Agricultural Branding. Ask Hard Questions.

Agricultural Branding. Products and Companies

By Tom Dougherty

Agricultural Branding. No different from consumer products
Syngenta is a global leader in agriculture

For the largest suppliers to the agriculture branding industry – those who supply seeds, chemicals, technology and other services – there is often a balancing act between promising your target audience one thing and navigating the regulatory difficulties to stay in business with another. Here’s what we mean: If you’re a giant like DuPont or Monsanto (the Monsanto Brand), you battle two fronts that require precise, meaningful messaging for both of them. The crazy thing is that both fronts can be fought with the same weapon: A real brand. (See some works Stealing Share did for Syngenta).

The Reason Why

An agriculture brand becomes the reason why customers may prefer you but it can also give you permission to talk about the things in the regulatory and media arena in a more resonate way. It is the hallmark of agricultural branding. These companies have several audiences for their communications: farmers and large agricultural companies (the Dole Foods or Chiquita Brands of the world), which make up the customers; and regulators and media that scrutinize the individual members of the industry to make sure their products are safe. One audience buys. The other monitors. Yet, both search for meaning.

Agricultural Branding requires upfront research
Stealing Share has worked on multiple Syngenta Brands

Searching for Meaning

For most agricultural marketers, the idea of a brand for customers is a no-brainer – although, you wouldn’t know it by the brands that are actually marketed. All say they should be preferred because of the company’s longevity, innovation and because they help farmers feed the world. All that means is they are not reasons to choose because everyone claims them. (Side note: It continues to astonish us when working with a new client how little it has paid attention to competitive messages. They are often amazed how similar their own messaging is when they finally do examine the competition.) What’s worse is that many talk about themselves – that is, the company – not the customer. It’s not about who the customer is when they use that brand (like Nike shoe wearers are “winners” or Apple users are who that “think different).

It’s about the company. DuPont’s position is the “miracles of science.” Whose miracle is that? Why, DuPont’s, of course. Syngenta’s position is “Bringing plant potential to life.” Who’s doing that? Syngenta, of course. None tap into how customers want to see themselves. Same for the Monsanto brand. (Our suspicion: It’s more about business.

Many of the nation’s agricultural operations are extremely sophisticated, technology-based businesses that are a long way from the family operations of years past. The touchy-feely stuff is a thing of the past.) By the same token, these companies face challenges on the other front. Agriculture is an extremely regulated industry, which means much of a company’s resources are devoted to conducting tests and submitting data to federal agencies for review. Those regulatory bodies, whether they admit it or not, are affected by media perceptions – which means the press is another key audience.

When Branding Agriculture Products Science is a Table Stake

Agricultural Branding of  products and companies the brands must be managed
Brands need to be planned

Most agriculture branding companies in these situations attempt to win on science, explaining the intricacies of why one study is proven fact and the other isn’t. The problem with this is that nobody really cares about the science, not even the media. They only care about the final effect, which is why those who attack agricultural companies often have an emotional advantage.

However, just as stubborn as agricultural companies can be when it comes to their marketing, they are also steadfast in defending themselves with science only. What would help is if they had brands that were so meaningful that its brand equity helped in the public relations messaging. With that emotional umbrella, they look like big, bad companies and wonder why nobody will listen to them. (“Miracles of science” doesn’t really help DuPont’s PR, for example. It may be a miracle that a chemical can kill for one audience, and horrifying to another.)

Agricultural Branding In Context

Brands work best in context. That means the position has to consider all the audiences it touches, not just the one who pays the bills. Other audiences affect how many pay the bill. Recalls in another regulated industry, medical devices, can determine the overall success or failure of a company, for example. Just ask Guidant, now part of Boston Scientific because its own value-less brand did not inspire confidence when recalls hit. (It’s similar to the dilemma now facing Toyota.) However, a brand like St. Jude Medical – which, in full disclosure, was a brand we developed – helps both areas. Its brand promises that surgeons will have more control and less risk.

Agricultural Branding
Change is the root of the matter

That promise applies to the regulatory and safety issues as well. Therefore, when the media asks about a product, it is more likely to believe a company that is about lessening risk than one that promises the best technology (Guidant). (Word to the wise: Media are more affected by brand than you might think.) Risk is simply more emotional. Technology is just the gears so it further perpetuates the idea of a big, bad company because it’s cold and unemotional.

By itself, a message of technology doesn’t answer the question of why technology is important. The question agricultural companies must ask themselves is the same: Why? Why is what they do important to farmers? And why would that brand position give the company permission to talk about science and answer the question of why its focus on science is important? If those suppliers continues to find themselves positioning on innovation, the complexity of science and having been around a long time, they’ll continue to ask themselves why customers have little preference in face of the threat of generic manufacturers and public pressure on their products. It’s a question that may well determine their own level of success.

Syngenta – New Brand for FarMore Services

Global Global Crop Protection Company Seeks US Division Brand Message.

Stealing Share, a global brand strategy firm specializing in developing strategies to steal market has been once again retained by Syngenta, AG to develop a more competitive brand for their FarMore brand.

meaningful research
How the research is conducted matters

Resultant Research, is conducting the research study on behalf of FarMore and Syngenta. Syngenta AG engages in the development, manufacture, and marketing of various products for crop yields and food quality.

Crop Protection

The company operates in three segments: Crop Protection, Seeds, and Plant Science. Crop Protection segment develops and sells chemicals, such as herbicides for corn, cereals, soybean, and rice; fungicides for cereals, fruits, grapes, rice, soybean, and vegetables; insecticides for fruits, vegetables, and cotton; and professional products, including seed treatments, products for public health, and products for turf and ornamentals.

FarMore crop protectionThe Seeds segment develops, produces, and markets seeds and plants, developed using genetics and related technologies. It provides seeds for field crops, including corn, oilseeds, cereals, and sugar beet, as well as vegetable and flower seeds. Plant Science segment applies biotechnology for growers yield and food quality. It manufactures and sells QUANTUM Phytase, a microbial produced animal feed supplement in Mexico and Brazil. Syngenta has collaboration with Diversa Corporation to establish a shared biotechnology research platform for new plant science applications and enzyme discovery, as well as for selected antibody generation and other biopharma product development.

Syngenta crop protectionIt operates principally in Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, China, and India. The company sells its products through independent distributors and dealers worldwide. Syngenta was founded in 1999 and is headquartered in Basel, Switzerland. About Stealing Share Stealing Share is a strategic and brand planning firm that focuses on giving clients meaning to their brand so they can change customer behavior.

We provide clients analysis, research and actionable plans designed to steal market share from competitors by pinpointing what is meaningful to target audiences and can be positioned against the competition.

Syngenta AgriEdge Crop Protection Brand Development

 Syngenta Brand Development

By Tom Dougherty

Syngenta is a world-leading agribusiness committed to sustainable agriculture through innovative research and technology. The Switzerland based Syngenta company is a leader in crop protection, and ranks third in the high-value commercial seeds market. Sales in 2005 were approximately $8.1 billion. Syngenta employs more than 19,000 people in over 90 countries. This Syngenta brand development project looked specifically at AgriEdge.


is one of Syngenta’s umbrella brands for user programs. AgriEdge works to combine necessary products and services in crop protection with a “value added” aspect of technological assistance and planning.

Syngenta Brand Development includes many sub-brands including AgriEdgeAgriEdge offers assurance and risk management to growers and presents a progressive selling option for the channel representatives. AgriEdge unifies several Syngenta brands into one family of agronomic solutions. “AgriEdge is a flexible, innovative business approach providing growers with a range of products and value-added services to better manage risk and improve their bottom line.”

The competitors are all well known in the category and all enjoy high awareness. However, product brand names are so prolific that growers often find it challenging to discern one from another. AgriEdge owned next to nothing when it came to branding Syngenta products and programs. Growers knew individual products they used to care for their crops, but, overall, Syngenta and AgriEdge needed more awareness in order to establish the position of an umbrella brand.

In short, AgriEdge was a house of brands rather than a branded house. Consumers reported that it was too complicated to remember and actually make sense of the AgriEdge brand…because AgriEdge had yet to be a brand at all. Even internally there was no encompassing definition and assigned meaning and promise to AgriEdge. This complexity and ambiguity would need to change.

Our behavioral modeling provides the brand with a blue-print of causes and effects within the category and helps Resultant Research develop more telling and valuable research. The right questions were asked, and the research presented opportunities for AgriEdge to gain significance in the market.

The overwhelming findings were that growers as well as channel representatives were looking for simplicity, support, and investment in success. These customers wanted choices and wanted assurance that the decision to use or promote AgriEdge was in fact a knowledgeable choice. In order to accomplish these brand promises, AgriEdge needed to be pared down and extra programs needed to be absorbed by the AgriEdge brand.

Simplicity and building a branded house was going to be the key.

Rule 1) All programs in the AgriEdge brand must have an assurance element that provides some guarantee or shared risk. If it does not include this element it is not AgriEdge.

Rule 2 All programs in the AgriEdge brand must include some technological or computer software element or it is not AgriEdge. All AgriEdge programs should name the offering simply as the crop it is designed to aid.

For Example: Citrus solutions®, and the other “advantage programs” should not be considered AgriEdge and should only be used in categories where the two principal rules of the AgriEdge brand do not apply. The idea of “advantage” and “solutions” is part of the AgriEdge Branded Family but it is paid off by Rules 1 & 2. Efficacy, reasonable costs, newness — these are all category benefits and do not differentiate the brand. We want the Farmer and the Retailer to understand in simple terms that AgriEdge provides all of the efficacy of cutting edge crop protection but includes assurance and technology. It is that simple.

Read how agriculture businesses need to ask hard questions

Read about work for FarMore, A Syngenta brand.

Visit Syngenta by clicking here



Pork: It’s no longer the other white meat. Sadly.

One of the most successful industry campaigns is coming to an end as the National Pork Board announced recently it is ending its “The Other White Meat” campaign, created in 1987 and it helped raise pork sales more than 20%.

For those of you who can’t remember that far back, pork had a bad reputation in the mid-80s. It was considered unhealthy because of its fat content (in terms of how it was often cut) and the association with pigs.

“The Other White Meat” was positioned directly against chicken and hit the belief system emerging in the market head on: Eating white meat was healthy and red meat was the bad guy. (Even though, ironically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says pork is not technically a white meat. It only turns white when you cook it.)

I bring this up because the campaign was successful because it tapped into the belief systems of the target audience. Belief systems, which we call precepts, are what drive human behavior. And all effective branding – and even marketing – aligns with the belief systems that exist in the market.

I agree that the time has come to alter the branding to something else, because it’s been 23 years since it’s been refreshed and belief systems – and target audiences – have no doubt changed. Sales of pork reflect that as consumption of pork has flattened out while chicken has increased.

But the new campaign the pork board will unveil is “Pork: Be Inspired” and it doesn’t seem to have aligned with a current highly emotional belief system. The only way it could is if quantitative research showed that, when it comes to food, the highest emotional intensity in the market is that we want to be inspired from it or that we are an inspirational figure when we cook. (Or, more importantly, that to be an inspirational figure is our most desired self-reflection of ourselves.)

Maybe. But I doubt it.

We will see if it improves pork consumption, and the industry may get an initial spike because of the refresh and an $11 million marketing campaign. But I cannot believe it’ll have the lasting power of the previous 23-year campaign. The board understood precepts better back then, and the current one will serve as a cautionary tale that aligning with precepts is the only way to be meaningful and preferred.

Monsanto, like many B2B brands, can slice through issues easier with brand

In the world of agricultural biotechnology, this story concerning claims that market leader Monsanto is keeping the science of Roundup Ready from competitors as the patent runs out is an interesting read.

What caught my attention, though, was what competitors were claiming: While Monsanto was delaying the regulatory process, the company would use that time to get farmers hooked on the next generation of Roundup so they wouldn’t need the competitor’s product (and the competition would be a step behind).

As a business strategy, it is sneaky (when you understand the regulatory rules, which are complicated at best) and an interesting stealing share tactic.

But what interested me most about it is that Monsanto would not have to go that route if its brand had enough meaning to have already hooked those farmers without new technology. Instead, like everyone else in the category, Monsanto just talks about innovation, technology and feeding people.

Nothing about the farmer.

The situation Monsanto and its competitors are finding themselves in is what we call the B2B trap: Thinking brand only matters when buying consumer products. The thinking goes that, in business, it’s only about business. It’s only about science, cost, ROI, etc. Like all choices are made from a spreadsheet.

Those things are important, but they don’t create preference and they are not what get you in the considered set (especially when all the messages are the same). Without brand, all that’s left to compete on is price and innovation. . Yet it’s the brands that give emotional reasons (like, FedEx ) that hold market leadership because they hold an important place in the minds of their target audiences.

This situation with Monsanto is complex, and also deals with access to science so competitors can build traits into Roundup seeds.

But insert other B2B company names and brands and see if this fits: If Monsanto and Roundup Ready meant something to farmers emotionally, then farmers would ignore the competitors’ products because they would all be the same. Who wins then? The one with the emotionally relevant brand.