Talking influence with Women In Agriculture
When I meet new people, one of the first things I tell them is that I'm a sheep farmer's daughter from West Wales.
It's actually quite funny, because since getting married (and having our reception in the sheep shed) I’m the shepherd’s daughter who became Mrs Sheppard.
It was therefore a pleasure to share what I've learned from a career in PR at the recent Women In Agriculture Conference, run by Farming Connect, in West Wales, where I was invited to talk about how to influence opinion and win support.
Here’s a taste of what I told them:
You need to start with your audience, and work back from there.
Whether you’re trying to convince your boss to give you a promotion, trying to win customers from your competition, or trying to encourage the wider public to buy more Welsh produce, you need to start with them in mind.
The age of “if we build it they will come”, “if we produce it they’ll eat it” and “if we say it they’ll believe it” is over.
To successfully influence someone, your actions need to revolve around them.
It’s easier than ever to find out what people care about. We share our opinions all over social media, and companies collect more data about how we spend our time and our money than ever before. From talking to people, carrying out surveys, to accessing commercial data to check if people put their money where their mouth is, you need to do everything you can to understand your audience.
Rather than see the people you need to influence as a means to an end to achieve your goal, you need to shape what you do and what you say around what they care about.
They can be split into four groups.
At the top, you’ll have people who have already been won over to your cause and will act as advocates on your behalf. They champion your product.
At the bottom, you have critics. They disagree with you and are unlikely to ever be won over.
Between the two you have people who are susceptible to your cause, but could be more on board. They’re your existing customers and your job is to keep them engaged and increase their loyalty. You also have people who are currently disengaged – they don’t know about you or don’t care. Your job is to find ways of engaging them on their terms.
Let’s take the example of Welsh beef to show how this works.
Your advocates are people like chef James Martin, who encourages people to eat Welsh black beef on TV.
Your engaged audience like beef, often buy Welsh, but could buy more.
Your disengaged audience never or rarely buy beef, and choose other protein instead.
Critics could include vegetarians and vegans. You’re unlikely to change their mind and encourage them to buy meat, but you need to be aware of their case against you, so that you can counter it.
To truly succeed, everything we do and say needs to come back to what our audience needs, wants and cares about.
To make sure you’re addressing each of these, you need to look at another three things.
You need to look at what you do, what you say, and what others say about you.
Let’s plait them all together.
What you do
Your product needs to be relevant to your audience.
Returning to the Welsh beef farmer example, the basic requirement would be meat that’s safe, delicious and affordable. Depending on the circumstance, it may need to be easy or quick to cook.
To win people over, your product needs to be attractive. How is it any different to similar products on the market? This is key for agricultural produce – why should people care enough to buy Welsh or British meat over foreign alternatives?
From a product perspective, is there a reason? Higher welfare, more sustainable due to fewer air miles?
Really importantly, they need to trust that your product is consistently high quality, and that you always live up to high standards. Nothing damages trust like a food scare – we all know the impact BSE had on the beef industry.
What you say
You need to focus on converting the disengaged and making the engaged more loyal. Your message needs to be specific to them and pitched at their level – they may be ill-informed, and you may need to cover lots of basics, like the difference between a dairy and a beef cow. You need to use language they understand, and talk to them in the places that they’ll talk back. There’s no point focusing on Twitter channels they don’t follow – you need to enter their spheres, rather than try to draw them to yours.
To be trusted, everything you say needs to be backed up by what you do. Unfortunately, we all know that when there’s one bad apple the rest of the tree can get blamed, so you need to be ready to respond to media exposes with a strong condemnation of anything that doesn’t reflect the great work most of you do.
What others say about you
This is your reputation. We all trust a review more than we trust self-promotion. You can blow your own trumpet all you want, but if there’s an orchestra drowning you out playing a different tune, you won’t win that support.
Research who your audience trusts, and find out how you can get them on board to be an advocate for you. What information do you need to share with them to help them do that?
Nadiya, who won the Great British Bake Off, has a huge fan base and the BBC gave her a TV series to support her new cookery book, Nadiya’s British Food Adventure. In the final episode, she visits Richard Roderick’s farm and tries to learn how to command a sheepdog. The scenery’s beautiful, they talk about how the grass leads to better quality meat, and then she cooks a lamb curry in the field. When it comes to winning support for Welsh lamb, the short clip shows a foody audience that lamb is relevant. Nadiya’s a great ambassador because she’s someone who this audience trusts.
Influencing people is an art more than a science, but that doesn’t mean we can’t apply a set of principles which help us do it more effectively.
We know how your brand can influence the people who matter. Call us now on 0800 612 9890 to discover more.