Today’s business environment is more competitive than ever. As a successful manager in the feed and grain industry, you are actively responding to the many demands of this ever challenging business environment, which likely includes a multifaceted marketing program. It is easy to become focused on all of the immediate decisions that need to be made (such as approving the latest update to your website; finalizing the price quote that is due within the hour, etc.). In this column we invite you to take a few minutes and think more broadly about your marketing plan. This will allow you to “get out of the trees” and “take a view of the forest” to see whether your marketing plan is right on course and where you can adapt to better meet your customers’ needs.
In the grain and feed business you often compete for customers “in both directions” on the value chain. The core marketing concepts that we discuss below are relevant whether you are working to attain your desired market share of farmers who sell their grain to you or of processors or export markets to whom you sell further up along the value chain.
Who are your primary target markets both up and down the value chain from you? We invite you to pick up a pen and complete the table on pg. 58 — we think you will be pleasantly surprised at how the process of writing your ideas down both generates new ideas and helps you solidify the ideas you already were thinking about. On the table, jot down your thoughts about who these customers are, what their needs are, how you are currently serving them and ways which you could more effectively serve them. Now what about your secondary target markets — those customers who are still very important to you but just not the first ones that come to mind? The final column in the table provides a place for you to generate the ideas for your secondary target markets.
Your marketing mix:
With the needs of your customers in your primary and secondary market segments in mind, let’s now consider the “4 P’s” of your marketing mix: Product, Place, Price and Promotion (E. Jerome McCarthy, a marketing professor at Michigan State University first proposed this four P classification in 1960, which has been used by marketers throughout the world since that time).
In the competitive grain and feed business, where products are often standardized (at least from the grain side), one might first think that there are limited ways to distinguish yourself from your competitors with respect to product. However, consider that within the marketing mix the “product” involves products and services. You are already distinguishing your business from your competitors with respect to the service you offer (e.g. , marketing outlook information you provide in newsletters and on your website; unique ways that you report payments and invoicing to meet specific customer needs to name just a couple). Jot down how your product/service bundle differs from your competitors’. Then with those differences in mind, take a look at the needs that you identified for your primary and secondary target customers. For which components of your product/service bundle do you have a good match with your customers’ needs? For the other components, consider how you can adapt to meet your target customers’ needs.
Differentiated products and/or services might include things like mini-bulk feed containers, targeted offer pricing for specialty grains, on-farm pickup of grain, managed risk contracts for grain marketing or other unique ideas that work in your marketplace. With the world at your fingertips via the Internet — you might scout out innovative products/services that feed stores or grain elevators in other parts of the country might be offering … they say imitation is the highest form of flattery!
A recent study conducted by Whitacre and Spaulding, on grain marketing tools provided by elevators, which you might find useful, can be found at: http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/handle/9721