Our beef cooperative is made up of four farming families; Adam and Aubrey Bolender, Eric and Lori Nethero, Ben and Tricyn Parker, and Adam and Alli Hamilton. The cooperative markets and processes the steers on behalf of all the members. Once a sale occurs, a portion of the income from the sale of the steer is retained to offset administrative costs, e.g. insurance, advertising, supplies. The cooperative was formed to create a more consistent and voluminous product for vendors that members could not fulfill independently. We pride ourselves on our all Ohio model where the animals are born, raised, and processed completely in the State of Ohio.
Adam and Aubrey Bolender live and work on the family’s third generation farm with their three children. Their operation consists of 255 acres of owned/leased pasture, 105 mommy cows, 42 weaned calves, and 8 steers. Along with cattle, Adam and Aubrey raise soybeans, corn, wheat and hay in eastern Brown County.
Eric, and his wife Lori, help manage a second generation family farm. Nethero Farms in located in Mt. Orab, Ohio. The farm’s revenue comes mostly from crop production on approximately 700 acres (rented and owned), but a portion of the revenue also comes from pork and beef sales. Since the cooperative’s inception, the number of head on their farm has increased from approximately 12 to 30. The Netheros have been raising freezer beef for the consumer for over 30 years. Cattle are bought off a local farmer at weaning and are fed to finished weight.
Parker Red Angus, a third generation family farm, is managed by Ben Parker and his wife Tricyn. It is situated in Russellville, Ohio on 450 acres with approximately 102 mommy cows, 77 calves, 5 bulls, 19 steers, and 40 feeders. Ben has taken the responsibility of caring for the cattle on his family's farm on a full-time basis. Tricyn holds an off-the-farm job as a veterinarian.
Our newest farmer-member, Hamilton Farms is located in Russellville, Ohio. Adam Hamilton is a fourth-generation farmer and Alli grew up on a cattle operation. Together, they purchased a 100 acre farm in 2012. They focus on raising wheat, hay, soybeans and corn as well as operate a cow/calf operation.
Agricultural Cooperatives use a different business model than traditional businesses. It is a medium for producers to channel their product to local distributors and directly to consumers. Since the main purpose of a cooperative is not in generating a profit for the entity alone, it is often ran using very little working capital. With limited resources, members of a cooperative must be efficient with their marking strategies to generate the most revenue from the least amount of resources. Choosing the correct advertising methods could mean the difference between the survival or dissolution of a cooperative – a medium that is ecologically sound, socially-responsible, and economically viable. Cooperatives promote stewardship by increasing farmer-members – not by increasing cattle on each pasture. It creates an avenue to farmers who wouldn’t otherwise be able to channel products to larger distributors. Finally, cooperatives strengthen the local economy by increasing revenue for farmer-members and providing a safe, healthy and all-natural product to surrounding communities. In this study, the Buckeye Valley Beef Cooperative hopes to gain insight on the effectiveness of several advertising channels. Each method will be evaluated on its effectiveness by measuring sales growth, customer reach and demographics, and self-reported exposure.
- Introduce four new advertising methods to the cooperative, namely support media such as billboard displays, broadcast media such as radio ads, social media such as Facebook, and internet advertisement such as Google AdWords.
- Measure the impact of those methods by evaluating the following variables before and after implementation: sales growth, customer reach, self-reported exposure.
- Share the strategies used in this project and the outcomes via a written report and working with the Ohio State University Extension Direct Agricultural Marketing team to share insights about our progress and short fallings as a cooperative.
We will implement each advertising method on its own so that we can measure the impact of each one individually. We will allow three months per method and then measure its impact on our sales. The measurements used depend on the advertising method implemented. For example, with a billboard, we will record the cities and locations of our new customers and determine if they are from those areas. We will also ask each customer where they heard about us via a verbal or written survey (depending on how they purchase from us). With Google Adwords and social media we will record our sales based on the insights provided by google analytics and the social media platforms. For radio ads, we will record new sales during those three months and ask each customer where they heard about us via a verbal or written survey (depending on their purchase method). At the end of the study, we will write a paper which explains our methods, results, discussion, and conclusions so that future cooperatives can learn what advertising methods were most effective. When working with limited capital and time, as most cooperatives do, it is important to invest in proven advertisement methods that give the best return on investment.
Internet advertisements – GoogleAds
Campaign – A set of ad groups (which are keywords you select, bids you make on keywords, or ads you create) that share a budget, location targeting, or other commonalities.
Conversions – The number of impressions to actions on our website such as click to call, newsletter sign up, and sales.
Click through rate – The number of times a customer actually clicked on our ad.
Cost per click (CPC) – The number of clicks divided by the cost spent on the campaign.
Conversation rate – The number of conversations divided by the number of total ad interactions during that ad campaign.
Keywords – Are words that you select which match your ads to sites in the Google Network.
Impressions – How often your ad is show on a Google search result or other site on the Google Network.
Before we could begin our ad campaign there were a number of things we had to do. We had to collect our baseline data which were our current sales per month, number of customers per month, and current customer reach. We also needed to set up a Google ads account. We had a gmail account for the business already set up so this wasn’t too difficult. There were a number of guides available on the internet to help with this process. We found this one particularly helpful.
The next step was to familiar ourselves with Google ads. We chose to do this by taking a few Lynda.com courses; it has since been purchased by LinkedIn and is now referred to as LinkedIn Learning. If you don’t have access to these learning tools, there is a plethora of videos on the internet you can watch.
Finally, before we could get started, we needed to set a few goals for our ads. Did we want to bring more traffic to our website? Make more sales? Get more newsletter sign-ups? Get more calls? Each goal has a different purpose; some are aimed to create a larger following for future purchases, some are merely for branding purposes, and some are strictly targeted at making new sales.
Depending on your decisions, you will select a different campaign for each. There are display campaigns and search campaigns. Let’s go through a quick comparison between the two:
- Display campaigns are ads that display on sites that attract those who are more likely to be interested in your product. Have you ever been to a blog or Facebook and noticed ads appear on the page? Those are display ads and are often used for branding and remarketing purposes where the user isn’t necessarily looking for your product.
- Search campaigns are targeting those who actually search for your product or something similar. In our instance, if you searched for “beef in bulk” or “local beef near me”, depending on how popular the keywords we selected were, and our bid on those keywords, we would show up near the top of the search as an ad. This campaign type is effective for capturing those who have a direct need for your product or services.
We decided to create two different search campaigns. One of our campaigns advertised our small bundles and direct-to-door delivery, and the other advertised our quarter, half, and whole beef sides.
Each month we evaluated our results and adjusted our ads as needed. It is very common to lose money in your first month as you experiment with keywords, ad campaign types and other variables. In the second month, the results from month one gives you better insight so you are better able to dial in on traffic by pausing keywords that aren’t working efficiently and lowing bids on others. In the last month you will start to see your return on investment.
After the testing period was over, we collected our data on new customer reach, new number of customers, sales during those months, and analyzed the results of the self-reported exposure to the Google Ads. We compared the results to our baseline data.
Google Ad Data: We ran two search engine campaigns from May 1, 2019 – July 31, 2019. During this time we had over 99,667 impressions. We had a click-through rate of 2.39% and our cost per click was $1.84. We spend $3,260.63, had 1,350 conversions, and our conversation rate was 67.47%.
Sales Data: During our Google Ad campaign we did not see a significant increase in sales, customer numbers, or customer location. However, we did have 15 customers purchase a quarter, half, or whole beef after seeing our Google Ad — according to their survey responses completed during their ordering process. We saw a 50% Return on Investment (ROI).
Table 1: Return on Investment per Advertising Method
Time Spent: Besides the time it took to learn Google Ads and all the terms that went along with, we also had to learn about Google Analytics and how to use it to understand and track the new traffic we created from Google Ads. We also took a LinkedIn Learning course on Google Analytics. This course teaches you how to set up your account, set up conversions for Google Analytics to track, and how to understand the reports available to you in Google Analytics. There was a considerable amount of time spent on just learning how to use these services before implementation.
Advertising Length: In future cases, we recommend a longer testing period. As stated above, it takes about three months to really get a feel for your target audience, and this likely had an effect on our results.
Conclusions and Future Recommendations
When considering our time, money spent, and our ROI, our analysis determined that this advertising method was not effective for our cooperative. Future studies could benefit from looking at confounding variables that may have effected our results such as website efficiency, ad efficiency, or better analytics evaluation; therefore, our recommendation to other cooperatives would be to hire a marketing expert when using these services. If we were able to hire a marketing expert to help create more efficient ads, help with SEO management, and help improve the efficiency of our website (such as loading times and user-interface, our results may have been different. However, the purpose of this study was to find methods that don’t deplete the limited working capital and resources most cooperatives struggle with and this method did not meet those standards.
Support Media – Billboards
We reached out to our local billboard company, Lamar Companies, for our billboard solutions. They were fantastic to work with. About one month from our target implementation date, we gave them our budget and target demographics and they helped us design a billboard display that met those needs. We placed our billboard in the Loveland area on a major artery highway from July 15, 2019 – September 22, 2019 for $6,000. Their company also analyzed our demographics and compared it to their data to help us determine the perfect location for the billboard. To make our return we had to sell at least 3 steers.
We collected our baseline data before implementation (number of customers per month, sales in dollars per month, and customer reach). We collected the same data after the testing period had ended, along with the self-reported exposure results by our new sales during that period, and compared to gather our results.
We used Google Analytics, sales inquiries, and customer survey responses and location to track our website traffic during this period.
Google Analytics Data: Google Analytics allows you to track your website traffic search locations; it can pick up where your customers are searching for your product. We did see an increase in traffic for the Loveland area (see Table 3) during this time, but no customers selected billboard advertisements as the method they heard about us from during their purchasing process, nor did anyone call stating they saw our billboard and had additional questions. Our direct search traffic for the Cincinnati area during our testing period made up 8 percent of our overall direct search traffic.
Table 3: Number of Direct Traffic Users from our Target Location to our Website from July 15 – September 22, 2019
Sales Data: From July 15 – September 22, 2019, we had 22 beef shares purchased. Of these shares, none of the customers were from the target location and none of them chose billboard as the method they heard about us from (6 word of mouth, 2 return customers, 2 google ads, 2 direct searches, 1 referral, 7 social media referrals, 3 other website mentions).
Conclusions and Future Recommendations
Support Adverising (Billboard advertising) did not see a return on investment for our cooperative. We spoke to an acquaintance after the billboard testing period had ended who confirmed their data is finding the same conclusions. To get the biggest return for your investment with billboards, you need to flood the area with them — which helps with remarketing and name recognition. Later that year, we did a craft show in the same area and had several visitors tell us they had heard of us before. It would be hard to measure how our brand has gained recognition in that area, but that was a promising affirmation that it is starting to take hold. We have also noticed a steady increase in direct search traffic since starting this study. Future studies would do well studying the use of several billboards in a target area over a longer period of time to determine if this increases its effectiveness. Distributing a short survey to those in that target market to measure company recognition would also help determine if brand recognition was gained during the study.
Educational & Outreach Activities
This piece of our research project will be conducted this year after we have finished our marketing research. We have only completed two out of the four methods.
The activities listed above were completed this year or still ongoing as a part of our cooperative:
- We held a farm tour for a large restaurant chain procurement manager to share our heritage and industry challenges and determine how we could work together to meet each other’s needs.
- We completed an interview for an article that will be featured this year in Edible Ohio Valley. We discussed our cooperative model and our upcoming plans for 2020.
- Several members of our cooperative are participating in panels for Farm Credit Services and the Ohio Extension Foodpreneurs program.
- We hosted a producer meeting this summer to provide local farmers with information about our cooperative and feeding practices.
This year, we will be working with the Ohio State University Extension Direct Agricultural Marketing team to share specific insights about our progress and short fallings during this project and our findings as well as our takeaways from this project. Together, we hope to develop a plan to present our findings to the proper audience. We also plan to share our findings in our blog and in a written report here for future searches.
Our results to-date have been a bit surprising. We had spoken to several marketing experts prior to this implementation and had hypothesized which methods we expected to be the most successful. For instance, we expected Google Ads to be very efficient after speaking to the Ohio Beef Council; they actually decreased their social media advertising and increased their usage of Google Ads (specifically using display ads on YouTube and other similar sites).
We also hypothesized that support media, such as billboard advertising would do well. We have used yard signs in the past and those did really well at attracting new customers. Since this billboard was much larger, designed by experts, and placed in a heavily popular area, we expected our initial cost to be easily recovered. We suspect the reason the yard signs might have worked well was because it flooded the target market with our name and this constantly reminded drivers about our product — rather than just one passing thought on a billboard.
We are excited about our remaining two advertising channels — Social Media and Broadcast advertising. We are in the middle of our Facebook campaign and we have seen extraordinary results. To date, our website traffic, social media following, and sales have seen uncharacteristic growth. This surprised us because we had been cautioned by marketing experts and research (Danaher and Dagger 2013) about the effectiveness of social media marketing.
We have also secured our radio advertising contract with NPR Cincinnati and are excited to see the results of this method in particular. We have previously advertised on a local radio station and saw an increase in sales, so we anticipate this station will draw traffic from the market we are looking to attract and also result in an uncharacteristic sales growth.