Corrections or additions?
This article by Barbara Fox was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on July 21,
1999. All rights reserved.
Total Farmers: Marketing Savvy
Send a direct mail pitch and you get a one-to-one reaction.
Either the client likes the pitch or he doesn’t like it.
Send a salesperson and you get a little more leeway. The salesperson
can influence the client by adjusting her pitch.
But bring the client to a meeting with six of his peers and you multiply
your influence. Instead of giving a pitch, the moderator — an
expert on a variety of products — tries to uncover the problems,
find the commonalities, and find the solution, which may or may not
be the client’s product.
It’s called peer group marketing, and the pharmaceutical marketers
have been doing it for nearly 20 years. They convene groups of doctors
to share common concerns about difficult patients and what each has
been doing to solve those problems. Now the Independence Way-based
marketing research firm, Total Research Corporation, is taking this concept to
the agricultural industry.
"The days when farmers relied on intuition are over. Crop producers
and animal producers are a very sophisticated group of business people,
with good backgrounds in animal health, chemistry, and biology,"
says Mark Nissenfield, president and CEO of The Idea Farm, a new
wholly-owned subsidiary of Total Research (http://www.totalres.com)
"The whole peer communication process is an outgrowth of focus
groups," says Richard Wathey, who is in charge of marketing
and program development for Idea Farm. "Some smart people noticed
that no matter how objective you were, a certain amount of selling
was taking place."
These two executives admit there could be a potential conflict between
doing marketing research and doing promotion. "We created a separate
subsidiary to draw a sharp non-ambiguous distinction between marketing
and promotional activities," says Nissenfield. "These peer
groups are information-driven, not slogan-driven."
Invitations to the farmers state that the focus is promotion. The
cost to the sponsoring company for a small series of meetings: well
under $100,000, and that would include designing the meetings, invitations,
logistics, and the moderator’s time to learn the product. Farmers
are paid $50 to $75 to attend — plus a nice meal. Is this cost
effective? Apparently so. Marketing agencies in the pharmaceutical
area, says Nissenfield, have been able to demonstrate positive results
using a strict return on investment (ROI) model.
Nissenfield majored in broadcasting at Boston University, Class of
1979, and has a PhD in counseling from the University of Pennsylvania.
Wathey went to Long Island University, Class of 1969, and has his
PhD from New York University.
No one holds a patent on the idea of peer group marketing, and theoretically
it could be used in any field — to sell software, beauticians’
supplies, or household products. New England-style town meetings can
be termed peer influence groups. And when homemakers hold Tupperware
parties, for instance, they are sharing workplace problems and solutions.
Could this work for your product? Which decisions are well served
by peer influence groups?
convey , an information-oriented approach to getting additional
information will work, says Wathey. He points again to the medical
model, for which doctors or dentists gather to discuss treatment problems.
sell somebody one item doesn’t really move a lot of market share,"
says Wathey. Trainers might effectively share tips on the new version
of Microsoft Office 2000.
"If it has to be decided by committee, then peer groups are probably
not effective," says Nissenfield.
of meeting in one area and have a control group in another area, you
can see what happens to the prescribing patterns for the physicians
involved. Or you can count the bags of feed sold.
company specializing in the agricultural industry, says that such
"over the fence post" peer group learning can be very effective.
"For years there have been teleconferences, with farmers getting
together on a conference calls, with a technical expert on the line,
to resolve issues among themselves." Chat rooms on the Internet
are another peer group learning opportunity. Bringing people face
to face is yet another step, and it is not one-sided like a sales
call. "You’re going to find out the negatives as well as the positives
when you get a bunch of professionals together."
— Barbara Fox
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