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ISSUE 1 | 2018

Ideas to Elevate Your Marketing

IN THIS ISSUE This is the third issue of Agri-Insights developed around NEXT-LEVEL marketing. We found no reason to change! You see, new ideas come to us every day from our progressive clients, talented creative staff and the agribusiness industry in general. These ideas might make you more successful or happier in your business, bring you a greater ROI or gain you more recognition as a leader in your industry. We begin with an enlightening feature by Darcy Maulsby about the value of integrated print communication in this digital age. More than just stating the case for print, Darcy emphasizes how critical it is for all your communication mediums— print, video, web, digital, etc.—to work together to promote your message. You’ll want to read Burke Perry’s inspiring story of Helping Kids Round First. This not-for-profit began with caring volunteers taking used baseball equipment to Nicaragua and has grown into a dynamic force for sustainable agriculture, education, healthcare and women’s empowerment in an impoverished country where baseball is king. Senior journalist Dave Aeilts comes through once again with interesting and helpful must-reads. His first story stresses the importance of constant feedback to maintain the health and wellness of your business. The second Aeilts feature addresses a major issue impacting cooperatives today—“Just how BIG is too big?” As you’ll discover, this issue is packed full of articles that will educate, help, inspire, entertain, and more. You’ll start thinking “NEXT-LEVEL” for your business and clamor for more ideas. Enjoy!

Agri-Insights magazine is published by VistaComm, a marketing firm that helps agribusinesses communicate better and grow faster. With smart and successful clients coast-to-coast, the purpose of Agri-Insights is to provide you with a collection of the most profitable and best business practices. Topics have been selected from VistaComm’s extensive library of solutions and profit-based experiences. Client names and testimonials are used only when permission is granted. For more information, visit: Please provide address change to: VistaComm 1401 North C Avenue Sioux Falls, SD 57104 844.453.9261 All content within Agri-Insights is subject to copyrights owned by VistaComm. Any reproduction of all or part of any document found in Agri-Insights is prohibited, unless VistaComm or the copyright owner of the material has expressly granted its prior written consent to reproduce, transmit or republish the material. All other rights reserved.

©2018 VistaComm®• All Rights Reserved.

This photo taken by our senior journalist Dave Aeilts screams NEXT LEVEL. Who wouldn’t want to make the climb? The view is spectacular!





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INTEGRATED MARKETING = EFFICIENCY Make everything work together —and don’t dismiss print!


GRASSROOTS APPROACH TO AG MARKETING Michigan growers on the Mason & Oceana Trail.

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WHAT’S YOUR LOGO REALLY SAYING? A study of your most valuable marketing asset. OPTIMIZE YOUR FACEBOOK ADVERTISING Use website traffic data to effectively advertise.





BASEBALL, FARMING AND NICARAGUA The work of Helping Kids Round First.



CASE STUDY: FERTILIZER DEALER SUPPLY A hard-working e-commerce website.


UNDERSTANDING YOUR MILLENNIALS Molding and building tomorrow’s workforce.


DOES YOUR COMPANY NEED A CHECK-UP? Get good feedback to help run your company.

BIG ALWAYS BAD? 20 ISA case for growth of your cooperative.


TRAVELOGUE: AUSTRIA AND HUNGARY An unforgettable trip with the Iowa Farm Bureau.

EMAIL 24 RETHINKING MARKETING It’s stronger than ever.



INTEGRATION by Darcy Maulsby VistaComm Staff Journalist


How Integrated Marketing Can Grow Your Business

Which of these describes you? A. I know marketing is important, but it’s just not my strong suit. I think what we’re doing already is okay. B. A better marketing campaign could be good for business, but a company our size doesn’t have the budget for that. C. I know there are lots of ways we could market our company, but all these tools are overwhelming. D. All of the above. If you see yourself in any (or all) of these scenarios, you’re not alone. Effective marketing and communication strategies are tricky today, especially when you consider the sheer volume of messages vying for people’s attention. The average consumer is exposed to up to 10,000 brand messages a day, according to the American Marketing Association. Yikes! Millions of these messages are delivered via social media, where the sheer volume of content posted daily is staggering. Every 60 seconds, 3.3 million posts are added to Facebook alone, according to Smart Insights.




The majority of consumers (72%) prefer integrated marketing campaigns, according to the annual Consumer Insights Survey.


VistaComm’s writers and designers always hit the mark in meeting our objective to showcase our expertise while maintaining the feel of a mid-size company that cares about not only its customers, but its employees and suppliers, as well.” GARY LARSON | President Electronic Systems, Inc. | Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Social media is just one part of the story, though. Remember the days when the Big 3 TV broadcasters (ABC, CBS and NBC) ruled the airwaves? Today, the number of television channels available to the average TV household has exploded to 205.9, according to Nielsen data shared on in 2016. Don’t forget all the emails, magazines, newspapers, newsletters, radio broadcasts, podcasts, online videos and more that are competing for your attention.

What does IMC look like? VistaComm client Mid-Iowa Cooperative shares a consistent message inspired by its mission of “good land, good people, good advice” through these marketing/communication channels: • Facebook page to provide timely updates. • Professional YouTube video to help people experience the Mid-Iowa story from the farmers and employees who know it best. • Quarterly print newsletter.

In today’s over-saturated marketing environment, finding effective ways to build your brand can be daunting. The quality of your content, as well as your marketing strategy, matters more than ever. Where do you start?



Science is revealing that ink on paper creates a deeper impression in the human brain than something nonphysical, like a digital message. A recent article in Target Marketing explains this phenomenon of “your brain on print.” According to a study from the Center for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University in Wales, the physical nature of print elicits an emotional connection in people.

If you want to cut through the clutter and reach your target audience, it’s time to consider integrated marketing communications (IMC). IMC is not merely doing more kinds of marketing. IMC offers a coordinated, cost-effective strategy to help you focus on your key message and share it in a consistent, compelling way through a strategic mix of marketing/ communication channels. That mix may include video, digital (social media, blog posts, e-books, e-newsletters), advertising, print (newsletters, magazines, brochures, direct-mail campaigns), trade show promotions, press releases and other tools. Integrating this cohesive strategy across various communication channels doesn’t just streamline your marketing; it helps you meet your customers and prospects right where they are. That’s one reason the majority of consumers (72%) prefer integrated marketing campaigns, according to the annual Consumer Insights Survey.


If anyone tells you print isn’t part of effective IMC, don’t believe it.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers found that content delivered in paper form is more stimulating than content delivered in virtual or digital form. Apparently, our brains perceive printed items (like newsletters) as more genuine—and engaging.

Science is revealing that ink on paper creates a deeper impression in the human brain than something nonphysical, like a digital message. (continued on next page)



(continued from previous page)

But don’t take our word for it. Here’s what Gary Larson, president of Electronic Systems, Inc. in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, says: “Our print newsletter, produced by VistaComm, is a product that—after more than 14 years—continues to work for us. VistaComm’s writers and designers always hit the mark in meeting our objective to showcase our expertise while maintaining the feel of a mid-size company that cares about not only its customers, but its employees and suppliers, as well.” But that’s not all. “It’s interesting, we’re in a high-tech business, but we really believe in the importance of print communication,” Larson added. “Our customers can easily ignore or delete electronic communication, but they read a good print newsletter—cover-to-cover. We continue to


get positive comments from our customers on receiving a printed newsletter.”

PUT IMC TO WORK FOR YOU Electronic Systems, Inc. highlights how a strategic mix of marketing tools, including print, can add tremendous value for customers. Conveying a consistent, targeted message through IMC, helps build trust, which increases loyalty, which leads to sales.

Resources: • 4th Annual Consumer Insights Survey, E-tailing Group, 2011. • American Marketing Association, Joshua Saxon, IE School of Human Sciences & Technology, 2017. • Smart Insights, Robert Allen, 2017. •, MediaPost Communications, (Nielsen Data) 2016. • Center for Experimental Consumer Psychology, Bangor University, Wales, 2009.

Want to see how IMC can work for you? VistaComm’s team can help you assess your current marketing activities, define your target audience, develop a strategy and integrate your marketing channels to generate more traffic, leads and sales. Call David, Laurie or Maria today at 844.453.9261 and realize your full integrated marketing potential.

MARKETING TAKEAWAY: An integrated campaign’s effectiveness is generated through repetition and consistency of message across all marketing channels. 6



STORYTELLING by Jane Wooldridge VistaComm Journalist

PHOTO: Jane Wooldridge

A GRASSROOTS APPROACH TO AG MARKETING Michigan Growers Promote Agriculture from the Ground Up Carole and Red Christofferson love their farm, and agriculture in general. The former high school teachers bought their farm 50 years ago just outside of Ludington, Michigan, on the sandy, rolling hillsides about five miles from Lake Michigan. Today, Christofferson Farms produces some of the most beautiful fruit you’ll find in western Michigan, including peaches, sweet and tart cherries, plums, apples, raspberries, blackberries and more.

Carole and Red Christofferson enjoy sharing knowledge about agriculture with their customers.

AG MARKETING STARTS ON THE FARM The Christoffersons are active participants in the Mason & Oceana County Agricultural Trail—a group of 17 ag-related businesses and sites in the two counties located on the shores of Lake Michigan. The group’s purpose is to spread the word about this unique agricultural area that includes more than 1,000 farms covering in excess of 206,000 acres. And given the fact that only 2% of Americans live on working farms, the Christoffersons believe it’s important to share knowledge about the current state of farming. “We love telling people about our crops and our farm,” says Carole. With the help of Red’s science knowledge from 25 years teaching high school chemistry, Christofferson Farms takes a progressive approach to sourcing and growing the best varieties. “We’re always adding new varieties,” says Red, who turned 80 in January. In fact, they planted 200 new fruit tree varieties this spring, including the Galaxy donut peach—prized for its sweet, tender white flesh. The Christoffersons have three employees—all of whom have been with them 20 years. Their young grandson is now part of the farm venture, growing and selling pumpkins and squash with guidance from his granddad. So, when local


residents or tourists stop by the farm to pick berries or fruit, they’re getting the products of a true family farm.


2% of

Americans live on working farms.

Go to: to learn more about Christofferson Farms. ISSUE 1 2018 AGRI-INSIGHTS


BRANDING by Eric Raasch VistaComm Creative Director


Whether you manage a brand, represent a non-profit, are planning a startup or already own a business, your logo is one of the most valuable assets you have. An effective logo instantly connects your audience to your brand, serving as a visual shorthand for who you are and what you represent. Which is why it’s more important than ever to make sure your logo sends the right message and is a positive, accurate reflection of your brand promise. To determine if your logo is assisting or impeding your mission and message, ask yourself the following six questions.

Color increases brand recognition by up to 80%.

University of Loyola, Maryland, study; Why Color Matters, COLORCOM; Jill Morton (2005).







Let’s say, for example, you’ve identified your target audience as married males over 40 who are passionate about the outdoors and live in central Canada. Visual cues incorporated in your logo treatment—including font selection, color palette, shape, subject matter and more—can either attract that audience or repel it. Prospects should feel as if the logo is appealing directly to them. It should also be an accurate reflection of your brand and what you stand for. If those two aren’t both true, there is a disconnect and you might need to reconsider your positioning, your audience or your logo.

Unless you’re Coca-Cola® and have a century of company history under your belt, your logo shouldn’t evoke the era in which it was created. Today’s oh-so-hot design trend might work just fine for your current ad campaign, which is meant to run for a year, or even a quarter. But your logo must transcend the trend and not tie you to a particular time period. That cool style you loved in 2002 might scream “retro” to today’s consumer. A better, more versatile logo appears timeless and stands the test for multiple decades.


PHOTO: Eric Sfiligoj

It also saves you money by not periodically requiring costly updates of websites, printed materials, signage, apparel, etc.





Unless you have an unlimited advertising budget (hello, GEICO®) and can continually put your brand in front of millions of consumers every day, your logo needs to be distinctive if you want your audience to recognize and remember it. An unusual shape, a custom font or a memorable combination of colors can help save you from the sea of sameness.

While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, it can be a death sentence for your image. If your logo reminds people of another brand—especially a direct competitor—it may be more of a liability than an asset. Worse, you could be helping to build their business, not just your own. Conduct a visual audit of logos in your industry, to ensure you are distinctly positioned against the rest of the field. And don’t limit the study to your current market. Think bigger.






It’s true that your logo should encapsulate the essence of your business and its promise. But that doesn’t mean it needs to tell the whole story. It can’t, and it shouldn’t. Marketing offers myriad ways to communicate your story and develop your brand position. That’s not the logo’s job. Rather, when your logo consistently appears in conjunction with your brand messaging and imagery, over time it will take on that meaning—even when appearing alone. Which is how even the simplest of logos can eventually mean so much to a company’s audience.

One of the most common mistakes in branding is inconsistent logo usage. It will take much longer for your logo to build brand equity if it looks different from one application or venue to the next. What may seem like a harmless “tweak” to make your logo look better on, say, a pen, a sweater or a banner, can cause real and measurable damage to your brand. Inconsistent treatment of your logo not only makes it harder for your audience to recognize you, it makes you look unprofessional. So, avoid or eliminate superfluous alternate treatments of your logo, and whenever possible, use the standard version.

If you have concerns about your logo and how it’s being handled, our team would be happy to help you optimize your current logo or develop a whole new identity. Just contact VistaComm today for a free consultation—844.453.9261. ISSUE 1 2018 AGRI-INSIGHTS


ANALYTICS by David Vanden Hull VistaComm Director of Sales and Inbound Marketing



With more than 1.4 billion daily users, Facebook continues to play a key role in marketing. Many marketers are using Facebook, but not to its full potential. If you have a website, the Facebook pixel could make a huge difference for you.

WHAT IS THE FACEBOOK PIXEL? It’s an analytics tool that measures the effectiveness of your advertising by helping you understand the actions people take when visiting your website. You can use pixel data to: • Make sure your ads are viewed by the right people. • Build your advertising audiences. • Unlock additional Facebook advertising tools.

HOW DOES IT WORK? You have access to thousands of data points on potential customers with Facebook and can target your ads to just the right audience based on who they follow, what they “like” and much more. But, if you pair this action with your website, you can also target your ads based on specific actions users are taking on your site. Think of it this way. You determine your target audience in Facebook and start sending ads to them. An ad catches someone’s attention, they click through to your site, browse your inventory page, then leave. Would you send the same ad to them again? Of course not! The Facebook Pixel allows you to then send them a different ad—dynamic retargeting. This keeps your visitors more engaged in your brand.



Let’s say a customer selects a specific product detail or adds an item to an online shopping cart but doesn’t check out. You could then deliver a Facebook ad showcasing the item or service they viewed—further enticing them to buy it. This visitor would then be grouped with others who took the same action on your site—a Facebook Custom Audience. Now, you can segment your visitors and deliver dynamic ads to the most relevant audience. By segmenting and creating custom audiences, you can begin building marketing workflows.

PEOPLE ON YOUR WEBSITE Your customer data

CUSTOM AUDIENCES Targeted with combination of website and Facebook



Marketing made measurable

VistaComm grows your business with data-driven strategies that prove your marketing is working.


We can measure your success and you can measure ours!

Marketing workflows start by understanding the journey a user takes to becoming a customer. Once you have defined this, you can use the Facebook pixel to automate your marketing based on customer website activity and their buying cycle. Say, for instance, you sell an item that needs a 90-day refill. You can automatically send him ads after 70-80 days reminding him to refill. There are multiple steps you can add along the way, and each custom audience will have a different ad experience based on where they fall in the buyer’s journey.


Website visitors who are retargeted with display ads are 70% more likely to convert on your website.

What we do: • • • • •

Social media marketing Google Ads Remarketing Search engine optimization Conversion optimization

Actually, there isn’t enough room to list all the digital marketing services we provide.


WHY SHOULD I CARE? By using the Facebook pixel and creating custom audiences, you are better able to track results—connect ads to revenue for e-commerce sites and leads for sales-driven sites. This data helps you make better decisions about your advertising and ensures you get the maximum return on your marketing dollars.

Call today to set up a FREE consultation to learn exactly what VistaComm can do for you.

FOR MORE INFO Ready to get started? Check out my blog post at If you still find yourself in need of assistance, contact our experienced digital marketing team at 844.453.9261. VISTACOMM.COM


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PHOTO: Darcy Maulsby


in Today’s Landscape by Darcy Maulsby VistaComm Staff Journalist

Adapting to the environment separates the successful from those who struggle, whether it’s a farmer trying to increase his corn yields or an agribusiness professional seeking better results from their marketing. Farmers adapt their production practices to fit the landscape. In hilly terrain like this field west of Dodge, Nebraska, terraces help get the most out of the land. They also enhance conservation, reduce soil erosion and protect water quality by intercepting runoff. All this contributes to a more abundant crop (and a healthier environment). Smart companies also adapt to the environment. In a world where people are bombarded with thousands of marketing messages daily, cutting through the clutter and building your brand requires you to adapt by adopting multi-layered solutions. This “terrace” includes marketing tools that work together to meet your clients and prospects where they are, speak their language, and help you grow stronger relationships with these folks. Then you can “seed” your marketing terrace with a mix of print (newsletters, brochures, magazines and more), digital media (blogs, e-books, social media and digital ads), custom logos, high-quality photography, video or other personalized solutions to connect with your audience and help you stand out from the competition. VistaComm’s professionals can help you select the right “seed mix” to grow into effective marketing solutions adapted to your company’s unique needs. Don’t let the fast pace of change in today’s marketing landscape erode your company’s ability to compete. Remember—when you adapt, you thrive.



CHARITY by Burke Perry VistaComm Senior Journalist

OPENING DOORS WITH BASEBALL Throughout America’s heartland, two institutions have stood the test of time—farming and baseball. That’s not to diminish the popularity of the games that gave rise to classic stories like “Friday Night Lights” or “Hoosiers.” But those pursuits generally end for small-town residents once players head off to college or start careers. Baseball players, however, play on with town teams, eventually graduating to softball. It is an enduring pastime that parallels the seasons of crop and livestock production. As important as baseball is to rural American culture, that importance is magnified many times over in the Central American country of Nicaragua. There, baseball is more than a pastime. It’s a source of hope and, for some, a pathway to survival. South Dakotan Craig Severtson lives at the intersection of those three worlds—baseball, farming and Nicaragua. He grew up in a baseball family, ultimately playing for Augustana University in Sioux Falls*. Today, he and his sons raise crops and feed cattle on their farm on the outskirts of Flandreau. These days, most of Craig’s time and energy are focused on securing resources and making connections for Helping Kids Round First (HKRF), a non-profit he established to help create ongoing, sustainable change among the poorest of the poor in Nicaragua. *On June 2, 2018, the Augustana University Men’s Baseball Team was crowned NCAA-Division II National Champions. From the very beginning, this organization has proudly supported Helping Kids Round First.



IT STARTED WITH BASEBALL Starting a non-profit was not on the agenda when Craig began traveling to Nicaragua in the early 2000s. “Nicaragua is a baseball-crazy country,” he states. “As compared to many Latin American countries where soccer is king, baseball is king in Nicaragua. I had heard about a medical mission taking baseball equipment with them to Nicaragua, and I wanted to go. But they traveled during calving season, and that didn’t work for me. So, I had to do something on my own.”

“We are using baseball as a starting point to help families, and eventually communities, change their lives.” Craig had developed a passion for the Nicaraguan people when he journeyed to and through the country in the 1980s. With his family raised, and the farming/ranching operation in the hands of his sons and hired man, he started making annual trips to Nicaragua in 2009.


Craig tells another story that drives home just how important—and scarce—baseball gear is to the teams they work with in Nicaragua.

Throughout Nicaragua, hundreds of teams and thousands of kids and players have received gear from HKRF: • 18,000 baseballs and softballs • 3,200 gloves • 3,300 bats • 400 sets of catcher’s gear • 1,800 batting helmets • 8,000 uniforms and t-shirts • 1,200 pairs of spikes and tennis shoes

“We were having supper with Nixon Munoz, a 16-year-old young man and Johnny Alvarez, his pitching coach,” he recalls. “We help supply Johnny with equipment for his academy. Nixon was getting ready to sign a pitching contract with the Boston Red Sox. After supper, Nixon helped us carry bags of gear from our truck to Johnny’s car. He asked us, ‘Are there any gloves in the bags?’ I said, ‘Of course. Do you need a new one?” He answered, ‘Not a new one. Any one. I don’t have a glove.’”

Providing baseball equipment, organizing baseball clinics, and helping communities generate sustainable activities that benefit youth physically and emotionally is making a significant difference. But, as it turned out, baseball was also the calling card that opened doors to a host of other opportunities in sustainable agriculture, rural health care and the empowerment of women.

“I would carry as much baseball equipment with me as I could,” he states. “Even in the poorest communities, you can always find a baseball field. It’s the national pastime, and one of the few sources of hope for their youth. What little equipment they have is shared by everyone in the town.”

By 2015, it was no longer suitcases of baseballs and gloves going to Nicaragua. That year, HKRF sent their first shipping container of gear. At the same time, more volunteers accompanied the HKRF team on their trips, as word of their unique work spread.



“This is some of the most significant work you can do,” Craig summarizes, “the kind that leaves a generational trail. We are using baseball as a starting point to help families, and eventually communities, change their lives.”

Craig Severtson and the Helping Kids Round First team are just a few of the extraordinary people we meet every day at VistaComm. To learn more, visit and subscribe to the HKRF newsletter, Touching Base. Thank you, Craig, for letting VistaComm tell your amazing story. ISSUE 1 2018 AGRI-INSIGHTS



SOLUTIONS by David Vanden Hull VistaComm Director of Sales and Inbound Marketing


Fertilizer Dealer Supply (FDS) of Philo, Illinois, was founded in 1967 and still maintains their original focus: to sell agricultural sprayer and fertilizer application parts and equipment to both consumers and retailers in the Midwest.


In March of 2017, FDS reached out to VistaComm for help growing their online e-commerce business to potentially serve a nationwide audience. The existing FDS website was designed for online sales but was not responsive—for optimal viewing on mobile devices. FDS wanted to advertise online, targeting individual producers looking for parts, with trackable ads. To accomplish this, they needed to enlist the services of system developer ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) to integrate analytics and conversion tracking into their website and shopping cart.


VistaComm and ERP planned to overhaul the FDS website to make the online shopping experience better for both desktop and mobile users. An SEO strategy was needed to grow organic traffic, and paid advertising was a must to drive sales. Paid strategy included getting FDS products onto Google Shopping. VistaComm and ERP took a team approach to modifications which proved most cost-effective for FDS. Constant and dedicated communication among all parties was essential during the implementation of tracking on the site.


The VistaComm team optimized the FDS website and product listings for online shopping and SEO. Heat-mapping software ensured that navigation trouble spots were fixed, and the new website was user friendly—improving the shopping experience. Key tactics also included content updates and website audits.



A Digital Marketing Case Study


FDS saw results almost immediately. By implementing Google Shopping into the FDS paid advertising strategy, the FDS product catalog moved to the top of the search page. Higher than anticipated volume required FDS to increase their ad spend on Google to maximize their reach. VistaComm continues to make SEO adjustments and recommendations. Ad campaigns are continually optimized for maximum return on investment. Ads with lower revenue performance are eliminated to shift budget dollars toward ads achieving the highest results.

26% 323% online revenue growth

return on ad spend

Digital marketing solutions from VistaComm have grown our online revenue by 26% this year. Their team provides excellent service and communication to ensure I know how our campaigns are performing. JAMIE ELLARS | Marketing Manager Fertilizer Dealer Supply | Philo, Illinois


Making marketing less painful since 1997

Tell your story. Engage your audience. Build your brand. Brand Development and Strategy • • • •

Discovery and assessment sessions Brand development and design Strategic planning Corporate goal setting

Content • • • • • • •

Newsletters (print & digital) Magazines Visuals: photo journalism, infographics Web and blog content Video Corporate communications Ag newsroom services

Creative • • • • • • •

Logo/brand development Direct mail marketing Advertising Sales literature Annual reports Corporate communication materials Commemorative/special publications

Digital, Web & Mobile Solutions • • • • • • | 844.453.9261

Web design Website/conversion optimization Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Heat mapping Pay-Per-Click (PPC)/Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Social media management

WORKFORCE by Emily Jackson VistaComm Designer/Project Manager


It’s both a blessing and a curse to be a millennial—today’s most-talked about generation. One of the most educated generations to date, we have a less than stellar reputation for contributions to the workforce. It’s true, our motivations differ from our predecessors, but willingness to adapt is one of our best characteristics. Consider the following pillars important to today’s workminded millennial. They might help you better understand this generation striving to make a significant contribution to your workforce. Money. It talks, right? In the traditional sense, money is a necessary evil to pay off those student loans and home mortgages. But money is more than just salary. Other programs can create value—wellness plans, retirement contributions and paid time off. Consider adding non-monetary value to your employee’s lifestyle when salary bumps might not be an option. Growth. For 59% of millennials, it’s expected employers will provide relevant learning opportunities.1 Plenty of millennials walk away from a stable job because of boredom. The millennial’s embrace of technology and willingness to grow makes us prime candidates for a challenge. Take advantage of those characteristics to grow your services. Passion. It’s been said time and time again that millennials are fueled by passion for what they do. Sometimes we just need an understanding of how our part affects the whole and how we add value to the team. Being clear about your ambitions as a company can often provide that much-needed boost of self-purpose.



Flexibility. There is an undeniable shift in what many millennials are willing to compromise for their job compared to previous generations.

95% of millennial employees report work/life balance is important to them.2 No wonder then, that many seek adaptable office hours and the option to periodically work from home. It’s important to establish on the front end realistic expectations for both parties to best accommodate a friendly balance of work and personal life. The top reasons millennials leave their jobs: to make more money, to move forward in their careers, to pursue work more aligned with their passions, and to have more flexibility/ better work-life balance. 3 Understanding each of these points will help you build a stronger multigenerational team for tomorrow. 1. 2. gx-millenial-survey-2016-exec-summary.pdf 3. html?soid=1101926937565&aid=Hmm6wriqIyg

At VistaComm, we like to share our thoughts and experiences in hopes they fuel your business decisions in a positive way. About 25% of our team is comprised of millennials, and we couldn’t do what we do without them! 844.453.9261

FEEDBACK by Dave Aeilts VistaComm Senior Journalist



Is it time your company had a health check-up?

Not long ago, many company managers, directors and board members would actually duck customer or employee input. Everybody breathed a sigh of relief if the final gavel fell at a quarterly or annual meeting and no one rose to make a comment—especially a complaint. “No news is good news,” was the consensus. “We’re safe until the next meeting.” It’s not that way anymore. I ought to know. I’ve been employed as a member relations director for a local cooperative and I’ve worked in the field of corporate communications for more than 40 years. Businesses all over—especially in agriculture— are consolidating at a record pace. The healthy companies usually come out on top. These are the ones that regularly take an organizational check of their customers and/or members— and their employees. They ASK for comments and USE the information they get. VistaComm is privileged to have several of these companies/cooperatives as clients. One client, the CEO of an agronomy and energy cooperative, regularly solicits customer input at the end of his newsletter article. “My door is always open,” he states. This client not only maintains an opendoor policy, but the cooperative proactively solicits customer input every 3-4 years. Their surveys ask telling questions like, “What do we do well?” and tough questions like, “What could we do better?” The company sticks its neck out by giving member-owners a voice and promising our “board and management will use the results of our survey to guide our decisions.” For the past 12 years, they’ve been

asking for this kind of input to help direct the future course of the company. Not surprisingly, this medium-sized company has flourished among the giants, even in a tough economy, as it listened to its members’ advice to provide them exceptional service and innovation. This co-op also regularly solicits input (also in the form of a survey) from its employees. Because VistaComm manages the survey assuring complete anonymity, this co-op has been able to get 100% of its employees to participate. What about you? Could your company or organization use a health check?

FIND OUT HOW VistaComm’s services can help you gather the information you need to put your company “back in the pink.” • Teasers, news articles and cover letters promoting your surveys • Design and administration of both print and electronic surveys • Third-party follow-up to assure maximum participation • Tabulation and cross correlation of results in an easy-to-use format ISSUE 1 2018 AGRI-INSIGHTS


GROWTH by Dave Aeilts VistaComm Senior Journalist

IS BIG ALWAYS BAD? Recently, a VistaComm client decided to challenge the idea that cooperatives are becoming too big to care about and serve their customers/members. In a magazine article titled “The Big Bad Wolf,” this local cooperative pointed out that members can become obsessed with size and see growth as a reason to fear and quit doing business with their own company. This company recently built a large fertilizer and chemical warehouse in partnership with regional cooperatives that needed wholesale distribution facilities in the area. Both organizations benefited from this partnership, but the size of the project prompted some of the local cooperative’s members to regard their own company as a monster that had grown too big to have the farmers interests at heart.

“Our goal isn’t to be the biggest—it’s to be the best for you. In our world, becoming bigger is an outcome of striving to be the best.”

HOW BIG IS TOO BIG? From what I hear, many of our clients are facing the same issue with their customer groups. Some members 20


believe their co-ops have gotten too big. They contend that the cooperative system is gobbling up the competition and becoming a beast too large to control. They yearn for the old days when small farmers patronized small local co-ops. Yet, many VistaComm clients feel they must grow, either through acquisition of existing businesses or so called “organic growth” of their trade territories. They believe getting bigger is an important component to remaining relevant to their members. Perhaps a more important question is, “How big must a cooperative get in order to serve its customers well in the current economy?” Here’s what I’ve learned while helping our clients communicate. A co-op must be big enough to: 1. Attract exceptional talent 2. Overcome government regulations

3. Differentiate from competitors 4. Collaborate with others

ATTRACTING EXCEPTIONAL TALENT In an economy where unemployment is at its lowest level in decades and Baby Boomers are retiring, a company must be big enough and offer the kind of benefits and challenges necessary to attract bright new people. With the flood of technologies knocking at farmers’ doors, there is a great need for talent schooled and experienced in agronomy, animal nutrition, marketing and energy to help farm customers make good choices. There is also a great 844.453.9261

need for talented operations personnel, with experience and knowledge in products and the equipment necessary to apply them. Many of VistaComm’s clients have relationships with universities and vocational schools that can supply these exceptional employees. Moreover, some of our best clients offer internship programs that give students experience and the co-op an opportunity to look at the pool of full-time employees following graduation. But to attract that kind of talent requires an exceptional workplace that is well-regarded in the industry, has competitive wages and benefits, and offers a sufficient challenge for bright, tech-savvy people just beginning their careers. These requirements are usually found in growing companies.

OVERCOMING REGULATIONS The federal government’s Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) has forced many feedmilling firms out of business. To continue serving their livestock customers, the rest are engaged in some sort of expansion—usually involving closing small, older mills and building large modern mills. These mills not only meet regulations and allow these cooperatives to stay in the animal nutrition business, but they also produce a higher quality of feed and more choices for their livestock producer patrons. However, to afford the depreciation on these large new facilities, the cooperative must hire more sales personnel and spread their services over a larger market area— including manufacturing feed for other companies. This requires a commitment to grow.

DIFFERENTIATING FROM THE COMPETITION Growth also helps companies remain relevant to customers in these times of surging technology, big box stores and on-line giants.



For example, one VistaComm client in the power equipment business faces with stiff competition from big box stores. The way that co-op differentiates itself is to “set up, gas up and deliver” the mowers and four-wheelers it sells, ready for the customer to use. It also picks up and repairs that equipment when it breaks down. Other VistaComm clients, particularly those who deal in commodities like fertilizers, are finding the need to expand their speed and space to serve their farmer-customers who are also growing and getting faster at planting their crops. One CEO told me, “Agri-business has got to become like Amazon to our customers, because they’ve come to expect that kind of selection and instant gratification in other areas of their lives.”

All this requires growth—getting bigger in facilities, rolling stock and staff.

COLLABORATING WITH OTHERS To build some of these larger facilities, like fertilizer plants or feed mills, cooperatives must have grown to a sufficient size and have sufficient human and financial resources to partner with other cooperatives or private companies on projects that will be mutually beneficial. As I mentioned, one of VistaComm’s clients is a local cooperative that recently collaborated with a regional cooperative to build a large agronomy center. This center provides speed and space—both for the local cooperative’s farmer-customers and for other local cooperatives that are customers of the regional. Cooperatives must be big enough for other reasons than the few I’ve stated above, but you get the idea. The challenge is pointing out to your farmer customers the need to grow, and convincing them that, as member-owners, you still have their best interests at heart. One VistaComm client tells its customers, “Our goal isn’t to be the biggest—it’s to be the best for you. In our world, becoming bigger is an outcome of striving to be the best.”

One way a cooperatively owned business can strive to be the best is by keeping a close ear to the pulse of customer/owners. VistaComm can help you do this by third-party administration and results analysis of professionally designed surveys that reveal what your customers need and value. See “Healthy Organizations Actually Solicit Input” on page 19. ISSUE 1 2018 AGRI-INSIGHTS


AG EXPERIENCE by Darcy Maulsby VistaComm Staff Journalist


Come Along on My Great European Ag Adventure Did you know dairy cows give more milk when they listen to Mozart? Ah, the things you learn from the tour bus guide as you pass through farm country on your way to Salzburg, Austria, the birthplace of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. While we don’t raise dairy cows on my family’s farm near Lake City, Iowa, I felt right at home, talking farming when I toured parts of Europe this past March. I traveled 5,000 miles from Iowa to Austria for a Danube River cruise from March 16-21, only to be met by more snow and ice. I was with nearly 100 members of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation for this experience of a lifetime. During our week-long European adventure across southern Germany, Austria and Hungary, we visited with European ag ministers and toured local farms. While these farmers grow different crops than we do (apricots, canola, barley, sugar beets and a disease-resistant grain called spelt), they face many of the same challenges. Do any of these sound familiar? • Many people in Europe live in cities now and have romanticized ideas about what the farm is—or should be. • International markets are vital. • GMOs are a major issue. Some European countries allow livestock farmers to feed GMOs; others do not. • Organic is big, and growing. • Water quality is an issue, including nitrate levels. Manage this challenge; or face regulations. • Farm profitability is a challenge. In Austria, about twothirds of producers farm part time and have off-farm jobs to supplement their income. • Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like animal and environmental activist groups are powerful.



• Austria has nature-protected areas where the government controls the land. The controlling agency dictates how the land can be fertilized. Farmers are strictly regulated and must keep detailed records. • It’s tough to pass the family farm on to the next generation. Many European families are having fewer children, and fewer young people want to be farmers. Tax issues also complicate the process of passing on a farm.

Perhaps most surprising was that up to 70% of Austrian farmers’ income is subsidized by the government, according to Nikolaus Morawitz with the Vienna Chamber of Agriculture. Wow! Talk about food for thought. My takeaways?

Be wary of overreach by both the government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and be prepared to challenge it. How? • Share your story to help non-farm people better understand where their food comes from. • Invest your time, talent and treasures into your local community. Make it a place where the next generation wants to live and work.


LET’S EAT One more thing—don’t forget to savor the journey. Is there anything more intrinsic to a place than its food? It’s a question I savored when I wrote my book, “Culinary History of Iowa,” and it inspired me during my European adventures.


I’ll never forget the robust, sweet, smooth taste of the apricots we sampled near Vienna. And, as I sat in a luxurious, red dining room of the Hotel Sacher in the heart of Vienna, savoring a slice of sachertorte (main ingredient: apricots), I knew why this is the ultimate special-occasion dessert in Austria. Sweets also work their magic in apfelstrudel (apple strudel), another signature Austrian dessert made with locally-grown fruit. Yummmm. It’s time to head to the kitchen, turn on some Mozart, and cook up a taste of Europe as I ponder my next ag adventure.

Darcy’s Photo Album 1) After touring farms in Europe during a March 2018 trip with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, VistaComm journalist Darcy Maulsby and her husband, J., were thrilled to see the next step in the farm-to-fork connection at the impressive Central Market Hall in Budapest, Hungary—Darcy brought home a prized bag of sweet Hungarian paprika. 2) The Maulsbys also visited cities and historic villages. In Austria, they explored Mondsee Abbey, where the famous wedding scene from “The Sound of Music” was filmed. 3) They toured an apricot farm in Austria. “I’ll never forget the robust, sweet, smooth taste of the apricots and the apricot nectar we sampled at this farm in the Wachau Valley northwest of Vienna,” Darcy says. 4) Luscious apricots are a key ingredient for sachertorte. This famous chocolate apricot cake with dark chocolate ganache is to Austria what apple pie is to America—an edible, national treasure.









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by Laurie Hoffman VistaComm Vice President of Client Services


With Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat so prominent these days, it’s easy to forget about email as an effective communication tool. A recent study by the Direct Marketing Association reports that email campaigns conducted with well-maintained in-house lists achieved a return on investment (ROI) of 30% – 32%, compared with 15% – 17% on social media, and 18% – 20% for direct mail. Far from dying out, email as a communication tool is still extremely strong, and savvy marketers are using it—regularly. This resurgence can be attributed to the rise of mobile usage and responsive platforms. 91% of adults have a mobile phone within arm’s reach 24 hours a day. Smartphone users use their phone to send and receive both personal and business email (84%). For 24% of smartphone users, email is the first thing they check on their phone in the morning. Observations and tips to remember when using email marketing: • A Captive Audience — Consumers provide email addresses to businesses they know and trust. • Deliver What They Want — Special notices, discounts and product knowledge are the main reasons consumers give you their email addresses.



of smartphone users report that email is the first thing they check on their phone in the morning. • A Special Format — Email messages differ from those on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest or Snapchat. Review the basics: • A solid subject line is just as important as the main email message. Concisely state the substance of your message here. • Immediately state who you are and the purpose of the email. • Prioritize what your customer needs to know. Present a focused, clear message. • Correct usage is not archaic. Standard spelling, paragraphs, periods and grammar make your email more quickly comprehensible and professional.

Resources: • Response Rate Report, Direct Marketing Association, 2015. • Consumer Digital Usage and Behavior Study, Adesta. • Marylou Ruud, Leadership Development Initiative, P.E.O.

Your marketing plan might benefit from an email campaign. Let VistaComm help—the increased ROI could be yours!

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Agri-Insights Issue 18  

In this issue, learn about what your logo is really saying, how to better-understand millennials, using integrated marketing to make you mor...

Agri-Insights Issue 18  

In this issue, learn about what your logo is really saying, how to better-understand millennials, using integrated marketing to make you mor...

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