Monday, May 11, 2020
Andrew Warner

Different farmers and ranchers in varying geographies face unique challenges every day. But what they all have in common is a desire for transparent, straightforward, communications that demonstrate a brand’s ability to understand not only their hopes and dreams but also what keeps them up at night. And right now, there is a lot to keep them up at night.

Including the concept of “sustainability.” It’s top of mind for ranchers and marketers. It’s a big consideration for brands. It’s the future. And as we learn more about this critical concept and its impact on our industry, one thing’s clear: like our audience, it’s not as simple as it seems.

That complexity doesn’t allow marketers to settle for paying lip service to a hot topic. These “essential” folks want to know not just what you stand for but why you stand for it. And they need to know you care before they will care about what you know.

They want to know the people behind the logo. And that means you have to know them – and the issues that impact them – more deeply.

Sustainability is About More Than the Environment

People often make the mistake of considering only the environmental science definition of sustainability: “the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.”

While environmental sustainability is absolutely critical for the ongoing health of the planet and human race, it’s only a spoke of a larger sustainability issue.

There’s also economic sustainability. America’s farmers and ranchers – and by association everyone working in agriculture – are subject to a high level of economic and environmental unpredictability due to Mother Nature, trade wars, processing plant catastrophes and global pandemics. Fortunately, our government recognizes agriculture’s extreme volatility and, to a degree, helps subsidize the massive economic engine that is U.S. agriculture. However, helping farmers and ranchers recoup their unforeseeable losses takes them only so far toward long-term economic sustainability. 

Then, there’s social sustainability. Farming and ranching’s legacy as a time-honored tradition has waned over the past few decades. Content to let their work speak for itself, the hardworking folks at the core of American agriculture have found a growing disparity between themselves and the people they feed. Populations are flocking to city centers with each subsequent generation becoming further removed from the reality of where their food comes from. And their opinions on food production reflect that distance. Farmers and ranchers also experience some of the highest rates of depression and suicide as social pressures mounting on top of financial concerns.

So, while environmental sustainability is an evolving challenge that the ag industry must solve, it has to do so in a way that promotes economic and social sustainability too. Again, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Sustaining a Connection

Knowing all this gives us a more holistic view of our audience. If we come to them with one-dimensional, surface level promises of sustainability, then it’s easy for them to write us off as out of touch. If we demonstrate how brands care about their lifestyle and can provide products and services that not only preserve their land but their way of life, then we’ve made what we at Swanson Russell call a Real Connection™.

That’s the extra step that some marketers miss.

Those who rely on one-way, singular messaging miss out on open, honest conversations that smart brands continually have with their audiences. They miss out on the education that comes with immersion and connection. They end up saying they care about sustainability but not defining the term the same way their audience does.

Connection matters to people now more than ever. Whether they’re citrus growers in California or livestock producers in the Midwest, people need to know the brands they trust have their back – and understand exactly what they’re up against.