“What’s in It For Me?” – Part 1 of a 3-Part Series on Merger Communications

Does it seem like all the cooperatives around you are engaged in merger or acquisition talks? The flagging farm economy and global competition has resulted in an increase in unions. The number of co-ops in the country has dropped from 6,445 to about 2,100 over the past four decades, and the pace of consolidation is accelerating.

Perhaps you are just beginning to talk with the CEO of another company or your board has scheduled its initial meeting to discuss the feasibility of joining forces. Now is the time to make a plan to communicate with your members, employees and the surrounding communities. It’s not a question of whether or not your informal or formal discussions with another co-op or company will get out—it’s a matter of when.  That is why you need a plan that will advance the truth before the rumor mill kicks in.

That plan should involve:

The Schedule. Detail when you will communicate. Will you release a statement initially, telling the members and the general public you are involved in talks? Or will you wait until you have substantial evidence of benefit and are ready to schedule a member vote?

The Content. What will be the substance of your communication? Most importantly, how will you answer the members’ all-important question, “What is in it for me?”

Tell members early

Releasing as much truth as you can as soon as you can to members and the general public is to your advantage. It’ll help avoid potential negative facts being invented and passed around the coffee shop. For example, you don’t want someone to say: “I heard from Fred that the co-op is trying to sell out our good name and move our headquarters far, far away.” Instead, you want the banter to be the latest information you released: “This merger will improve agronomy services because a larger fleet will be able to move applicators from one part of our expanded market area to another—depending on the weather. Members will get faster service in the spring.”

Make them partners in the deal

The worst thing that can happen in co-op merger talks is for a member to look at the deal from an outsider’s perspective. In a private company, a shareholder who has received dividends over the years is much more likely to abide secrecy in merger negotiations than a co-op member. He or she has been told repeatedly, “You own and control the company.” Moreover, it is not just dividends that a co-op member is after. It is service and a fair price. The results of a merger are far more personal to a member who needs to feel like they are part of any deal. The earlier your members can “own” a proposed merger, the more likely they are to record an enthusiastic “yes” either by their patronage of an acquisition or by their vote to merge.

Member meeting on merger communications

A co-op manager I worked with had a practice of making the members a partner to anything major that happened within the company, whether it was an expansion of facilities and services, a merger or an acquisition.

“Before we get started, I tell them what we’re going to do and why we are going to do it,” he said. “Then, after we’ve started, I tell them what we’re doing and remind them of why we’re doing it.” In doing so, this manager made the members feel like, “This is my project!” The expansion, merger or acquisition became an extension of what they were doing on their own farm or ranch—so they supported it.

What’s in it for me?

The bottom line of successful merger communication is to keep the question “What’s in it for me?” top of mind. A proposed union may save money by sharing the cost of certain fixed assets or spreading insurance premiums over a larger organization. It may provide greater buying power or a healthier market for the grain your cooperative handles. But if you fail to translate that into direct or indirect member benefits, the initiative may not succeed. Why? The members may not see a personal advantage in voting “yes” or in continuing to do business with the larger organization.

Before releasing any information on merger talks, scheduled votes or potential union dates, always ask, “Does this information answer the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question our members are sure to ask?’”


Senior journalist Dave Aeilts has been helping VistaComm clients with merger and acquisition communications for more than two decades. Be sure to visit the VistaComm blog site again for Part 2 of Dave’s 3-part series on merger communication, “Don’t forget employees.” If your organization needs help communicating change, or even starting a communication program, put our expertise to work for you.

Contact us today

 

Read More Here: “What’s in It For Me?” – Part 1 of a 3-Part Series on Merger Communications

Tolstoy Windchiler 5K Raises MoreThan $3,000 for Labs For Liberty

Fifty-five runners and walkers crossed the finish line in Tolstoy, South Dakota, on January 21, to raise more than $3,000 for the Labs for Liberty program. Here, Sabot, finishing in 10th place on a balmy 28-degree day in north central South Dakota, poses with his trainer/caretaker, Katie Nold. Late in 2017, Sabot will be paired with a South Dakota veteran, and Katie will take on another Lab for Liberty, supplementing her part-time duties as a creative freelance journalist for VistaComm.

Read Full Article Here: Tolstoy Windchiler 5K Raises MoreThan $3,000 for Labs For Liberty

Volunteering at the 2017 Sioux Empire Farm Show

For the third year in a row, I had the opportunity to help the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce by volunteering at the swine competition during the Sioux Empire Farm Show at the fairgrounds. Coming from a farm, I’m no stranger to livestock, but growing up, we did not raise or show them. The closest I ever got was in high school, earning a little spending money doing occasional chores for area farmers. Showing livestock competitively is a whole new world to me, and I enjoy seeing the hard work and dedication that the kids put into these competitions.

Despite the winter storm, we had a great turnout again this year. Congratulations to all those who participated in the event and thank you to those involved who make it all happen behind the scenes.

 

Senior Showmanship Competition
After a very smooth swine show. We’re wrapping up for the day with showmanship competitions.

 

2017 Sioux Empire Farm Show Swine
Our judge stands at the end of the show rink during the senior showmanship competition to have participants drive their pigs towards him.

 

Original Post Here: Volunteering at the 2017 Sioux Empire Farm Show

Website Design: Does Your Site Pass These Three Critical Tests?

Your website is so much more than just an address and a placeholder on the web—or at least, it should be. For the online visitor, it’s your storefront, your image, your first impression.

How do you determine whether your site is “good” or not?

When looking at your existing website, or designing a new website, here are three quick questions to ask. Does it look professional and inviting? Does it load quickly? Can a first-timer find what they’re looking for fast?

Download website optimization ebookLook sharp

Our average attention span is now eight seconds. That’s how long your site has to make that first impression. So…does your website immediately come across as credible, trustworthy, professional, approachable and solid—like a friendly, yet firm, handshake? Does it make your visitors feel welcome?

Making that favorable first impression is the responsibility of the web designer. But even an attractive design doesn’t guarantee your site will accomplish the goal of attracting and retaining visitors.

Website speed is no longer optional

A snazzy website design is worthless if it doesn’t load … and load quickly. The eight-second rule no longer applies here. Research by Doubleclick (Google) says that 53% of mobile site visits are abandoned if pages take longer than three seconds to load. In fact, with Google’s new mobile-first index, sites with slower load times are penalized in organic search rankings.

The fact is, bells and whistles can be a distraction—especially in the world of agribusiness. Make sure that flashy animation and video are necessary to communicate key points about your ag products or services. If so, then run with it. Just be sure to employ development techniques that don’t harm the performance of your website.

Navigation is key

Think of website navigation as a street map. Your site visitor wants to know where to go next … and it should be obvious. There are some great tools out there today that allow you to gather data on how customers interact with your website navigation and content. This allows you to visually see what they are doing, and make changes to your site to optimize every page. Here are just a few things to keep in mind when looking at your site’s navigation:

  • Keep navigation simple. It should be very easy for the reader to go from the general content on your home page to the more specific content on the rest of your site.
  • Include links within your page copy. And make it clear where those links go.
  • Ensure contact information or next actions are easily visible on all pages. This is often the key piece of information sought by visitors to your site.
  • Add internal links within the text of your web pages. This allows readers to “jump” to more detailed info on other parts of your website.

mobile friendly webiste design

Does your website fall short on one or more of these criteria for success? We can help.

See More Here: Website Design: Does Your Site Pass These Three Critical Tests?

4 Steps to Turn Website Visitors into Customers

The next generation of producers are beginning to be more involved in the decisions made on the farm. From checking commodities, product research and more, studies show they are more likely to utilize information from an ag website in their decision process than the past generations. More than just your company’s face on the web, your website holds the potential to be one of your most powerful marketing assets. To fulfill its promise, your website needs to be part of an overall content marketing strategy. Such a strategy may consist of multiple tactics to attract customers to your site, engage them with quality content and make you their trusted resource for the information they seek. The key, however, is that the tactics you choose all work together through a well-thought-out plan.

Step 1 – Draw them in

Of course, the best content in the world does you no good if it’s not seen. That’s why the first step—attracting visitors—may also be the most important. To do this, you first have to identify the audience you want to attract. Who do you want your content to speak to? By providing valuable information on topics they’re interested in, you’ll build a loyal audience.

Now, how do you attract visitors to your site to view your excellent content? Employ these traffic drivers:

  • Google Display – target customers with visual ads that appear across the web in their areas of interest.
  • Native Ads – target potential customers with ads that blend into the website they appear on—positioning your agribusiness as a trusted resource.
  • Social Media Marketing – attract customers from the social media channels they are active on using detailed audience profiles.
  • Retargeting – bring visitors back to your site by targeting them after they’ve left your page.
  • Search Engine Optimization – help prospects and customers find you by having a technically fit website and optimized content—ensuring higher visibility on search engine rankings.
  • Google Adwords – determine what keywords and geography are crucial for your agribusiness, and then make sure you get found when customers search Google.

Step 2 – Convert them

So now you have visitors who trust your site for the information they find there. That’s a big first step. Now you need to meet them. Make sure your site has multiple ways to capture leads. Use forms, call-to-action buttons, links or landing pages to gather key information from your visitors.

Step 3 – Close the deal

The personal touch is the key to nurturing those leads into customers. Use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program and other marketing tools to keep track of potential customers and your interactions with them.

Step 4 – Create brand evangelists

Finally, delight customers by continuing to engage with them and providing great service, so they essentially become promoters of your brand through their purchase habits and interactions with your business—and with others. Word-of-mouth referrals are better advertising than you can ever purchase.

Contact us today

 

Read Full Article Here: 4 Steps to Turn Website Visitors into Customers

5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Company’s Ag Newsletter Content and Gain Readers

Have you ever wondered what happens when your cooperative or agribusiness’ newsletter hits farmers’ mailboxes? In the perfect world, they read it cover to cover. More likely, they thumb through it looking for articles that interest them.

So what can you do to beef up your newsletter so farmers take the time to sit down and read it?  Following are a few helpful tips to increase your newsletter readership.

1. Talk to farmers about something that is important to them.

Focus on information that’s different or newsworthy. Be specific. Make it worthwhile.

Instead of this … Try this…
“It’s time to think about spring applications …” Include a list of the three applications that are especially important this year.
“Count on us for all of your energy needs …” Talk about the financial advantages of fuel contracts or discounts
“We’re ready for your grain this harvest …” Spell out specific steps your co-op is taking to get farmers’ trucks dumped and back to the field faster.

You get the idea. Remember, printing a newsletter is more than just an obligation you have to fulfill every few months. Rather, it’s an opportunity to communicate something of value to co-op patrons. Here’s a list of topics that you can get some ideas from.

2. Include photos … especially photos of people.

When you pick up a newspaper or magazine, your eyes go right to the photos. Same is true with your newsletter. By including new and interesting photos, you draw readers in—increasing the chances they will read the accompanying article. Here are a few ways to make sure your photos get noticed.

  • Include people, and identify them in a caption.
  • If possible, show people in action rather than staged photos.
  • Avoid using mobile phone photos, as they don’t typically have enough data to reproduce well in a printed newsletter. A simple pocket camera retailing for less than $100 will give you far better quality.

photos of farmers for newsletter

3. Use strong headlines.

Like photos, a good headline will draw people in to your story. Use this little exercise to help zero in on the best headline:

Write at least five headlines for your story. Anything goes.

Try a “how to” approach. Use numbers if possible. Be clever if appropriate.

Then walk away … and come back in 30 minutes.

More often than not, the best headline will jump out at you. If not, go back to the keyboard.

4. Mix it up

In today’s world of smart phones and tablets, people are accustomed to short, succinct messages. So if your newsletter looks like a newspaper—with column after column of words—you run the risk of having your content come across as a bunch of gray matter on the page.
Solution? Break up your content with different sorts of information.

  • Use bulleted lists like this one. Skimmers are drawn to lists.
  • Add infographics, which are visual interpretations of facts or statistics.
  • Include sidebars or small, boxed items that provide important bits of information about events, incentives or special offers.

infogrtaphics increase newsletter readership

5. Ask your reader to do something.

In marketing terms, this is your “call to action.” At the very least, this can mean ending articles with “call now,” “visit our c-store” or “check with your agronomist.” And when you suggest those actions, include phone numbers or email addresses. Make it easy for the reader to contact your co-op.

In a broader sense, think of your entire newsletter as one big “call to action” … asking farmers to do more business with your cooperative. Make sure each issue of your newsletter demonstrates how your co-op adds value to farmers’ operations.


best practices to content marketing

Looking for help making your newsletter even better? Check out our e-book, 6 Best Practices in Agri-Marketing & Communication. You’ll find great info on page 6, “NEWSLETTERS: Sharing Your News … in a Format That Gets Noticed.”

Read More Here: 5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Company’s Ag Newsletter Content and Gain Readers

I Wish We Had a Photo of That: Plan Ahead to Ensure You Have the Images You Need

“Downtime” isn’t really an accurate description of the winter months for an ag retailer. Certainly, you’re not moving at the frantic pace of planting and harvest. But winter is the season to repair and prepare in expectation of the heavy demands ahead.

Winter is also a great time to prepare for next year’s marketing communication program. More specifically, to map out a plan to capture the essential communications resource regularly overlooked in many organizations—quality images. Quality images in ag are often missed because when the best photo opportunities arise, nobody was prepared to be capturing them.

Let me explain using a common ag example. Late fall and early winter are the selling seasons for seed. Logically, you’ll want to include an article on the topic in your newsletter, post it on your website and social media, perhaps create a flyer or postcard to promote an informational meeting. What would be the perfect shot? A planter rolling through a field, or a farmer filling his planter. Unfortunately, no one took that shot in the spring when the action was live. That’s where planning comes into play.

planting

There are two approaches to gathering images that work well. The first—create an editorial calendar for the year. As you determine what topics you want to cover, you can also determine which images best illustrate those stories and when to capture them. Then create a seasonal shot list.

The second approach is less structured. Look at your business, identify the business segments that will be promoted, then determine the types of images that best illustrate each segment. Like the first approach, put together a seasonal shot list with the goal of creating a photo library that you can access whenever you need just the right image.

winter-barn
Photo by VistaComm senior journalist Burke Perry.

By the way—winter is a great time to update staff portraits, capture indoor events and document regular winter activities like equipment maintenance. You’ll also have some days when conditions are right to grab some good winter scenic shots out in the country.

But how? And who?

Now to the mechanics. How do you capture all these images? There are several options. The first, best option is to find someone on your staff who actually enjoys taking photos—with a camera, not a cell phone (more on this shortly). Generally, there is someone who has the bug. Make them the official photographer, because they’re probably going to capture better photos. And they’re right there at work when photo opportunities occur.

sunset-farm
Photo by VistaComm senior journalist Burke Perry.

Second, hire a professional. At VistaComm, we handle the photography when we’re onsite. The resulting photos can be added to your library. The drawback: Any professional is only on site occasionally. By scheduling them strategically, you can add a lot of good shots to your library. But you’ll never catch every event, every crop stage and every time you happen to drive by the perfect shot on your way home.

Third, everyone’s a photographer these days. If you have a smartphone, you have a camera, and that means more people are taking more pictures than ever before—many more pictures. Earlier, I mentioned that a camera is the best way for quality photos. That is absolutely true for print. But cell phone pictures are fine for most web use and, clearly, social media. Your force in the field is often at the heart of the action, so encourage them to capture action shots in season.

Photo by VistaComm journalist Connie Smith.

Good images breathe life into your communication. They help the writer tell the story or, in some cases, they tell a story all on their own. For more basic tips on taking better pictures, take a look at the blog article “10 Tips for Improving Your Photos to Make Your Marketing Rock!” by Dary Maulsby.

Need help capturing professional-quality, captivating images? Put a VistaComm journalist to work on your publications. Contact us today.

Article Source Here: I Wish We Had a Photo of That: Plan Ahead to Ensure You Have the Images You Need

Website Content: Give your readers what they want . . . in a format that’s easy to read.

There’s a certain way people read website content. It’s not the same as sitting down with the newspaper, or reading the latest edition of Farm Journal. People who visit your website are scanning. They don’t want long articles. They want information–FAST!

When writing website content, think like you’re a potential customer.

Why would they go to your website? What specific words would they type into a Google search in order to get there? Are they looking for information about products, services or agronomic practices? Figure out those answers, then give them the information they’re looking for.

Keep it short and sweet.

Make it easy for visitors to scan your website by using these writing techniques:

  • Use headlines and subheads that guide the reader through your content.
  • Keep sentences and paragraphs SHORT.
  • Use bullet points. 70% of people look at lists with bullet points.1
  • Sidebars are good for emphasizing important information.
  • Incorporate simple and direct calls to action.

A variety of content works best.

Content is more than just words. Visitors to your site appreciate variety, so keep your site fresh with multiple forms of content. Here are a few examples:

 

Read Your Web Copy Out Loud

timer-icon
If a sentence is so long you cannot read it in one breath, then it’s too long.
quote-icon
If you don’t know where to pause, then the sentence needs punctuation. Or better yet, divide it into two sentences.
 

On the average web page, users have time to read
at most 28% of the words during an average visit.3

 

 

pencil-icon
If the overall message doesn’t sound like your company’s personality, then it’s time for a rewrite.

 

 

chat-bubble-icon
If you stumble over a word or a phrase because it’s too complicated or awkward, find a simpler way to say it.

 

 

69% of web users spend 69% of their time viewing
the left half of the page and 30% viewing the right half.4

 

 

microphone-iconIf the wording seems like “corporate speak,” try adding pronouns like “we” and “you” so your website communicates more personally with your reader.

 

sleep-iconWrite it, then put it aside for a few hours…or preferably overnight. It’s surprising how much you can improve web copy when you look at it with “fresh eyes.”

 

VistaComm has put these and other great website and digital marketing tips at your fingertips in a handy e-book, WEBSITE KNOW-HOW: Grow Your Agribusiness with a Hard-Working Website. Access this valuable resource.

hard-working-website-cta

 

  1. “How People Read on the Web: The Eyetracking Evidence.” Nielsen, Norman Group.
  2. Burnes, Rick. “Study shows business blogging leads to 55% more visitors.” Hubspot.
  3. “How little do users read?” Nielson, Norman Group.
  4. “Horizontal attention leans left.” Nielson, Norman Group.

Read Full Article Here: Website Content: Give your readers what they want . . . in a format that’s easy to read.

Website Optimization: Fine-tuning content so your website works harder

It’s not enough to judge your website based on how it looks or what it says. The real test is whether people visit your site . . . and how they interact with your site once they get there.


Put it to the test.

Take a look at your website and see if it accomplishes these tasks:

findCan prospects find your website?

seo-rank

How does your website rank on search engines?

interact

Once people find your site, do they stay and interact with it?

accept-ctaDo site visitors accept your call to action?

 


seo-optimizationPay attention to Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

There are entire books written about SEO, but it boils down to this: When people search on Google, Bing or another search engine, can they find your content? It’s all about anticipating what your audience wants—then skillfully (not heavy-handedly) inserting appropriate keywords into your content so search engines can find your site.


Create landing pages that inspire readers to act.

A landing page is a page on your website that has a form for a visitor to fill out. It’s there for one reason—to capture information from website visitors.

On the average web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit.1

Keep in mind that the landing page must offer them something in return—such as a product guide or e-newsletter, an easy way to RSVP for a field day or a request for more information. The better your landing page works, the more leads you get.


heat-mappingHeat Mapping: Finding out where your visitors are looking…and where they’re not

Mouse tracking and eye tracking analytics help you visualize how customers interact with your website.

  • When people are clicking on your website
  • How far they scroll down before leaving a page

69% of web users spend 69% of their time viewing the left half of the page and 30% viewing the right half.2

Heat mapping provides a visual display of your website design performance. This helps you make your website design decisions based on actual user experiences. It also helps you optimize your website to ensure the best results from your website’s content and landing pages.


 

VistaComm has put these and other great website and digital marketing tips at your fingertips in a handy e-book, WEBSITE KNOW-HOW: Grow Your Agribusiness with a Hard-Working Website. Access this valuable resource online.

hard-working-website-cta

  1. “How little do users read?” Nielson, Norman Group.
  2. “Horizontal attention leans left.” Nielson, Norman Group.

Read More Here: Website Optimization: Fine-tuning content so your website works harder

When it comes to marketing your agribusiness, are you a horseshoes and hand grenades communications planner?

This time of year many agribusinesses stress planning.

“Plan for next year’s hybrid placement and effective fertilizer use. And make those plans by tapping the knowledge of your local agronomy expert, the person who knows your operation.”

That’s excellent advice for creating next year’s communication crop, too. Let me sweep aside the accumulated seed corn guides on my desk so we can set guidelines for your 2017 newsletter and magazine harvest.

Say your first goal is making the ag journalism process easier and more effective. Working with communication experts to take advantage of their marketing services is an obvious step. But there’s the question of directly interfacing with the professionals who interview, photograph, design and proofread your publication. Do you really have time to come up with a list of possible stories and schedules the interviews for impactful content that will meet your marketing communication objectives?

If you put a value on personally working with your out-sourced ag marketing communication team, that’s great. Otherwise, designate a liaison within your organization, and grant this liaison some of your authority. A stand-in without backing from the top will be ignored, and your publication process will stall. When your staff dodges interviews or forgets to send photos, the pre-determined objectives of the newsletter or magazine process quickly erodes and you start missing project deadlines. Eventually, your chosen delivery date dies a sad little death.

Unless, your mailing deadline is the real problem. Did you choose a time for interviews—the typical start of a publication process—in a busy season for many of your employees? You can either reevaluate your mail date or help your staff come to grips with the value of timely ag marketing communication for customers and prospects. (Just a quick shout-out to the marketing services provided by VistaComm: Our ag journalists are willing to make the interview process EASY! We typically take no more than 30 minutes to gather information from a division manager or other interviewee and we’ll meet your staff or customers wherever is most convenient for them.)

Now, let’s talk a little about your mailing schedule as a whole. When did your agribusiness newsletter or magazine actually hit mailboxes last year? That’s the reality of the process. Typically, a newsletter requires four weeks from interviews to mailing and an additional 5-7 days for standard-class delivery. A magazine takes six weeks. Think about it. If you want to get those pre-harvest messages or year-end pre-pay information to your customers, you’ve got to plan for it then stay on schedule with your publications that outline this critical information. Design your mailing schedule with this one question in mind: What do we want our customers to do when they read the newsletter? If, for instance, you want them to make input booking decisions, plan for communication that arrives while they’re still making those decisions. You know what they say about horseshoes and hand grenades…

Contact us today

Read More Here: When it comes to marketing your agribusiness, are you a horseshoes and hand grenades communications planner?