By Bob West
When the Internet exploded in popularity and use more than a decade ago, business of all types embraced this new tool and the unmatched information it could provide them. Except for agriculture. For any number of reasons, they largely ignored the web and all of its benefits for a number of years.
Slowly but surely, however, growers of all sorts have gotten online and come to view the Internet as a critical business tool. This is particularly true of fruit and vegetable growers nationwide. In fact, traffic to Meister Media’s GrowingProduce.com nearly doubled in 2013 after years of much slower growth.
To better understand these growers web use, Meister Media conducted its 2014 Internet Use Study and collected insights that validate just how important the Internet has become to these businesses. (This survey focused on learning what growers who using the web want to get from it, rather than learning about those growers not going online right now. The email-based survey collected responses from more than 200 growers who subscribe to the American Fruit Grower enewsletter, the American Vegetable Grower enewsletter, or the Florida Grower enewsletter.)
About the Growers
Questions about growers’ use of technology start with understanding which growers are actually online. Are the senior people with buying influence online, or are they too old and resisting the technology? The results of our survey are clear — grower respondents are 59 years old, and more than one-third of the growers are over age 65. But they are clearly online.
Plus, more than 85% of them hold the type of senior-level position that puts them squarely in the middle of purchasing decisions.
Not surprisingly, the online audience skews toward the larger growing operations that spend more time on training and education and have the personnel available to be online. Nearly 20 percent of survey respondents reported 2013 annual sales greater than $1 million.
Why are They Online?
Approximately 60% of these growers note they spend more than 30 minutes online every day for work. Not surprisingly, their first stop online is a search engine. In fact, nearly 90% of the respondents said a Google visit starts their online activity, which reinforces the importance of search engine optimization for any company looking to sell to these growers.
Growers look for a range of information online with the most popular topics being equipment information (sought by 65% of respondents), production advice (58%) and variety updates (48%).
The vast majority of growers report that they don’t want any more email, but they clearly mean they don’t want additional worthless emails. Nearly 72% of respondents noted they would like an enewsletter all about insect control, while disease control (71%), fertilizer / plant nutrition (65%), production (62%) and equipment / automation (56%) all attract considerable grower interest. Clearly, emails that educate growers and help them grow quality crops will always find an audience.
These growers don’t all see the value in marketing online. Only 35% report having a website while 42% report not having a website and no plans to ever have one.
Video continues gaining in popularity, too. Nearly 56% of these growers reported watching online video at least once a week for work, while only 3% report never watching online video.
Growers’ use of mobile devices for web browsing continues climbing along with use by the rest of the population, albeit more slowly. Slightly more than half of our survey respondents report using a smartphone for work while nearly one-third note they have a tablet. Some growers are resisting the march of technology, however — more than 24% said they do not have a smartphone or tablet and do not plan on ever getting one.
Email (89%) and checking the weather (87%) are the most common uses of mobile devices, with texting and web browsing also being popular. And the mobile devices are only becoming more popular. In fact, more than 40% of growers claim to use their mobile device more often than they use their desktop while another 27% expect their mobile device to soon become their primary technology tool.
Marketers obviously need to be aware of this trend toward mobile. In fact, the No. 1 factor growers say limits their use of mobile devices is that so many websites are not readable on their phone or tablet. Companies lacking mobile-friendly websites ultimately risk losing much of their web traffic.
Slightly more than 51% of respondents report having experience with social media and have of them claim they spend more time on social media platforms today than they did two years ago. But this social media use is not usually work related. Only 36% of growers report using social media to boost sales while about 21% use Twitter, Facebook and the like for networking with other growers.
What does this mean for a marketer?
- You can buy digital media with confidence that you’re reaching high-value, decision-making growers.
- Fruit and vegetable growers spend enough time online now that a quality website is a must to sell to these growers, as is a digital marketing budget.
- Your site must be optimized for search. Otherwise, growers are likely finding your competition when they could be finding you.
- Having a mobile-friendly website is increasingly important. Sites that don’t present well on mobile devices turn prospective customers away.
- Growers go online to be educated or to have questions answered. The key to engaging them online is informing them with quality content.
- Email marketing can be worthwhile, but your emails must contain valuable information.
The author is Director of Interactive Sales at Meister Media. For a complete copy of the survey results, contact him at 440-602-9129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.