Part 6 in a series
The success or failure of your marketing efforts depend greatly on your ability to communicate to customers and potential clients about yourself, your breeding program and when and where your sale will be taking place.
Most importantly, your message should motivate them to want to come to your marketing efforts by showing them the benefits they will reap by purchasing your cattle.
There are several methods of promoting your purebred cattle and your sale: print advertising, radio advertising, direct mail and telephone marketing. Each of these is discussed in this article.
There are four basic elements in print advertising:
• Basic design or layout that pulls all of the various elements together
• Photographs and/or artwork that you use to show people what you would like to sell them
• Words that you use to express your ideas
• Performance and production data on your cattle
Element 1: Design
The most significant element of your advertising is how it looks. Cattle producers, like most people, tend to be visually oriented. If they see something they like, they will read your ad or purchase your product. If they don't, they will pass over the page and, in many cases, purchase a bull or heifer from somebody else.
Your advertisement will receive only a few seconds of exposure before the reader turns the page. Those few seconds are crucial to the success of your investment. If you have done nothing to differentiate yourself from the competitor on the opposing page, then your chances of getting the phone call are slim at best. Good design is the key.
The goal of good design is to get attention and leave a memorable impression. After all, you want your ad to motivate people to call for more information and, more importantly, purchase your product.
The challenge of good design – especially for the information-intensive seedstock business – is presenting adequate information (photos, EPDs, pedigrees, philosophy) about your program without ending up with an unattractive, disorganized and cluttered appearance. Too much stuff can hurt your ad's effectiveness. Before you begin developing an ad design concept, ask yourself these questions:
1) How can I differentiate my advertisement from everybody else's? After all, if your ad looks like the one on the next page, you won't get noticed. Check out advertisements outside of agriculture – such as the automobile and computer industries. These can give you a fresh perspective not only on design, but also spark your creativity for new uses of words, logos and other essential elements.
2) What do I want my advertisement's design to say about myself and my program? Do you prefer a bold, four-color presentation? Or, do you prefer a no-nonsense approach with the use of a simple straightforward black and white?
3) How much can I afford? A four-color ad can cost two or three times more than similar black and white ads. However, you should also weigh the potential benefits of the additional expense. Oftentimes, a four-color ad receives a greater response.
4) Do I need professional assistance to do my design work? Probably yes. While many people have home computers, most don't have the software or the expertise to do their own design work. Most magazines and newspapers have graphic designers on staff to help you with your advertising. Generally, they offer that service as part of the cost for your ad or for an additional fee. There are also an abundance of freelance designers and design firms available that can design your ad and create a uniform and effective end-product. Select the person you feel best meets your needs, your attitude and your budget.
5) How can I build a consistent message into my advertising design? Obviously, the key to an effective ad program is a consistent, innovative and attractive presentation. Almost all successful marketers use consistent elements in their ads – such as logos, artwork or color.
Take time to design a ranch logo that can be used not only in your ads, but on your business cards, ranch signs, truck doors, trailers and hats as well. In addition, if you use more than one color in your ads, choose a color scheme that can be used for long term. By doing so, people begin to associate your operation with these colors, and can more easily find your ads.
Element 2: Photographs
Photographs are also essential in the seedstock business, and it's important that the photos you print are of the highest quality possible.
In most cases, cattle producers don't know a lot about photography, but good photos are relatively easy to take provided you have lots of patience.
Here are some tips for taking better photographs:
1) Take lots and lots of photos, even if they're of the same subject. Even professional photographers will take hundreds of photos of the same subject to get the shot that works. As a rule of thumb, it takes about one roll of film to get one that will work satisfactorily.
2) Take photos during different times of the day, especially in the early morning and before dusk, when the light is most even.
3) Harsh, overhead light can sometime bleach out photographs or leave shadows where you don't want them.
4) Avoid shooting on location where the background is clutter, such as corrals, fences, gates or telephone wires. Even trees can be distracting.
5) Four–color print film works even if you don't want to produce a four-color advertisement.
6) There are two major types of film on the market, although there are dozens to choose from. Fuji films typically are more sensitive to cool colors, such as greens and blues. Kodak films are more sensitive to warm colors, such as reds and yellows. A good strategy is to employ the use of both types of film – you'll be surprised by the differences. Films rated as ISO 100 is the choice of many professionals, but it can be a little slow developing when your taking shots of moving critters. ISO 400 can develop too grainy. 200 speed is a fairly safe hedge.
7) Try using your flash, even if you're outside on a sunny day. Most cameras today will adjust automatically for flash fill, and the results can be astounding. Flashes can eliminate shadows and make hair coat more lustrous and beautiful.
8) Take your time. Give your cattle time to become accustomed to you and your camera. Stress shows in a photograph. If a bull or heifer isn't halter broke, don't force it to set up. If you are patient, and don't force things to happen, the animal will pose naturally for you. It may take awhile, but stay alert, all the time with your camera ready to go.
9) Help is good. It pays to have someone else along when you take your photos, especially when you want to get an animal to set up properly for photographing or help you make the subject look more alert.
10) Take some time to clean up your cattle before photographing them. Mud clods, manure and long hair add up to an ugly photo; it pays to put your cattle into a chute, brush them out, clip the longer hair and improve their overall appearance.
Element 3: Words
The majority of livestock advertisements use too many words. The result is clutter, and the message gets lost in the shuffle. The temptation always exists to tell your readers everything about your program, when just a few, choice words will do.
1) Don't tell your readers everything, because you want to leave a question, or an excuse, in their mind to call you and get more information. Ads should tease, not tell all.
2) Words take up space. Every word you use costs you money, because you're buying the entire ad.
3) Words should support your visuals – photographs and artwork – not smother them.
• When writing ad copy use action verbs, instead of the passive “to be” verb. For example, rather than writing “was awarded,” write “received.”
The passive voice happens any time you use “is,” “was,” “were,” “being,” “been,” “has,” “have,” “had,” “having,” “do,” “did,” or “doing.”
Example of passive voice: The bull is drinking the water.
Example of active voice: The bull drinks the water.
Passive: The cow is jumping over the fence.
Active: The cow jumps over the fence.
Passive: This sire is strengthening the breed's competitive position.
Active: This sire strengthens the breed's competitive position.
• Eliminate “that.” The word “that” takes up substantial space in any type of ad copy. When editing your ad copy, try to take out the “thats.”
Example: Our bull sale takes place during the same week that the national western stock show does.
Improvement: Our bull sale takes place the same week as the National Western.
• Keep your sentences short, sweet and snappy. Sentences need not contain more than seven or eight words. If they're too long, cut them in two, and eliminate words that clutter your copy.
“Emperor's calves were the winners of the best overall progeny performance award for profit at the Great Western Beef Expo that was held earlier this year.” (26 words)
“Emperor's progeny took champion profit honors at this year's Great Western Beef Expo.” (13 words)
Element 4: Performance and Production Data
Everybody likes to know what they're buying, and with each passing year your customers will be expecting increasing amounts of production data on your cattle. Surveys of commercial producers show that on average 75 to 90 percent of them evaluate EPDs before they make a buying decision. While levels of technical sophistication varies from person to person, you should be aware that in general, the more information on your cattle you give people, the happier they'll be. Keep in mind, too, the EPDs and other performance data need to be presented in a uniform manner. Don't print a birth weight EPD on one of your reference sires and not on another. Omission of information can cause people to be skeptical. Be up front and direct, and accentuate the positives while addressing the negatives.
Many of the principles of good radio advertising are identical to those of print advertising. The only major consideration is that in some regions radio advertising works much better than in others. If your customers live in isolated, mountain country, it can be tough to get a clear, consistent signal to them. Consider, too, the ranchers in the West typically are not as diversified as producers in the Midwest and East who grow lots of crops in addition to cattle. Midwesterners are much more information dependent because they market products during various times of the year, where producers who raise only cows tend not to listen to the radio as much because they don't need the latest market news.
While direct mail sounds like a complicated term, it really isn't. It can be something no more complicated than sending out a letter to all your customers and inquirers. Some seedstock producers have incorporated newsletters into their marketing plans, which work very effectively provided they're written, designed and photographed well.
The problem – and advantage – with newsletters is that they raise your level of commitment to the marketing plan. Quite simply, once you start one, people expect to get another at some point in the future. Still, some research shows that people take more time to read newsletters than they do advertisements.
One of the great advantages to newsletters is that you can give your readers more information about your program than you can with either a print or radio ad. But it can be a daunting task to fill two, four or eight empty pages with words and photos.
Some successful producers include short articles about their customers or write articles about newly purchased herd sires and what the impacts of those new genetics will have on their customers' bottom lines. It's also a good method of helping your customers network with order buyers, feeders and packers. Customers interested in retaining ownership, buying crossbred replacement females out of your bulls from other customers or contacting order buyers who really like your genetics, will find the benefits of a newsletter can be immense. If used correctly, it's just another way of building value into your cattle by making it easier for your customers to use them.
The telephone can be a very important link between your customers and the sale of your cattle. Many businesses instruct their receptionist to answer the telephone in a particular way. Here are some telephone etiquette tips that can help establish a favorable impression of your operation.
• Answer the telephone on the second or third ring.
• Even though the person on the other end of the call can't see you, smile. By smiling, your voice will convey friendliness.
• Answer the call with a friendly salutation such as “good morning” or “hello.”
• State your name, and the name of the business – if it is different from your name.
• Speak clearly and directly into the receiver. Instruct anyone who answers the telephone to do the same.
• Keep a notepad and pen by every telephone, and ask everyone who answers the telephone to properly take and write down messages. Always ask for a name, telephone number and the reason of the call. Also ask when the best time to return the call is.
• Return the call as soon as possible. It could mean the loss of a sale if you don't.
• Answering machines are useful, especially if you don't have someone near the telephone most of the day. The message you record for your callers should follow the same rules as those that apply above.
In case of an unhappy customer, keep your cool. The customer may not always be right, but to keep that customer and prevent any unfavorable word-of-mouth repercussions, operate on the premise that the customer is in the right. Take a deep breath, and try not to let yourself get on the defensive. Listen with empathy and for the facts. Ask questions and clarify the caller's concerns. Use positive phrases and always be polite. Remember, dissatisfied customers tell an average of 10 other people about their bad experience. Take care of the problem before it takes care of you.
When selling cattle, complete customer satisfaction is impossible to achieve; however, the best way to deal with unsatisfied clients is to build a program built on customer service. If ever you should think customer service doesn't pay consider this:
• Some 90 percent of unhappy customers never buy from an offending seller again.
• Dissatisfied customers tell an average of 10 other people about their bad experience; 12 percent tell up to 20 people. Whereas, only 5 percent of people tell about their positive experience.
• It costs five to 10 times more money to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one.
• Nineteen of 20 customers who are dissatisfied with your service won't tell you they are dissatisfied; 14 will take their business elsewhere.
• Up to 90 percent of dissatisfied customers will not buy from you again, and they won't tell you why.
• Dissatisfied customers will become loyal customers 95 percent of the time - if their complaints are handled well and quickly.