Cattle Environment Amanda Radke

Part 1: What do our consumers really want?

When interacting with consumers, are we listening first before telling our side of the story?

Several years ago, I presented a workshop on social media at a dairy conference in Michigan. The workshop was geared for preteens and teens and aimed to teach them how to professionally and effectively tell their agricultural stories online.

As part of my workshop, I had the students practice their elevator speeches. If you’re unfamiliar, an elevator speech is a 30-second introduction explaining who you are, where you’re from and what you do on your farm or ranch to produce food and by-products for consumers to enjoy.

Once the kids had written and practiced their elevator speeches a few times, I asked for volunteers to come up front and have a mock interaction with me. I set the stage that I was a consumer in the dairy aisle at the grocery store, and the challenge would be to present their elevator speech and answer any tough questions about the industry that a consumer might ask.

The group suddenly got shy, and no volunteers stepped forward to take on my challenge. There was a rambunctious 13-year old boy in the back who had been causing me fits all day, and I decided he would be my first “victim.” I called him up front, and he presented his elevator speech to me.

“I’m a fifth generation dairy farmer, and my family raises milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream for your family to enjoy,” he said.

I was surprised. That was pretty good. He must have been somewhat paying attention to my workshop, but I wasn’t going to let him off the hook so easy.

I responded with, “Wait, you mean you have cows that are farting methane into the ozone layer and destroying the environment with their gas?”

He looked at me, put his hand on his hip and with a really serious face, he quipped, “Well, Amanda. Girls fart, too.”

The entire class started laughing, and I turned beet red with embarrassment and told him to sit back down. Once I regained my composure (and hid my own laughter while I pretended to shuffle my notes behind the podium), I asked the class if they thought I (the fictitious consumer) bought a carton of milk that day at the grocery store.

The room got silent, and they shook their heads no.

So often, when someone asks us about our ranching operations or questions our modern production methods, we respond in one of two different ways — we either laugh at their naivety or we get angry and defensive.

Neither one is productive.

So I told the class that, yes, that kid stumped the speaker, but if this had really been a consumer interaction at the store, I probably left with a bad taste in my mouth about the dairy farmer I had just met. That one interaction might taint the way I view all dairy farmers, and because he laughed at me and didn’t take my question seriously, would I turn to someone else (such as an environmental or animal rights activist) to answer my questions next time?

When we have these conversations with consumers — be it online or in our own communities — we need to listen first, identify the real concern and bridge the gap by finding something they can relate to.

So what he could have said was, “Hey, it seems like you’re pretty concerned about the environment, and here’s XYZ that my family does on our dairy farm to ensure the sustainability of the natural resources we manage.”

Now that interaction would have been a positive one, don’t you think? Tomorrow, in part two of this series, I’ll break down some common questions, concerns and priorities of today’s modern grocery shopper. In the third segment, we’ll discuss best ways to respond to some of the claims and misconceptions that we frequently hear. Stay tuned for more and let’s put the best tools in our advocacy tool boxes that we possibly can!

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.

TAGS: Ranching
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