NZ National Fieldays: is it working for you?

Last week marked my 7th Fieldays and it got me wondering. How effective is it as a marketing and sales channel? Is it the lazy option i.e. build it and hope they will come or is it the smartest option in the NZ Ag calendar? The answer depends on who you ask. 

Because I was intrigued to find out more, I spoke to some exhibitors and asked them what would happen if they didn't attend Fieldays? Some told me of their fear of not being there and the statement it could made to their market or competition. They talked like it was compliance. Others sweared blind by it in terms of effectiveness and helping them with valuable lead generation. 

Because I didn't know some of these people well and couldn't offer advice off the bat, I thought I'd share some ideas to try and help those that might be questioning their Fieldays strategy or their rural marketing in general. My advice to them or anyone listening is if Fieldays isn’t working for you as an investment or you're having some doubts about its efficacy, test it against other methodologies. One option might be creating your own influencer strategy to reduce cost to acquire and speed up sales cycles. Or you could go local and using a highly targeted and more relevant district and driveway approach and test it against a regional or national approach (you might be pleasantly surprised by the results).

Fieldays or any other Ag event shouldn't be a potential rural marketing cult despite how great its PR machine is (and it's bloody good machine btw so I tip my hat to them). Make your own mind up. Apply some critical thinking. Ask yourself or your marketing manager what return are we getting for all costs laid down (including staff time)? How are we measuring success? Can we split control test a marketing campaign against Fieldays? If they don't have the answers, ask them more until you get the reassurance that your marketing dollars are being well spent.

In some cases, if you dig a little deeper you might find Fieldays could be masking an ineffective marketing manager or marketing plan. All good marketers measure to manage because that’s what separates the great from the average. Hit n’ hope or spray and pray tactics are not great marketing disciplines and have never been the best
career definers. 

As a general observation, Fieldays sites fell into two camps: one was the default white marquee and chairs being manned by disinterested teams with folded arms and poor body language. These sites might have been last minute, year on year roll outs. The other camp were those that had a clear central idea or theme with an enthusiastic and energetic team out front greeting people and interacting. They looked like they wanted to be there Even if I wasn't interested in their offering, they were inviting and made eye contact so I’d stop, walk in and take a look.

Another take out was the prominence of Fieldays specials. Discounting is said to be the thing that happens when the marketing department has run out of ideas. It can also be the lowest form of marketing intelligence. Anyone can slash prices or put on a deal any time of the year. It's also like the Sales Manager that drops margin to make their end of month target. Easy to do, much harder to come back from. Most will argue you have to to be competitive. Of course you do but there's also other ways to support price and build value like branded service, people, warranties, seamless customer experience, brand heritage or convenience. If price is the only lever you use, it will be only lever customers use too. If you have other levers, it gives you other options to defend or support your price position.

Fieldays can be a long, hard 4 day slog too. But it shouldn't be. The biggest effort and energy shouldn't be during Fieldays, it should be before. Like training for any big event, you put in the hard yards upfront so you're prepared for your best performance come race day. In the case of Fieldays, you need to work out your proposition i.e. what's the one thing that will cut through the noise and entice people to come and visit you (not just current customers or you're only as good as “milk man salesmen”). Then you need to contact your database, use your networks, motivate your sales team and give customers and prospects a compelling reason to visit or redeem to make sure they come. Build it and they might not come. And if they do, make sure you follow up, follow up and follow up again. The after-event follow up strategy is also very important.

Walk in your market's shoes. Remember by the time most have got their free feed from their bank, fertiliser company or rural merchant as well as bumping into mates along the races they won't have much time for anything else especially if they are only there for the one day. You have to get on their list. Hoping they will come and see you isn't a plan and hope has never been a great strategy. 

There is no denying Fieldays has its place and it does wonders for the national and regional economy improving every year. We should be very proud of it as a showcase event and income generator for NZ Ag and Inc. However, I'd argue it best serves those bigger more export-focussed companies that can afford to leverage their Fieldays investment. Like all good sponsorships, you spend a third on the property itself and two thirds leveraging it or it's a waste of time because there’s no association or payback (unless an exchange of dollars and logos does enough to satisfy you).

For the middle or smaller tier of rural agribusiness companies that sit below the big boys, challenge the ROI you get and look at regional or district field days as a proxy to test against Mystery Creek. That way you can make a more informed decision about where you are getting best bang for buck.

When you get your marketing right, every day should be a field day not just those four
in June.
There's the other 361 other days to think about too.