When was the last time you ordered something online and didn’t receive a confirmation almost immediately? When was the last time you had to dig for the latest news? You probably don’t know. Why? Because information is coming to us so fast, and it has become the standard among you, me and consumers. So, just how fast does your communication need to be? Fast? Faster? The fastest?
Let’s get something out of the way. Your customers, patrons, voters, and members. They all want to hear from you, and you should want to foster that relationship with them by sharing helpful how-to’s, stories of your business, technical resources and who you are. This creates loyalty and repeat business. It also is a great preventative should something negative come upon you (it’ll be a great asset to your crisis communication plan). But to communicate in today’s world, you need to be the one getting the information or resources to them first, or at least as close to the first as possible.
What happens, when say, a big market swing occurs? And reports come out, news media outlets jump on it, market players react? A few weeks later, maybe three or four weeks, you decide to post an article yourself on this report and market swing. By then it’s old news! At this point, your message does not hold an advantage. Instead, you look like you just got around to jumping on the bandwagon. Yes, you could argue that some of your customer audience may not have heard about it yet, but we want to be the leader, not the follower.
Now let’s use another, current, real-world example – a little inner retrospect or evaluation if you will – to see where communication is and isn’t happening and where speed did, and does, play a factor. Since 2004’s American Jobs Creation Act, farmer cooperatives have had the opportunity to take advantage of a tax deduction known as DPAD, Domestic Productions Activity Deduction, or more commonly referred to as Section 199. This tax deduction could also be passed through, by the cooperatives choosing, to their member-farmers. The deduction calculations weren’t the easiest to explain to members when it was enacted, and still some struggle to explain it at present day.
Here’s our first communication scenario- educate. Educate until it is understood. This was a fantastic tax opportunity for some cooperatives and farmer-members, and many still never explained it well enough. Nearing the fourth quarter of 2017, a rush (and I mean a rush) of events happened that tested where communication was, or wasn’t, occurring in regards to this cooperative deduction. It was at the start of this time frame that it became apparent the DPAD, Section 199, tax deduction for cooperatives was on the federal chopping block.
Yes, great organizations such as National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and statewide cooperative councils did their job of voicing the importance of this tax deduction, and for that, we are very appreciative of their efforts. But could there have been more? Could more individual cooperatives encouraging their members to voice their support and sharing the impact it would have?
Power is in numbers.
The more times it could be shared that losing Section 199 would mean cooperatives no longer could pass on 95 percent of the benefit, taking away $2 billion of tax deductions from hard-working farmers, the more impactful it would become.
This is communication scenario number two- Share what’s going on, when it’s happening, to create power in numbers.
On December 22, President Trump signed into law the Tax Cuts and Job Act. Luckily, included in this bill was a new Section 199, now referred to in the industry as Section 199-A. This was an extensive win for farmer-owned cooperatives. In its most basic description, it gave farmers the ability to deduct twenty percent of their gross sales for business done through the cooperative.
I don’t know if it was the initial shock or the questioning of how this big of a win for cooperatives came to be, but it was as if it was some secret no one wanted to share. There was a moment of rejoicing in the fact that something was left in for farmer cooperatives in this new tax bill, but these accolades took weeks to make it to the actual farmer and their local accountants. So here’s where communication scenario number three lies. Whether or not this gave farmer-cooperatives an unintentional market advantage over other private grain entities is one thing, but for the cooperatives, this was a momentous opportunity to tell their customers about this tax deduction and use it as a tool to encourage business.
Do you know who was doing a better job of communicating? The non-cooperative competitors. They were communicating the heck out of why this wasn’t fair. How their business would suffer from an unfair marketplace advantage given to cooperatives. I’m not going to voice whether that was the case or not, but what I will commend is the communication that the competitors of cooperatives curated in only a matter of a few short weeks.
From January to late March, rumblings of what might happen to retract the Section 199A were rampant. Although non-cooperative grain businesses were really putting the pressure on Capitol Hill, there was never a guarantee that this new tax deduction would go away. So for three months, farmer cooperatives could have been excitedly educating their farmer-members on how this would benefit them, and in turn, seeing some fantastic sales increases.
I know what some might be thinking, it doesn’t matter anyway. The Section 199A was changed after all on March 23, very similarly back to the original Section 199 DPAD, but let me remind you that it was included in that March Omnibus Spending bill that almost did not receive the President’s signature. Had it not, and we were hours away, we’d still be referring to the 20 percent gross sales deduction of the Section 199A signed in December. Would your business have been on the forefront of taking advantage of this?
For some cooperatives who didn’t communicate any of this, their customers have no idea any of this even occurred. Make sure that the appearance of your business is one that is in the know and cares about providing the best value possible to customers. I understand this was a tricky scenario, especially when you want all of your ducks in a row first. There were a lot of facts to be sorted out, and you don’t want to provide tax advice that could come back on your business. If anything, let this recent example show just how fast things in our world are moving, and that communication needs to stay up to par with that. If at the very least, let your customers know right away where they can turn to for advice – such as a tax advising service.
You don’t want to have a customer come to you and ask why they heard about a new product, the latest headline, or farmer-impacting tax law from your competitor down the road and not from you! Be quick, be helpful, and create trust.
This also means evaluating what tools are in your communication toolbox to share your message. Maybe it’s time to start exploring how to use social media as a way to inform and educate. Maybe it’s time to start using those customer emails you’ve been acquiring over the years. And don’t forget television. It continues to be the most widely used news platform. Fifty-seven percent (57%) of US adults often get TV-based news, and TV sits at the top of what news platform they prefer as well, according to Pew Research.
With digital channels now in the mix, the amount of communication tools your business can utilize is considerable. Adding in digital communication outlets IS going to be to an advantage. This way, information can be shared quickly and easily, but it also means that you are sharing your messages through multiple channels- ensuring a higher percentage of reaching your entire audience when mixed with your other current communication strategies.
Keep in mind that visuals help tremendously as well. Studies continue to prove that U.S. adults are preferring visuals in the information shared with them. Think video, podcasts, infographs or slideshows.
I have seen some of the most outstanding technology being invested in and implemented across many ag business and our clients. The top reasons repeatedly being speed and efficiency. So why would we not invest the same into our communications and reaching those customers and potential customers?
It does take time and effort. There has to be strategy, implementation and follow up and constant evaluation as the landscape changes, but that’s what you have someone like CornerPost, or another outlet, to help you with that.
At the end of the day, yes, I’m advising you to push information out to your audience more and faster than you ever have been, but let’s not forget that communication is also listening. Nothing will ever replace a genuine personal relationship- if you can foster it. It is still is the fastest way to let someone know something; by voicing it person to person.
So make sure your communications includes feedback. Genuine feedback.
Then you can ensure you are giving your customers, in return, the good stuff.