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September 2006
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December 2006

Call the Plumber, His Heart Stopped!

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                                  Knowledge is Power

By Michael P. Libbie

My brother is a physician.  Well, he is a retired physician but that does not stop our Mother from referring to him as, "My son the DOCTOR!"  Me?  Mom usually says to people, "Michael...well, he does something with advertising...I think."  There is a message here for people who are advertising or want to advertise.

A potential advertiser would not call my brother to have him put together a marketing campaign.  And a person suffering from some illness wouldn't call me for a diagnosis.  He does his stuff, and I do mine (whatever that is Mom..)  However, we see business people relegate their advertising decisions to folks that have little knowledge of the topic all the time.

Or agency specializes in Rural Lifestyle, Outdoors and Agricultural clients.  We know agriculture and we have lived the lifestyle.  So, sometimes it surprises me when ag related businesses go out and hire an agency who can't tell the difference between a plow and a planter.  I remember once, long ago, when I was selling print media.  I had a meeting with a group of high-powered agency folks from a high-powered agency in St. Louis.  They handled an equally high-powered client who made all kinds of agricultural equipment.  Three minutes into the meeting I could tell the perky blond account executive sitting with her friends at the conference table had never seen a farm, much less a piece of equipment.  Makes ya wonder.

The bottom line is, "go with the folks who know".  If you've got a product or service you would like to take to the rural lifestyle crowd, agricultural producers or the outdoors market give us a call.  And, if we do well?  Give my Mom a call and brag on us a bit.

Mom1 Mom


Welcome New Insight Clients!

Country_vet_logo

Rh_logo Welcome: Two New Brand Names to Insight!

Two new brand names have chosen Insight Advertising, Marketing and Communications as their agency of record.  Country Vet Pet Foods and Running Horse Elite Equine Nutrition are recent additions in the growing companion animal feed industry and offer a wide selection of premium dog, horse and cat foods.  "We've worked on special projects with Insight for several months and because we were so pleased with their insightful and professional approach to marketing and advertising we decided to make the move to a full time agency relationship", said Gary Kubicek, National Sales and Marketing Manager.

The parent company, Consumers Supply of Iowa and South Dakota, a long time supplier of products and feed formulas for the farm and ranch community, decided to enter the consumer market with their unique extruded high quality animal feed, and according to Kubicek, needed some additional help in marketing the products on a national basis.  "We've moved from a regional company into a much larger focus.  We just think it is a sound business move to hire a firm who knows the rural and urban market to assist us in our product branding."

Country Vet Pet Foods has over 700 dealers in a multi-state area and Running Horse is now distributed by over 300 dealers.  The Running Horse website is now under construction.

For more information contact Michael P. Libbie.


Farm Equipment Sales: "Great!"

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Farm Equipment Dealers say:  "Build it, we'll sell it!"

By Michael P. Libbie, Insight Advertising, Marketing and Communications

Many of you know that our agency tends to specialize in rural and agricultural type clients.  During the past several months there has been a number of articles written suggesting that farm equipment sales for 2006 - 2007 would be sluggish.  We thought we'd ask somebody that is very close to the dealer network and find out the real story.

Forget the "nay-sayers".  For those of you who manufacture short line farm equipment the remainder of 2006 and at least through 2007 dealers are predicting excellent sales. We caught up with Andy Goodman, Executive Vice President of the Iowa Nebraska Equipment Dealers Association following their annual membership meeting and in Andy's words, "Things are looking great!"

Various articles over the past few months suggest agricultural dealers may be facing some tough economic times.  Goodman says those predictions were premature.  "Mid-year our member dealers were concerned with the 2006 outlook because of a lack of rain, the worry about an adequate harvest and generally depressed Ag conditions.  However, all that has turned around over the past three to four months", says Goodman.  The reason?  He gave us a two-word answer:  "Renewable Fuels".  The fact that farmers are now getting $3.40 a bushel for corn has given our dealers a shot of optimism that they feel will carry them for the next several years."

Goodman also said his member dealers have taken advantage of the agricultural diversification taking place all across the Midwest.  "Corn, soybeans and small grains have been the staple of Midwestern agriculture for years.  Today we are seeing producers take on non-traditional crops that use vastly different pieces of machinery."  One example Goodman points to is the phenomenal increase in wineries.  "Currently we have over 70 active wineries in Iowa with another 23 in Nebraska.  That was a market that did not exist for our dealers until very recently.  This diversification allows our member dealers to sell new types of equipment that bolster their existing lines."  (History Factoid:  Until early in the 20th century Iowa was the leading wine manufacturing state in the United States.  Good soil, and better grape varieties are some reasons for the resurgence of the industry.)

In addition to different crops, the region has also seen a major increase in the number of acreages and small farms producing a number of products outside of the corn and soybean world.  Yet another emerging market for equipment dealers has been machinery designed to replenish food plots and other conservation programs.  Farmers and non-farmers have taken on the responsibility to restore food and ground cover sites for upland hunting.

Goodman and his member dealers are "upbeat" with the promise of an excellent final quarter and a very positive looking new year.  "Agricultural dealers are not predicting a sad and gloomy future and we see no reason that manufacturers should be any different."

If your dealership or manufacturing industry would like some help in marketing and advertising your products and services tot he existing and emerging markets we invite you to give us a call.  We know those markets and together we can grow your brand and your business.


What Happened to Wal-Mart?

Walmart_logo2 Sluggish Sales May Be a Lesson in Marketing Mistakes

Today, Wal-Mart released sales figures for November 2006.  The world's largest retailer said that "same store sales" at the 300 billion dollar giant fell 0.1% from the same period for 2005.  (Wal-Mart measures sales from stores that have existed for more than one year.)  This would mark the first "same store sales" decline since 1996.  The final report, which is due on Thursday, may be brighter however leading indicators like this usually mean the company is preparing Wall Street for a negative report.

Big deal?  You bet.  What happened?  We're not going to suggest to you that the staff here at Insight Advertising, Marketing and Communications have any ability to read financial "tea leaves" but we have a strong suspicion we may have part of the answer.  It's called Core Market Amnesia Syndrome or CMAS.  (OK, we made that up...)  In plain talk, we think Wal-Mart made an attempt at upgrading their stores and image and that move created a back-lash among their core demographic.  If you are advertising and selling products this may be an important lesson...so read on.

Three years ago I wrote Wal-Mart Corporate a letter.  I was a regular Wal-Mart customer that, by my records, accounted for nearly $3,000 a year in annual purchases.  My letter centered on the lousy physical condition of many of the stores, the indifference of employee attitudes and what I perceived as a general malaise of employee ability.  This after one memorable negative visit to a Wal-Mart in Des Moines.  I politely wrote, "I have finally had it.  I believe my business means nothing to you and you have finally (for reasons specified) driven me away.  I'll be spending my money at Target."  I received no response.  Not even the customary "We regret we have caused any inconvenience..." weak, boiler plate, corporate letter.  Nothing.  Then I found out why:

Three months after my letter I was in an advertising and marketing workshop (yep, we continue to learn) and the speaker was the VP of Marketing for Wal-Mart.  I picked a good seat.  As this fellow went through his Power Point it became clear to me that I was nowhere on the Wal-Mart customer radar screen.  In fact, one of his slides focused on The Ideal Wal-Mart Customer:

  • Female
  • 18 - 34 Years Old
  • Single
  • Two or more children
  • Annual Income of less than $28,000

Fast forward to 2006.  Over the past year Wal-Mart made, we believe, made a  major decision brought on by a severe case of CMAS (see above).  You too have noticed the change. The TV ads got "slicker", the print pieces became more "trendy", even many stores went through a "make-over" all intended to move Wal-Mart out of the arena of the Core Consumer and into a new, more modern, more educated, more urban customer focus.  We think the real core consumer group simply rebelled or no longer felt welcome in the new style Wal-Mart with higher priced clothing and designer appeal.

So, what does this mean for your business?  First, KNOW YOUR CORE CONSUMER!  Really know who makes up this critical demographic.  Don't guess.  Spend some quality time learning and understanding their buying habits and lifestyle issues. Second, if you are going to attempt to move into another market segment do so without alienating your core.  (Don't do the Cinderella Make Over.)  Third, just because it sounds like a good idea make sure  you go outside your organization to get some feedback and sometimes an opposite opinion.

0.1% may not seem like a large number...but it is when you are talking real money like this.  Just think what you could do by adding 0.1% to your sales on top of what you're already doing.  If we can help...give us a call.


People (still) Buy from People.

When you back a solid message with a real person, expect success!

       Bill_head_shot_1                         

(Bill Mayer of Foton-Mayer Farm Implement - click on the photos to enlarge)

For over 20 years Bill Mayer has been selling equipment to one of the toughest consumer groups on the planet:  Farmers.  (If you think selling to a farmer is an exercise in gullible buying...forget it.  These guys make a good living on a very, very slim margin so every dollar saved is one earned and they negotiate hard.)  Time has proved that Bill not only knows his business but also his customer base.  That's why it was such a leap of faith that propelled him to take on a line of new compact tractors made in China and attempt to sell them to not only farmers but small acreage owners or "Ruralpolitians".  14 months after signing on to sell the little red Foton tractors his dealership is responsible for selling over 60 units.  (For those of you thinking that is a small number consider the fact that a good friend of mine who oversees a dealership base of 350+  compact tractor dealers told me that his star dealer is likely to sell only 20 - 25 units a year.)

So, other than employing a great advertising agency, what is the secret to the success of Bill Mayer?  It's pretty simple really, he's done some on point advertising to his target consumer group, pushed the price and quality aspect of his Foton tractors and he is "the guy" you deal with.  He takes the credit and the heat.  "We've got a great crew of people here but the final decision on customer service and sales ends up in my chair.", says Mayer.  "I can't, and don't want to, hide behind lots of people with fancy titles.  I want the buyers to know that our business is all about integrity, service and a passion of doing the right thing in every instance."  It works.

Foton_tractor_404 (A FOTON 40hp 4-Wheel Drive compact tractor)

It works because Bill and his staff follow the sale of each and every tractor sold from his lot.  They call one, two and four weeks after the sale.  At six months and twelve months they make another set of calls.  They make contact with the new owner to make sure things are working correctly, that the new owner understands the aspects of the unit they purchased and take care of any issues the buyer claims to have.   Then, if there is a problem, Bill sees to it that the customer doesn't have to travel 20 to 50 miles to his dealership.  He sends a staff mechanic to the customer and fixes what needs to be repaired on the spot...usually at no charge.  Word spreads and before long customers take up the call to promote the tractor and the dealership.  In fact, at their recent One Year Anniversary Event a dozen or more current owners showed up to help Bill promote the tractor line to new customers.

Mayer_farm_crew

The lesson for those of us who sell products to other people is, "be personally involved".  Take your passion for the product to the manufacturing floor, to the sales room and to the customer.  Oh, also hire a dynamic advertising agency to help drive your passion to the public.  If we can help...call us.


It happens...even to us!!!

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        From the:  "Another Close Call Department"

Ever make a mistake?  Sure you have, and so have we.  Have you ever not taken your own advice?   Bet you have...and so have we.  This one is about PROOFING!

For years we have urged clients to include their website on every possible thing that comes out of their business.  Here is a partial list of things that you need to make sure you have your URL on:

  • Business Cards
  • Letterhead
  • Point of Purchase Signs
  • Magazine and Newspaper Ads
  • Promotional Items
  • Outgoing e-mail
  • Television and Radio (if the url is easy to remember)
  • Flyers and handouts
  • Power Point presentations

You get the idea.   The Internet is a powerful marketing tool and if you are not using it...well.

That is why AFTER we sent off a media piece for printing that this story is so important.  The final proof of a marketing piece had been approved by the design department and we had signed off on the project proof.  One of our part-time staffers just happened to walk past the final approved copy, glanced at it for less than 10 seconds and said, "Hey, don't they have a website?"  (We knew they did...because we created it.)  But, there was no mention of the site on their final proof.  Nothing!  Needless to say, there were some quick calls made and we corrected the problem an hour before press time.  (And the part-time employee was rewarded with a dinner for two at one of our favorite places.)

So, why share this story with you?  Simple, we want to drive home the point that errors can be made even with all kinds of safeguards in place.  (The fact that our regular proofer was out ill this day meant we had a hole in the system that needed to be corrected.)  We all strive to do the very best, but sometimes things fall through the cracks.  Lucky for us this didn't.  Check your systems and then, hand off the work to somebody else to review.  Sometimes designers are just too close to the project.


Customer Service Is Not Dead...yet.

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Public Relations IS Customer Service!

For years, and at thousands of conferences and conventions, corporate executives, middle management and line staff employees have sat in "breakout sessions", "general sessions" and "special sessions" listening to speakers stressing customer service.  Entire careers have been created for writers of CS books, consider the popular titles:  "At Your Service", "Service America", "Super Service", "Remarkable Service", etc.  I know.  I've sat in those sessions, given those speeches, written those papers.  Several decades and many dollars later, I'd suggest to you that customer service, especially in the "service sector", is SO bad and SO miserable that when a service sector employee actually does his or her job we are amazed.  There is hope.

Over the past 30 days I've been on the road for 17.  The cities, hotels and restaurants in Chicago, Grand Rapids, Minneapolis, Sioux City, Sioux Falls, Omaha and Las Vegas have all been more than happy to see me whip out the gold card.  However, overall, customer service gets a grade of C-.  Yep, it's passing, but just.  (By the way, can somebody enlighten me as to why hotel chains like Hilton, that have a room rate of $145+ a night, charge $11.95 a day for high speed Internet while at Super 8 and Red Roof Inn it's free?)  The small minority of executives and companies that understand that customer service is their primary public relations undertaking...rock.

Let me give you two examples:

Her name is Connie.  She works as an afternoon supervisor at the Bell Desk at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.  Last week, I was in the middle of doing a PR project for a client Calcium Products.  It was a "room drop" invite.  The MGM Grand has 5,000 rooms.  At 8:30 in the evening I took my list of 43 people (no room numbers and not even sure they were at the MGM) to Connie, asked that her staff slip the invite under the door of each person we targeted.  At 10:15 I get a call from Connie, "Mr. Libbie, I'll be going home in about an hour.  I just wanted to call and let you know we've finished the room drop but that five of the people on your list are not guests of the MGM.  Is there anything I can do to help you find them, I know how important this is."  I asked her where she was from and let her know that she just earned five out of five stars.  Just by doing her job.

Jim Wessing is the president of Kondex Corporation of Wisconsin and outgoing president of FEMA (Farm Equipment Manufacturing Association).  Thursday, on my return from Las Vegas I sent Jim the minutes of a meeting of the associate membership group of FEMA. (I get to be the secretary of the Board of Governors).  Here is the text of the e-mail I received Friday afternoon: 

"Michael, Thank you for sharing these minutes. Sounds as though meeting was well organized, issues discussed and in good hands. Best wishes, Jim"

Jim "gets it":  In fifteen seconds he responds, thanks and compliments. He sure didn't have to.  I don't have the numbers but with that kind of response I'll bet his company is doing well, very well.

Now, here is the frosting:  In the past thirty days and a sea of faces two experiences and two people have stood out from them all and I get to write about them, name names and publish for the world.  These folks, one an employee and the other an employer, understand that the key to positive public relations is:  1) "Doing your Job" and 2) Responding, Thanking and Complimenting.  And just think...you didn't have to hire me to tell you the real secret of positive Public Relations is Customer Service.


Calcium Products, American Bankers & Farm Bills

Aba_vegas_002 Greetings from Las Vegas and the American Bankers Association...we ain't lion! (for a full size image, simply click on the photo.)

We came to Las Vegas to represent our client Calcium Products in a horizontal marketing opportunity.  That means we were not visiting with farmers (end users) or dealers (distribution folks) but with Ag lenders the people that really have an impact on agricultural products and services.  We've been telling our story as selected individuals visited the Calcium Products booth to learn how important soil testing is and then how farmers can use that information to adjust soil pH to increase their yield with a product much better than traditional Ag-lime.

Aba_vegas_008 (Larry Moore, president of Calcium Products, listens to an ABA attendee during the trade show.  Note that the display matches the brochure in an earlier post.  See below...it's called continuity of the message.)

It has been a great event for Calcium Products and an interesting forum for agricultural lenders.  What came out of today's session was a shocker for some of the attendees.

First of all, several learned about "Ruralpolitians".  A word that was created in our office nearly ten years ago.  OK, we never took credit but we did file the name for a potential magazine that never took off.  We were just too busy.  For those of you who are interested in learning how to sell your products to this niche market.  Please, give us a call. Unlike many agency folk, we have actually lived the lifestyle...so we know how to help you connect.

But, back to the Farm Bill for 2007:  Roughly 400 people listened as Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh (Agricultural Economics professor at Kansas State University) and Dr. Luther Tweeten (Professor Emeritus, Agricultural Economics - Ohio State University) squared off over the future of the Farm Bill and the future of agriculture in general.

Aba_vegas_006 (Dr. Flinchbaugh (L) responds to a question by Dr. Tweeten)

The attendees heard a spirited debate regarding the future of the farm economy and how one speaker suggests that farm payments should be cut to the bone while the other hammered how the US could not afford to move away from the existing farm policy.  (You want details...call us!)

So far...and excellent conference and great topics.  For those of you interested in agricultural lending and policies associated we invite you to contact the ABA and their director John Blanchfield at jblanchfield@aba.com

Finally, for those of you seeking to make an impact on the agricultural market or the "ruralpolitian" (remember who coined the word...) give us a call at 515-331-3206.  More from Vegas in our next post.


Insight to American Bankers Association

Prove_it_photo Just back from FEMA and on the road again!  We'll be traveling to Las Vegas next week to present to the American Bankers Association during their Agricultural Bankers Conference to be held at the MGM Grand Hotel and Convention Complex. (Click on the image to see our program cover.)

The central focus of our presentation, on behalf of client Calcium Products, centers on how Agricultural Bankers can assist producers by funding soil testing procedures.  The agricultural bankers can help increase yield and our goal is to prove that message.  I'll be telling targeted ABA members and explaining how our survey results indicate a minority of farmers do regular and complete soil testing due to the expense associated with the tests.  Many farmers are simply guessing as to the quality of their soil and when that happens they over buy expensive fertilizer and then saturate the soil with too much all in an attempt to increase production yield. 

Larry Moore, president of Calcium Products will join me and tell the bankers, "At a time when fertilizer has doubled in price you would think producers would be more cautious and rather than guess at their soil condition spend the necessary dollars to investigate their soil needs through testing.  The bankers can really have an impact on production issues if they would add soil testing to their menu options for the annual farm loan."

This is an excellent example of Horizontal Marketing.  Calcium Products, Inc. does not do soil testing.  They do, however, produce a product that is dependent on farmers knowing how to take advantage of soil management.  The first step in that process is to know, not guess, the soil make-up.  Calcium Products, Inc. produces SO-4 and 98-G.  Both are natural inputs made from the highest quality limestone and gypsum on the planet.  They function to neutralize and improve the soil condition so crops can produce at optimum levels.  Calcium Products has been selling pelleted lime and gypsum for row crops, animal feed, and manufacturing for nearly twelve years.


FEMA Post - Election Night

Farm Equipment Manufacturers Association and Election Night

Fema_mpls_010 Here we are Election Night 2006 in Minneapolis, MN. during the FEMA Fall Conference.  Pictured is (L-R) Greg Haukaas, Rhonda Haukaas (Haukaas Manufacturing, Mortiach, SK. Canada) and incoming president of FEMA Richard Heiniger (Hemisphere GPS, Kansas City, MO)

Fiercely independent and trending to the conservative, the members at the final evening of the FEMA annual meeting here in Minneapolis sensed a bit of a pall over the festivities.  Regular and Associate Members gathered in the main ballroom.  Two hours before the polls closed in the east, the Republicans were quiet, while Democratic members ( a rare commodity) seemed upbeat.  But nobody was celebrating politics they were celebrating the future of corn and soybeans.

The FEMA three day event heard from a number of individuals who spoke to the future of agriculture and many of those presentations made the members uneasy.  David Goldsmith, a feature presenter, came out during his presentation and said he would welcome a change in the White House.  Later in the second day of the event Charlie Rentschler, an admitted Republican from Indiana, listed a host of Democratic concerns including global warming, the increasing deficit, a lack of a thoughtful foreign policies and lack of an energy policy shocked the group by suggesting that ethanol is not the full answer and said, "The president was misinformed regarding ethanol being created with switch grass."  And then added, "I do not believe that ethanol is the answer to the future." It was not a good week for Republicans.

It may have been a foreshadowing of what was to come later in the evening as Democrats rolled over many local , state and national races.  However, the mood of the group was centered on the opportunities presented by increased prices for commodities and how the manufacturers might sell more steel into the farming community.

Time will tell, but it was an interesting evening during a highly charged election night.