start-up, according to Brozovic.

  • Trust plays a big part in the sale of most agricultural products and services. The most common channels are dealer networks, with whom the farmer has probably been dealing with for years, enjoying a strong trading relationship. Outside these channels – and unlike B2C markets – it’s hard to get farmers into the mentality of buying direct, online. Yet this is often the only route available to a start-up. So breaking into one of these channels makes the route to sales a whole lot easier.
  • Influencers truly hold sway. They are the trusted advisers. Farmers turn to them again and again: bouncing ideas, using as a sounding board and seeking opinion. While a dairy farmer might turn to a vet or feed merchant, agronomists or machinery dealers might be the first choice of arable farmers.
  • Don’t forget peers. Word-of-mouth remains highly effective and farming’s a competitive industry. Neighbours like to keep up with one another. Reaching out to these groups of influencers is crucial.
  • Some conventions still need to be observed. Ignore some of them at your peril. This industry reflects the seasons, so some products are markedly seasonal while others can – in theory – be sold all year round, but convention might dictate a well-defined window in which sales are agreed. Combine harvesters, for example, are often only marketed as the harvest draws to a close. Buying decisions are made at specific points in the year. Without appropriate knowledge of the market, a start-up could splash its marketing budget at the wrong time. Or it won’t mobilise its marketing plan with sufficient time to make those crucial first sales. That could see the whole business plan on hold for another year – and some discontent investors.

Speak their language

English, Spanish or Korean? No, I’m taking lingo, terminology, jargon and context. An agtech’s ability to engage confidently and convincingly with its target audience is half the battle. For instance:

  • Europe has farms and grain silos, not ranches and elevators. And they’ll have a vet visit their farm, rather than a veterinarian.
  • Dairy farmers are already using AI [artificial insemination]; don’t promise to introduce AI [artificial intelligence] to their parlour unless it’s spelt out in full.
  • Farmers want their cows to be ‘happy’ but will be suspicious if a product claims to ‘make your cows happy’; they’d prefer something that ‘maximises welfare’.

So use the right terminology, check that those acronyms don’t refer to something else, and make sure any claims are couched in the right terms.

And ensure there’s someone on the marketing team who has some agricultural nous and experience, so that all public-facing material is credible, compelling and relevant for the target audience. Over the years that I’ve worked in agricultural communications, I’ve employed a fair few people. Without appropriate coaching, those without agricultural backgrounds tend to produce material that feels as if it’s written at “arm’s length”: it doesn’t resonate as well with the target audience.

Start-ups and other companies entering the agtech, or wider agricultural marketplace, can and will succeed if their marketing strategies are clearly defined. If we can help you with your agtech marketing challenges, we’d enjoy working with you. Contact us here.



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