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The rise of the smartphone

The rise of the smartphone

Will increasing smartphone use amongst farmers influence the way businesses communicate with customers within the agricultural sector

That was the question that I came away with last week, having attended the first Farmers Weekly Agribusiness Marketing Summit at Oxford's Kassam Stadium.

One of the key points raised at the conference was how mobile technology was a 'game changer' in the agricultural industry; with increasing numbers of farmers using smartphones to access information and aid business decision making.

Executive Director of the Farmers Weekly Group, Richard Watts, explained recent research findings showing that smartphones are now the predominant way that farmers access information during the working day; be it to check weather forecasts, equipment prices, social media updates or sales trends.

What's interesting is that these claims are backed up by other research. In 2014, a Syngenta survey estimated that 64% of farmers have smartphones and Defra's 2012 survey of computer usage amongst farmers, indicated that 89% of English and Welsh farmers with smartphones used them regularly for farm business.

As such, farmers' use of smartphone technologyshouldbe influencing how businesses within the agricultural industry communicate with their customers.

For example, in the face of increasing smartphone use by farmers, company websites aimed at this customer group must be smartphone friendly.

Farmers need to be presented with an easy to navigate website, where calls-to-action are as obvious as possible and information obtainable in only one or two clicks from a title homepage.

The rise in smartphone use is also likely to prompt more agricultural businesses to utilise mobile apps when marketing products and engaging with customers.

By providing a farmer with an app to help solve a specific on-farm problem (such as weed identification or correct vehicle tyre pressure), a business indicates its empathy with a customer's needs and hopefully helps develop a stronger bond with their client base.

More directly, through app advertising and signposting to specific websites, companies also find that apps help to increase traffic flow through to business websites.

With growing numbers of smartphone users, there are also more farmers than ever utilising social media and this should also be influencing how businesses communicate with farmers; a point emphasised during Simon Haley and Jono Dixon's social media presentation at the Agribusiness Summit.

The responsiveness of social media platforms (such as Twitter and Facebook) mean that customers can become actively engaged in dialogue with organisations. They can then easily share relevant information with peers within the industry and, thanks to the use of mobile technology, do this 'on the move'.

As such, by not having a social media presence, businesses miss out on the opportunity to communicate directly with farmers and influence their buying decision-making.

So, having considered all of the above it would appear that levels of smartphone use should be having a large influence in how businesses communicate with farmers.  

It is important to remember, however, that many farmers have poor mobile network signal or Internet access; severely limiting their ability to gather information through mobile devices.

Moreover, despite the rise in smartphone use amongst farmers, the importance of published, paper-based media as a communications tool should not be overlooked.

Whilst farmers may be accessing information via smartphones, they are still large consumers of printed media and regularly read agricultural publications for in-depth industry insight and expert knowledge.

It isn't by chance that more than 60,000 copies of Farmers Weekly are sold in the UK every week.

Printed copy - be it newsletters, magazine features or product flyers - will continue to play a key role in communicating with farmers; providing the accessibility and detail that is difficult to gather on smartphones via apps, social media and mobile-friendly websites.

So, whilst the increased use of smartphone use will undoubtedly influence some changes in how we communicate with farmers, it is important to get the balance right and not overlook the vital role that print media still has to play for businesses looking to engage with farmers. 

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