Sometimes it seems to me that instead of “ag-vocating” we are really just “ag-gravating”. Are we just preaching to the choir? I really do wonder sometimes. After attending the Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit last week I came away with some new ideas for advocating for agriculture and some questions about how we are currently doing things. One of the main things the Summit focused to those attending was that of “telling your story” to consumers. Frank Luntz, a political consultant, was one of the speakers that gave a fresh perspective on “telling your story. He emphasized using the “right” words to tell your story such as: “bottom line” (instead use “solution”), “transparency” (instead use “accountability or accessibility”) and “customer” (instead use “family”) and we should be saying animal rights “extremists” rather than “activists”. All these things are better said than done though, if it isn’t done with true sincerity and passion.
The one thing I think they missed though, is what to do before and after your story. As a whole, animal agriculture still has a lot of work to do to get better at advocating for ourselves. We must be open-minded and willing to listen to the consumer’s side of the story. All this talk about “telling your story” will get us nowhere if we don’t take the time to listen first. Barking out facts and statements doesn’t cut it and only leaves the consumer feeling disgusted. By taking the time to listen to consumers’ thoughts and concerns we show care and respect for their opinion. More than anything else, I think this important for building consumer trust from farm to fork.
After reading Andy Vance’s latest Feedstuffs column “Meet consumers where they are” I feel that we can learn a lot from the consumer. We need to understand why the have the concerns they do. Andy said it best in these few excerpts from his recent column:
“I used the phrase “self-awareness,” and I think it is particularly important to understand. In the modern food marketplace, it is imperative that we not only know every facet of the production and marketing of crops and livestock on our farms but also intimately understand our customers’ wants, needs, concerns and appetites.”
“Consumer education IS important. For our efforts to be most successful, however, we must first adopt the paradigm that education is about a relationship and that the relationship is a two-way street, not a forced march.”
“It’s time to quit looking at consumers like ignorant buffoons incapable of understanding the mysteries of agriculture and start thinking of them as our customers, partners, friends and neighbors.”
So the next time you’re “ag-vocating” take the time to listen first and speak second. You might be surprised how such a simple action can go a long way in building a trusting relationship.