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Out-competed

Again, the Australians are showing us how we’d market our crops if we had our act together

Is the Canadian grains sector being out-marketed globally? This is a question that has nagged me since February 16, the date the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre released new information brochures for Australian wheat, barley, oats, canola and pulses.

The cover of AEGIC’s brochure for Australian wheat.
photo: AEGIC

“These publications are aimed at international purchasers of Australian grain,” the association (AEGIC) said in its release, adding they “are also great resources for Australian growers and other Australian grains industry stakeholders.”

I found it very interesting that one of our major grain exporting competitors is promoting sales through the distribution of brochures that describe Australian-grown wheat, oats, barley, canola, and pulses to international and domestic buyers, as well as to Australian producers and industry partners.

It made me wonder if there are any Canadian equivalents. Are similar brochures being used by anyone in Canada to encourage international and domestic buyers to purchase Canadian grains?

I was quite disappointed by what I found out.

I contacted Madeleine Goodwin, manager of marketing and communications of Pulse Canada and asked if her group has promotional brochures about pulses for buyers and processors. After all, Pulse Canada has a “25 by 25” goal, seeking a 25 per cent growth with new and sustainable demand and new uses of pulses by 2025, which they hope to achieve by marketing the health, nutritional and environmental benefits of pulses.

Because of this goal I wondered if Pulse Canada is using brochures to get this marketing message out. Goodwin informed me that they do not have any type of sales brochures but referred me to the Pulse Canada website where I could find lots of information about pulses.

So I called on Kelly Green, director of communications with the Canadian Canola Growers Association, which “represent(s) over 43,000 Canadian canola farmers on national and international issues” according to the CCGA website. Surely an organization that represents the growers of a Canadian-developed oilseed crop that is renowned for its healthy attributes would be active in all avenues of promotion to buyers.

Furthermore, from trade shows, I am well aware that CCGA publishes and distributes producer-oriented brochures covering topics like dockage, grading, and sales contracts. However, Green told me the primary focus of the CCGA is on policy. She was quick to add that the CCGA does participate in trade missions and seminars in which the value of Canadian canola is promoted but the CCGA does not have brochures that promote canola to buyers or end-users.

I got a similar response from the Canola Council of Canada. The council’s focus is on canola production rather than sales and they do not have brochures to promote the sale of canola to buyers or processors.

I thought I was finally successful in finding a sales brochure for Canadian wheat when I spoke with Brenna Mahoney, director of communications and stakeholder relations with Cereals Canada. Cereals Canada is a non-profit partnership of a number of grower associations and industry partners representing all sectors of the cereal value chain. According to Mahoney, they represent the entire cereal story from farmer to the plate.

Mahoney described the trade missions Cereals Canada conducts each year as “an overview of the industry and in-depth presentations about the quality of the current year’s crop.” She reported 19 seminars were held this past year for the top customers of Canadian cereal grains.

Mahoney noted that at each of the seminars, buyers were provided with the publication Canadian Wheat. She added that this publication is also available on the Cereals Canada website for anyone interested in learning more about Canadian wheat.

Does Canadian Wheat fulfil the role of a sales brochure?

There is an amazing similarity between the Canadian Wheat brochure and the comparably titled Australian Wheat brochure. Aside from the name, both front covers also feature a picture of a combine harvesting wheat.

But then the messages diverge. I found intriguing differences between the two publications and wondered about the messaging of each so I contacted Janet Attard. Attard is a business author, the CEO of Attard Communications, and founder and CEO of Business Know-How, a website reaching almost five million individual business owners and professionals each year. She is a strong proponent of a well-designed sales brochure. She even has an online article on 13 ways to create effective brochures.

Attard stressed that an effective brochure must do four things: get attention, create interest in the product, raise desire for the product, and get readers to take a specific action.

So how do the two wheat brochures compare in achieving these goals?

The subtitle on Australian Wheat was “Quality, versatility, and reliability.” By looking at the brochure cover a wheat buyer would know right away the purpose of the brochure and the potential benefits of buying wheat from Australia.

On the other hand, the subtitle on Canadian Wheat is “Great wheat starts with great roots.” Even as a wheat grower I am not sure what that means! I expect a wheat buyer would be even more confused.

The Australian Wheat brochure cover also includes the text: “Australian wheat is highly valued for its excellent performance across a wide range of food products, especially noodles and breads.” Now that should interest a wheat buyer.

Canadian Wheat also had additional text on the cover: “2017 CROP IN REVIEW.” If you were a wheat buyer or bread maker, which cover would be more likely to capture your attention?

The next thing to note is Australian Wheat is eight pages long. Canadian Wheat is 38 pages. When I asked Attard about the length of the two, she considered eight pages as very long and flatly said no one is going to read 38 pages.

What I really questioned was the opening message presented in the two brochures. Australia Wheat immediately uses point form to build on the theme of high-quality Australian wheat and how it can meet a buyer’s needs no matter what those needs are. A map shows the demand for Australian wheat around the world. And it clearly states Australian wheat is “Grown in a clean and safe environment.”

Compare that to the first paragraph of text in Canadian Wheat: “Some of the factors that influence crop selection are based on plant disease pressures, soil conditions and land stewardship priorities. Wheat varieties are carefully chosen, based on characteristics including yield potential, protein content, and disease and insect resistance….”

Australian Wheat focuses on the clean, safe environment that wheat is grown on Down Under. The first sentence of Canadian Wheat brings up disease pressures and the second adds in insect resistance! Attard could not understand why potential problems would be mentioned in a sales brochure.

Nine pages of Canadian Wheat focus on farmers and the growing of wheat in Canada. While this may make a very interesting presentation in a seminar setting, especially when presented by a farmer with great visuals, is it appropriate in a sales brochure?

When buying a tractor, do you ask about the working conditions on the assembly line? Do you seek information about the environmental impact of pesticide formulation, or the underground working conditions of potash miners when buying crop inputs? Sure, it is great to get the opportunity to tour a factory producing the inputs we need and even to listen to a speaker about their work in providing the inputs our farms require, but I doubt many farmers are going to feel a need to read about the production process behind the product they are looking to buy.

Let’s be honest, most buyers have a singular focus when considering a purchase. What will the product do for me? Buyers don’t care about your production issues, or even if you are profitable. While discussion of profit maximization in a brochure may sound good to farmers growing the crop, it more than likely makes a buyer wonder if they are paying too much.

In essence, this brochure is yet another example of how poor farmers are at marketing the crops they grow. No question, some farmers are better and more successful price takers than others, but the bottom line is most farmers are very poor at finding and keeping customers, which is what marketing is really about. This is reflected in the numerous commissions, associations, boards and organizations that farmers are called to fund.

Other than Cereals Canada, nearly all farm organizations are more focused on production or policy (complaining to or about government) than marketing the crops they claim to represent.

We have even allowed governments to de-fund and dumb down the Canadian Grain Commission and the Canadian International Grains Institute, two of the best marketing resources for grains in Canada. I expect most farmers would even scoff at the suggestion that we look at sales brochures for Canadian-grown grain.

Make no mistake: a sales brochure alone is not the answer to selling Canadian grains. It is simply one more marketing tool, but it is a tool that needs to be considered when it is already being used by our competitors.

Furthermore, for a Canadian grains brochure to be effective it must focus on the needs of the customer first, and second on the product we are selling. We need to clearly define the benefit our crops will offer the customer, design a specific message for the targeted customer, and then outline the next step the customer should take.

Australia’s farmers have mastered the brochure for grain sale promotion. Canada needs to catch up!

What makes a good brochure?

Janet Attard, founder and CEO of Business Know-How, says a well-designed sales brochure will increase sales for any business, from a home-based online startup to a multinational corporation.

Even in today’s increasingly web-based market, sales brochures still make sense. There are long lists of reasons why brochures remain effective:

  • A well-designed brochure is easy to use, especially compared to many websites.
  • A brochure is meant to be long lasting. Once you leave a webpage, it is often quickly forgotten. A brochure is there until you no longer have interest in the product.
  • A brochure is physical. It is real. Human nature tends to favour the aesthetic qualities paper provides compared to images and text on a screen.
  • Brochures can offer a personal touch if provided in a trade show, seminar or meeting.
  • Brochures can add professionalism to a sales presentation.

However, the benefit of a brochure is limited by its quality. If you want to use a brochure as part of your marketing strategy, learn more about what makes a brochure great. Read Attard’s “13 Ways to Make Your Sales Brochures Effective.”

The University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources has an online guide for creating effective brochures.

The Center for Profitable Agriculture at the University of Tennessee Extension has posted: “Developing Effective Marketing Materials: Brochure Design Considerations.”

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