by IBBA Assistant to the Executive Vice President Yvonne “Bonnie” Ramirez
The United States is the world’s largest producer of beef for domestic and export use. With over 100 million head of cattle and calves in the U.S., how do you separate yourself from other cattle ranchers? Currently, the International Brangus Breeders Association (IBBA) is the nation’s eighth largest cattle association. We have over 1,700 members and approximately 43,800 head of active animals registered through Total Herd Reporting. That’s a great deal of fellow competition. Can marketing efforts help set you apart from other breeders? Can marketing really impact your success in selling your Brangus cattle? And if so, how can marketing help you?
What is Marketing?
What exactly is marketing? The American Marketing Association defines marketing as the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.
How can marketing help you with your cattle operation? The heart of your business’s success lies largely within your marketing efforts. The bottom line of any cattle operation is ultimately to make money. Marketing plays a vital role in reaching that end goal. Marketing encompasses a variety of different endeavors within its umbrella. Advertising, public relations, social media, email blasts, promotions, and sales are all part of the marketing sphere. Within the advertising sector, alone, there are different ways to advertise. Online advertising includes but is not limited to social media advertising, print advertising, billboard advertising, radio advertising, and even television advertising. Your ranch may offer some of the best Brangus cattle in the industry, but without marketing other cattlemen will not know about them and you may lose out on sales. “I feel it’s extremely important to market cattle. Several breeders put a lot of effort in gathering data on their product, which, in return, greatly benefits the customer,” said Salacoa Valley Farms Director of Marketing Todd Harvey.
“There are a number of ways and methods to spread the good news about your product. From the traditional method of print advertising to today’s trend of digital advertising and social media, the avenues are essentially endless to tell our stories,” said Cody Gariss, a GENETRUST consultant. “Ad placement is very important, and we spend a lot of time studying and discussing our placements easily a year in advance, but equally as important as the where is the what. If the message isn’t well received, where you placed it is irrelevant. We make a conscious effort to base our marketing and message on fact, rather than our opinion. Pride of ownership is deep within the purebred business, so it’s important to get our opinions out of the way and let the cattle, the data, and our customers tell our story for us.”
Marketing Plan: Do You Have One?
Livestock marketing, especially cattle marketing, is no doubt fast-paced and always evolving. Every cattle operation should develop and maintain a strong marketing plan. These plans can be very simple to very complex. The complexity of your marketing plan depends on your operational goals. When coming up with your marketing strategy it is important to identify who your demographics is, who you are targeting, and what you want to accomplish.” Garrett Thomas, owner of Hi Point Sales and Marketing, said. “Know your customer base and know where they place their priorities and needs.”
Thomas provided his marketing expertise by saying, “I believe the key to marketing success is to have a plan, both short term and more importantly long term. This seems so simple, yet it is often overlooked.” He said when he sits down with his client initially, conversations revolve around creating a road map that allows them to achieve their goals, both from a marketing and management standpoint. “Essentially, we establish what success looks like,” Thomas added.
Mark Cowan, a partner at American Marketing Services, mirrored Thomas’s opinion saying, “Most successful marketing programs I have been around have a plan. They see their role as providing seedstock to those in need of them, and they plan two and three years in advance to match their marketing program to their production schemes. Most successful marketing programs are a combination of private treaty and live auctions with online and web supports and social and print media playing a prominent role.”
Cattle Sales & Marketing
Regarding cattle sales, several factors go into marketing and what makes the event a success. There are planning stages and execution, but there’s so much more that goes in between those lines.
“Live, private treaty, and online sales all have their strengths and weaknesses.” Gariss mentioned, adding that cattle preparation can differ for each. “Advertising can, also, differ, but at the end of the day, each is sale day and its importance can’t be understated. When it is your program’s day to be on stage, whatever that stage is, you want your product to be ready. A successful sale is a conglomeration of months and years worth of efforts poured into that one day. From the advertising to the auctioneer, it all matters, and there is no silver bullet,” Gariss said. “That said, one thing that can tend to get lost in the hustle required in sale preparation is the sale preparation of the cattle. While it seems simplistic, all the promotion in the world can’t make up for poor cattle preparation when a buyer shows up to a sale. This process starts months, and many times years, in advance. From breeding decisions to cattle condition to picture day to video day, the details required in getting cattle in the right place of their life at the right time on sale day far outweighs advertising deadlines and marketing campaigns.”
Thomas gave his opinion on what he thought makes a sale successful. “In my opinion, a successful sale has many layers. It starts with months of planning and preparation. You must start with executing the most minute details; you have to be disciplined and stick to the plan you set out months in advance,” he added. “As your sale day approaches, you should build a level of interest in your event or sale using print and/or digital ads and social media. Without a doubt, presentation is key. This means everything from quality pictures and video to how the cattle are presented when customers come to evaluate what you have to offer. Many times, customers are not only evaluating your livestock, they are, also, looking at your entire operation. Regardless of how large or small your program is or if you are marketing cattle privately or in an auction, presentation always matters.”
Cowan shared Thomas’s opinion regarding several layers going into hosting a successful sale. “Executing a successful sale is a combination of advertising, social media, providing quality entertainment, a breeders’ reputation, good, consistent cattle, cutting-edge genetics, etc. However, without quality cattle all the other efforts are pretty much in vain,” Cowan explained. “So, it must start with the cattle, then market differentiation, then publicity through print media, social media, and personal contacts. It never hurts to make your sale a destination sale – a sale everyone wants to attend and see and be seen there.”
When asked what cattlemen should consider when selling cattle and promoting a sale, Cowan advises them to ask what it is they offer that is unique. Take into consideration how you are going to position your product relative to other breeds, who your customer is, and who your competitors are. “Many tend to think [competitors are] our neighbor down the road who is, also, selling Brangus,” Cowan said. “In my opinion, your fellow Brangus breeders are an advantage in the market place, because your real competition is probably from other breeds or from uncastrated bull calves at the sale barn. I remember a time when over 3,500 bulls were marketed in one area in a 100-mile radius, and the market was outstanding because we all achieved critical mass.”
Reputation and Marketing
Believe it or not, a good reputation and marketing strategy go hand in hand. A solid reputation is undoubtedly a great foundation for the success of a ranch or business. Marketing can build brand name recognition for your ranch. As your reputation is established and grows within the cattle industry, the potential for cattle sales increases. The reputation of your ranch is built through virtues and practices, such as providing quality customer service and offering a uniform and quality set of cattle, honesty, and effective communication, all of which are supported by your marketing efforts.
“I do strongly believe the best in marketing efforts are one of the keys to a successful seedstock program,” said Tracy Holbert, owner of Blackwater Cattle Company. “However, marketing will have limited effects without program reputation for character of people, willingness to stand behind your sold cattle, and an overall leading-edge approach to genetic design. Our successes in marketing are strictly fueled by our desire to treat people with respect, stand behind our program, and produce genetics with the ability to perform as we say they can and will,” Holbert emphasized. “I have always stated that I am not a very good marketer, but I am passionate about our cattle and the quality of our program, which makes marketing much easier.”
Harvey added, “The most important thing to me is building a relationship with the customer and providing a quality product.”
Current and New Customers: Utilizing Different Ways to Sell Your Cattle
While your current customers should always be a priority of yours, marketing efforts can help you expand your existing client base. Efforts as simple and easy as social media posts, photos, videos, promotional item giveaways, and email blasts may not only engage existing customers, but they may, also, attract potential new customers or buyers.
In the cattle industry, there are several options for where to sell your cattle. Auction barns are the traditional method of selling cattle. However, with advances in modern technology, marketing animals may, also, be done through online platforms or video auctions, as well as direct marketing to local feedyards. Harvey offered insight from his professional experience with live cattle sales, as well as video sales. “I feel that both live and video sales are greatly beneficial as it allows you to place your product, [in our case, bulls and cattle], on display. Folks love the auction environment, the excitement.” He mentioned that for those attending the sale, it gives them an opportunity to see how that animal acts when it’s handled. He mentioned that videos can do the same. “We went to a live sale via videos a few years back due to less stress and handling on the cattle and cost. Customers had the time to view the animals live, on-site and then bid with a live auctioneer with animals being on video. At the same time, our sale is live on video auction where the buyer online can bid,” he added. “Trust me, I’m old school, and I like to watch the animal move in the sale ring. But once the first video sale was behind us, I was sold on the concept.”
“The internet has become a vital part of our business, from digital advertising and website exposure to social media to the ability to exhibit cattle online through the video marketing format. The wide world of the internet has changed our way of operating,” Gariss mentioned that the use of video marketing is valuable to GENETRUST. He said that in preparation for a sale, all the cattle are videoed. “We have found this to be one of the most useful tools we have in our toolbox, as producers love the opportunity to view the cattle prior to sale time. For the dollars invested and the exposure those dollars return, if a producer isn’t using video technology to help market their cattle ahead of the sale, they are missing out,” Gariss advised. “This is an exceptional tool, regardless if you are hosting a live sale, an online sale, or marketing private treaty. We have used it in all three phases, and it is equally as effective.”
Cattle sales may, also, be posted on avenues such as Craigslist, cattle publications, local newspaper classifieds, your website, social media platforms, and others. Nowadays, you can also hire professional sales management firms to help market your cattle and sales. Likewise, you can outsource your website and social media marketing endeavors to marketing firms with expertise in the cattle industry. “Because of social media and the internet, marketing is a 365-day-a-year job, and we try our best to approach it that way,” Gariss said.
“I feel, in today’s world, social media is extremely important,” said Harvey. “However, with that, you must have repetition. It is about keeping your product in front of the buyer. Magazine ads are extremely important in my view.” He emphasized that you must make sure you do not just advertise once and expect the customers to come. “In doing ads, make sure you tell your story, tell them about your product. The genetics we have today were not built overnight, so briefly tell them how you reached where you are today and the vision you have for the future,” Harvey explained. “My favorite way, and in my opinion, the best way, to promote your product is boots on the ground. This is where you build those relationships.”
Countless hours go into raising, breeding and feeding beef cattle. The marketing strategy you implement for selling your calf crops should be just as important as the production process. Lowered or lost income opportunities may arise as result of not having a clear direction and goals for marketing your cattle. Ultimately, every cattle operation should have a marketing strategy in place and effectively execute it. “In my opinion, to make a sale successful you need a marketing strategy followed by boots on the ground tagged with magazine advertising and social media advertising,” Harvey said. In a nutshell, marketing works, and it can help you retain your current clients, as well as recruit new buyers, with the end result being more dollars at the pay window!
So, are you marketing effectively?