Farmers use both traditional and non-traditional sources of media for information at different stages of the evaluation process.

As an advertising agency with a long history of expertise in ag marketing, one of the questions we get asked frequently is “How many farmers today are using smartphones?” That’s an oversimplification of the question, but the general queries center around farmers in the digital age. Are farmers online? Are they on Facebook? Do they Tweet? And is digital a viable way to reach this audience? The short answer to all of these questions is “yes.” But when you dig a little deeper, you find the better answer may be “yes, but …”

We know that farmers today are using digital information technology to help them make decisions about farming. But we also know that traditional media (print and direct mail, for example) still play an important role in a successful communications plan.

At Woodruff, we think it’s important to look at the “when” as much as the “how.” In other words, at what stage in the decision process are farmers going online for information, versus looking at print communications or talking to their retailer? But more on that later. First, let’s answer the burning question: “How many farmers today use smartphones?”

Just the facts, ma’am.

According to a 2015 survey conducted by Farm Journal Media, 87% of all farmers will be using smartphones in 2016. That’s up from only 14% in 2009. The same survey asked how they’re using those smartphones, and besides the obvious (phone calls), the results showed that 85% use it for text messaging, 75% for email, 72% for online searches and 37% for social media.

Iowa State University, in it’s 2014 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, shed more light on how farmers are using smartphones to access information. Of those farmers with smartphones, 75% said they used them “often” or “very often” to help make decisions about farming. That same poll showed that 70% of all farmers own a computer with high-speed Internet access, putting to rest the common misperception that farmers are still using a dial-up service (holding steady at 14%). Of those farmers with high-speed Internet access, 74% said they use it “often” or “very often” to access information to help them make decisions about farming.

Is digital the new king of ag media?

So clearly, farmers are smartphone and digital savvy. And they’re using the technology to gather information on agricultural products and services. A 2015 survey by Successful Farming asked farmers how often they use mobile websites and apps to access ag information, and the answer was 46% of the time for both. That number increased to 68% for websites viewed on a desktop computer, and 72% for agricultural e-newsletters. And while those are impressive numbers for an audience once considered traditionally low tech, they pale in comparison to the more traditional media.

Old habits die hard

That same Successful Farming study found that farmers still prefer “traditional” media sources over digital. In fact, farmers said magazines were their preferred choice for obtaining information on agricultural products and/or services, followed by radio, dealers/retailers and television. Company websites (digital) were ranked fifth, followed by regional newspapers and direct mail. So while digital use is clearly gaining in popularity among farmers, especially in the 40 and under segment, it’s safe to say that print is not dead yet. Not by a long shot. Which is why it’s critical to look at just the right media mix when developing a total communications plan.

A time for every medium

At Woodruff, we use both digital and “traditional” media to reach our ag audiences. But to ensure we’re getting maximum leverage from every medium, we pay careful attention to the stages of the product evaluation/purchase decision process and plan our communications accordingly. The goal is getting the right message in the right medium at the right time.

For example, we know that farmers go to company websites during the first two stages of the evaluation process to access needs and begin gathering information (Stage 1) and then to evaluate and compare products (Stage 2). But during the price comparison and purchase decision stage, website use drops to around 18%. Interestingly, website use is second only to dealer in the final customer service stage, showing that farmers are using the company’s website as their go-to place for post-purchase information after the dealer.

Magazine is the farmer’s go-to medium during the first, information gathering stage — higher than dealers and retailers. And manufacturer or supplier printed publications also rank higher than dealers at this stage. During stage two, when farmers are evaluating and comparing products, manufacturer print publications rank higher than magazines, but slightly lower than dealers.

So while every medium has its place in the ever-evolving game of reaching and connecting with our ag audience, timing, as they say, is everything.

We’re happy to share our knowledge and expertise in finding the right delivery vehicles to reach today’s more tech-savvy farmer. And while we believe delivery is extremely important, what you choose to say and how you choose to say it is a topic we know more than a little something about, too. But we’ll save that discussion for another day.