Cassia Mahjabeen

In 2016, AVC conducted a market research on farmer behavior trying to understand purchasing patterns, and the findings revealed some unexpected information about how farmers choose between brands of input products. It was found that when making a purchase decision; farmers usually do not rely on traditional media such as TV, Radio or print. Rather, they go through a verification process through their trusted human network. Such network can be his peers, an advanced farmer whom he follows, a trusted retailer or a government agricultural officer that he finds helpful. From this network he gathers testimonials and feedback on the product. It was also found farmers chose carefully when it came close to making the final purchase decision of agro-inputs; just like any rational investor would think twice before making the final call. When identifying brands or preferred products, farmers tended not to fully read the packages. Sometimes identifying a company’s packaging was also difficult in their eyes as many do not read well. Many growers who were interviewed couldn’t recall specific brands’ and how their logos, colors, or other features looked like, or how the package looked (Mental Models of Farmers, DAI 2016). There was a tendency to preserve the package to find the product again. Locally, few market leaders were ahead on this issue, and these brands addressed this by communicating very simple messages or designs that were more easily recognizable. Farmers could recall those simple signs in the packs. Farmers were concerned about the quality of the input product. Within a geographic community, getting proper solutions for crop care was not always easy and the ‘search cost’ of solution was higher than usual.

NAAFCO, a partner of AVC, has been working to expand their market in the south for agro inputs. AVC extended its support to help them to develop a marketing strategy.  AVC partnered NAAFCO with Red Rockets, a professional marketing agency. Red Rockets conducted field visits to NAAFCO’s selected sales zones to understand target market behavior. This trip again revealed brand recognition was minimal for NAAFCO among tested spots. Red Rockets started working with NAAFCO to consolidate the NAAFCO wings into a single consolidated brand with a clear symbol. Discussions with regional staff revealed local markets posed another threat — they were copying packages of NAAFCO and taking advantage of its package design to sell inferior products.

To develop the overarching marketing strategy for NAAFCO, Red Rocket suggested that they use a style of marketing called Experiential Marketing. Experiential marketing is a form of advertising that focuses primarily on helping consumers experience a brand. While traditional advertising (radio, print, television) verbally and visually communicates the brand and product benefits, experiential marketing tries to immerse the consumers within the product by engaging as many other human senses as possible. This caters to rural customers, as farmers prioritize brand trust and peer testimonial when buying.

The agency prepared the first set of sample branded packaging and pre-tested it in Kochua, Jessore with additional communication and promotional materials. This pre-test expanded on the information gathered during the field visits and found that if a logo is not placed in center or top, buyers tend to pick other objects in the center of the package as the brand identifier. It was found that farmers emphasized the quality of the products and were not pulled in by discounts, as they saw lower prices as a signal of unsold or low-quality products. Better respect from the retailer was also an issue as a general consumer as there remained an invisible status quo if he was just a farmer.

After a month-long discussion of the feedback on the creative materials from the pre-test campaign, Red Rockets and NAAFCO developed the final marketing materials to reach rural farmers. These materials included posters, danglers, banners, shop signs, stickers and referral cards. NAAFCO screened out 5 dealers and 10 retailers who are in their preferred client list in two selected districts each, namely Jessore and Barishal. Red Rockets and NAAFCO then organized a two-week test campaign in selected zones with these 30 key participants and 400 + selected farmers.

One of the core activities to this campaign was to arrange small low cost events in retailers’ shops where influential farmers were asked to join for a session. This capitalized on the information that farmers are more trusting of brands when they are endorsed by their trusted social networks; information that became evident in researches (Mental Models of Farmers, DAI 2016) and field visits. NAAFCO sales staff was advised to start off the session talking about community problems, then discuss solutions and then tag the product as a solution.  The attention span grew within farmers as local problems were being addressed and understood by the sales staff, allowing them to see NAAFCO as a trusted resource. Thus, NAAFCO was advised through these exercises to sell comprehensive solution to the client not just a product. A hotline was promoted to reinforce the problem-solution approach.  The hotline was centrally maintained by NAAFCO and could respond to farmers’ queries on various issues in the field, especially when they need to make a purchase decision. 205 farmers were reached in groups of 8 to 10 in 20 retailer points.

To have a multiplier effect and to increase community messaging referral cards were given to farmers. The hotline number was placed on referral cards that the farmer can take home and share with peers. The referral cards were given as a call to action tool so that farmers are reminded to reach back to the support line. The 205 were given 15 referral cards each to reach 3000 more farmers. Additionally stickers were given to each participant to take home in case they lose the card and can save the number. The tools had a simple NAAFCO logo with high visibility, since semi-literate farmers had expressed difficulty in identifying packs. It was essential to give them an easy symbol that could be identified and they can match the logo from the card to identify NAAFCO products in stores and retail outlets.

NAAFCO was also encouraged to gradually develop brand ambassadors among lead farmers that can engage farmers on a personal level and build trust around the NAAFCO brand. Another two workshops with the aim of ‘Influencing the Influencer’ were organized centrally. The idea was to coach important farmers on selected NAAFCO products. 105 and 70 farmers came in respectively in Jessore and Barishal Central. A coaching session on good marketing techniques on farm produces for farmers also wereincluded, as an advisory service to farmers from the company end. Here referral cards were also given to share among communities.

There were other features to the campaign, to make sure NAAFCO engaged with its consumers giving proof of quality and authenticity. Referral plots were branded for retailers who can show the community a sample plot with NAAFCO product being used.

To improve customer service, retailers were also coached on products, sales and service techniques. This allows the retailer to engage the farmers in a more meaningful dialogue about the benefits of NAAFCO products and answer any questions the farmers have, building trust between the two. They were given a sticker pack of 200 each to continue sharing the hotline number to incoming clients. Finally relationship management training was given to central NAAFCO team.

It is important that any company stays connected with its final consumer through customer outreach, messaging, feedback loops and evolve marketing strategies as their consumers’ progress. End consumers (farmers) of NAAFCO can now call up and ask questions, talk about their requirements and send a robust signal through the feedback loop (hotline) and communicate their demands and solution needs. This allows direct interaction with farmers from NAAFCO central and its crucial for comprehending market signals and vibes.

The call to action tools such as referral cards and stickers made it convenient for farmers to access the call center, and as they got more and more beneficial feedback and information, it became a natural source of assistance and capacity building, building their relationship with NAAFCO as a trusted brand and partner.  A senior farmer also explained that farmers engage the helpline to resolve arguments when contradictory solutions come from peer groups. The Barisal Staff of NAAFCO reveals farmers expressed satisfaction saying, “Now we can sit on an aisle of a farm land and get a solution,” versus previously when farmers had to travel out of their remote communities to local villages or cities to get assistance, which is costly and time consuming for farmers in Barisal and many other parts of Bangladesh.

After these set of exercises, NAAFCO now has a consolidated brand, it is also exposed to a structured strategy and gives focus on consumer driven approaches. The Strategy repeatedly works through with tactics and suggestions that emphasized on building trust and brand loyalty, not just mere short term sales. As a growing company in Bangladesh, NAAFCO has now strengthened its two major sales and operation hubs in the south –Jessore and Barisal through the test marketing phase and is expected to continue sales and business relationship in south with consumer focus that builds loyalty.

Cassia Mahjabeen has been working with AVC as Marketing and Media Specialist.