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Farm machinery. Exciting stuff... yeah, nah…?

Matthew Miller05 June 2016

BB29

From the comfortable vantage point of our over-fed, affluent 21st century, surrounded by our uber-connected smart devices, you might be forgiven for looking at agricultural equipment as a bit boring. Perhaps a bit ‘everyday’ and not worthy of mention in a column that is focused on the latest trends and best practices in online business and the global, digital economy of tomorrow. But you would be wrong.

The evolution of agricultural technology has played a hugely influential role in human progress. From the sickles and scythes of the earliest civilisations, to the British agricultural revolution that paved the way for the industrial revolution (the key invention of that seismic transformation was, of course, Jethro Tull’s patented seed drill), to the GPS-guided driverless super-harvesters of today that clear vast cereal fields 24/7, agricultural equipment continues on its relentless march to produce more food for more people for less money … and the world’s economies are always looking for cheaper, better ways to produce food.

New Zealanders are really good at inventing farm machinery. Call it number 8 wire mentality or Kiwi ingenuity, but to build a successful business you need more than just engineering smarts. Our New Zealand manufacturers are a long way from the really important, really big markets, like the United States, Canada, Latin America, and Europe, and manufacturing can be a very tough industry to crack, due to scale and labour market issues. Despite these challenges, there are companies in Hawke’s Bay who are making their mark in the global marketplace for agricultural equipment.

One of those is Hastings-based manufacturer, Hustler Equipment.

I had a chat with Hustler’s marketing manager Brent Currie to find out how the team at Hustler are thriving in this highly competitive, high-technology industry, and how they are using digital marketing to win a global audience. (Disclosure: Hustler have been Mogul clients since 2009)

Hustler Equipment is a third-generation family-based business that has been designing and manufacturing farm machinery since 1961. In the last ten years, export has become the focus of the business and Europe and the Americas have become increasingly important markets.

For Brent, success in business is impossible without innovation. The company’s tagline is ‘Rethinking the Everyday’ and this neatly sums up their approach to product development – looking at their customers’ everyday problems from a fresh perspective, finding out their real needs, and proposing solutions that are often radical. This is especially important in overseas markets, where New Zealand farming approaches can differ markedly from local practices, and this can give Hustler an edge.

Brent applies this relentlessly innovative approach to the company’s marketing too. He saw early on that customers were researching more and more of their purchases online, and this meant that the company needed to jump into digital marketing, “boots and all”.

This was a huge shift for Hustler, which had traditionally relied on massive amounts of print advertising. To move from print, which was costly, hard to manage, and almost impossible to track its effectiveness, to digital, which promised so much but was completely uncharted territory for the company, was a big step to take, but Brent was committed. He decided that Hustler needed to be so good at online marketing that its digital activity would become one of the company’s key points of difference.

The rise of online video has been one of the most important developments in Hustler’s marketing. Like most buyers in the internet age, farmers tend to research online before they buy a product, and Hustler’s research told them that farmers love to watch videos of machinery in action. Accordingly, the company invested heavily in this area, and decided to produce a short promotional video for every product in their range, and publish the videos on the company’s website using the Wistia video platform.

The company’s export focus meant that they would need foreign language versions of the website to cater to non-English speakers, and the content would also need to be tailored to reflect the different farming practices and traditions around the world.

Hustler’s investment in digital marketing paid immediate dividends when their redeveloped video-centric website launched in 2013 and produced a 600% increase in leads within a month of launch. The number of leads from the website eventually increased from one per month to at least 30 per week.

Of course, digital marketing does not stand still and Brent is very keen to ensure that the company is using the best practices. The emergence of social media as a mainstream marketing channel, and the social networks’ voracious appetite for content marketing, has meant that Hustler has needed to develop a social media content strategy. From a company that had never used social media before, they have come a long way: social is now the second-biggest provider of leads, after direct contact via email. Their proactive approach to online marketing is illustrated by the fact that Google search provides fewer sales enquiries than social and email.

Managing online enquiries, scheduling lead follow-ups, maintaining contact lists for email newsletters, and trying to make sense of all the data that comes with multi-channel digital marketing can be an overwhelming task. To cope with the complexity, Hustler recently chose Hubspot, an integrated online marketing platform, to host their blog and email newsletters. Another system, another learning curve, but for Brent it’s just part of the job. “Digital is pretty scary for a lot of people in the ag sector, but you have to be different.”

Brent tells me that his favourite company is Tesla Motors. It might sound a bit of a stretch to compare a family-owned business in Omahu Road to the world’s most famous innovative engineering company, but after spending an hour with Brent Currie, you can see how people like Elon Musk approach solving problems.

As Brent says, “You can’t be run-of-themill, or a little bit better. You have to be ten times better.”

Matt Miller co-owns web company Mogul Limited, based in Havelock North, but serving clients around the world, including BayBuzz. His beat for BayBuzz is online trends and best practice.

Matthew Miller05 June 2016

BB29

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