by Tim Marks
Our members are innovators, boundary-pushers and problem-solvers. Many of you are of course savvy marketers as well, but in this fast-moving digital age, we can all use a little help from a pro. Tim Marks, who hosts Tractor Time with Tim—the largest YouTube channel dedicated to compact tractors and attachments——offered these thoughts in the current issue of our AgInnovator magazine.
Developing a successful social media strategy can be daunting, but it is a tool that is increasingly pervasive in this industry and beyond. We offer a few tips here to help you get started.
Farm equipment is naturally suited to video. Seeing equipment in action can help sell it. The tips here focus on video-centric marketing but apply to other forms of influencer marketing as well. Let’s start with a few definitions.
Manufacturer Channel Marketing
This refers to creating your own presence on YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, and other platforms to advertise your products. This approach works well for purposes such as sharing a well-done installation video to show potential customers how a product works.
Developing a popular manufacturer-centric channel, however, is extremely difficult. Only one of our sponsoring partners has done well with this approach: Ventrac. This kind of success (85 million views and 116,000 subscribers) is rare for a manufacturer and is due to their in-house team of highly trained videographers.
Social Platform Advertising
Most platforms offer some sort of integrated advertising. For example, YouTube runs “pre-roll” advertisements before and sometimes during videos. Advertisers can target a specific audience by zip code, time of day, key words, interests, and even the channel where the ad appears. However, like the manufacturer channel marketing, you will be responsible for shooting and producing the ad content.
Both strategies have pros and cons.
Among the pros are full control of the content/message and low-cost. It is free to post content to your own channel, and assuming you target your audience closely, advertising on YouTube or Facebook is inexpensive as well.
High on the list of cons is that, unfortunately, you are on the hook for creating the content. You will need:
- All the equipment (tractors, your product, other attachments)
- Suitable location
- Appropriate camera, audio, and lighting equipment
- On-camera personality (“The Talent” as they say!)
- Post-production (Editing)
You can subcontract some of this, but not all of it. Gathering the equipment, setting it up, and finding the location is up to you. In our experience, this can be more difficult than you expect.
Another significant con: lack of trust. “Of course, the manufacturer says it works well!” – said Every Potential Customer ever!
It is difficult to overcome consumer skepticism. While you theoretically have full control over your content, there are practical limitations. Are you really going to point out a weakness of your product? Doing so raises risks. Not doing so verifies the customer’s skepticism.
To add to the con list: limited feature demonstration.
Will you show your product used to its extreme potential? Will you show your product used in a way most people use it, even if your legal team says to avoid it? For example, your brush mower is rated at 1.5 inches. You are quite confident in its ability to handle larger brush, but, showing that in your product advertising might expose you to unnecessary warranty claims, lawsuits, or other costs down the road.
Partnering with influencers flips these pros and cons on their head. We’ll go through the pros and cons soon, but before we get there, we’ll explain the basics.
What is an “influencer”?
We are all “influencers” at some level. This week, we encountered a frail 80-plus-year-old leaning on her cart in a warehouse club. She was loading “pineapple spears in coconut water” into her cart and said, “These are so good! I eat the spears, then when finished with them, I drink the coconut water! I love them! I think I’ll get a couple more jars…”
We had no intention of buying pineapple spears, but we left with a jar anyway! Why was that?
We were sold by the trustworthiness, passion, and authenticity of the woman leaning on her cart. She clearly had experience with the product. She was not wearing the company shirt. While her presentation wasn’t flashy (frankly, she could hardly hold up the jar), her passion convinced us on the spot.
Social Media Influencer
While the Pineapple Grandma influenced a purchase, she is not going to be a social media influencer. Influencers of this sort have loyal followings—folks who enjoy watching their regularly produced content for educational and entertainment purposes. Most social media influencers have a niche focus such as a hobby or a subject of special relevance to them.
Social media influencers bring benefits to companies seeking to work with them. One obvious benefit is that the influencer handles the content creation process, which involves:
- Video equipment
- “The Talent,” someone who is comfortable in front of a camera and capable of holding the audience’s attention
- Post-production editing and publishing
- Maybe (if negotiated) raw video footage for the manufacturer to use as they wish
In farm equipment marketing, an influencer will likely provide:
- The tractor(s) or other prerequisites
- A real-world filming location
The “project storyline,” which means showing the product in action or solving a real-world problem.
As you would expect, the value you gain from using an influencer comes with compromises.
Among them: You surrender content control. To protect authenticity, the influencer must be allowed to speak freely and share whatever opinions they wish about the product.
In our experience, manufacturers consider this a high risk, but the risk is overestimated. While a manufacturer can be temporarily negatively impacted by an inflammatory negative review, the influencer’s reputation would be destroyed. Afterward, no company would work with the influencer. The influencer often bends over backward to praise the product. Most quality influencers are excited to be in partnership with a quality manufacturer and want to maintain a good relationship.
Manufacturers also risk sending a piece of demo equipment to an influencer in good faith and never seeing a video published. Manufacturers throughout the industry have experienced this.
Another concern to consider is inappropriate behavior. Influencers depend on view counts. It’s quite tempting to push the envelope to gain views. Depending on the depth of the partnership, your brand name may be associated with the behavior of your partner influencers.
Each of these risks can be mitigated. Let’s dig into how to select a good influencer partner.
An influencer partnership is like a marriage. You deal with each other’s strengths and weaknesses. You cannot ask the influencer to be someone they are not. And, you get both their good points and their failures. It is much easier to enter the relationship than
So, like in marriage, we advise you to select carefully. We’ve had folks call us asking to partner with us having never watched one of our 900-plus episodes. Rather than selecting the first influencer you find, we encourage you to invest significant time and effort into this process.
Subscribers and views are only surface level. We recommend that you instead focus on deeper traits.
Successful social media influencers are trusted by their communities, authentic, and knowledgeable in their field. They may not be the most polished, or even the most popular, but they are real!
Character and trust are important both on camera and behind the scenes, because influencer agreements are often informal. Contracts are helpful in some situations, but much of the interaction is fluid, changing frequently as opportunities present themselves. We also recommend that you evaluate the personality of the influencer. Is their on-screen persona consistent with the values of your organization? Don’t expect to change this aspect of the influencer.
Ask yourself if an influencer’s niche audience fits your product. Watch existing videos from an influencer you are evaluating. Do they address topics that would be interesting to your prospective market? You need to reach those few who could benefit from learning about your product rather than worrying about audience size.
Speaking of audience size, it is common for those new to social media to equate audience size to number of subscribers. This is not accurate. For example, our channel has 180,000 subscribers, but we are watched by more than 1 million unique viewers in any given 90-day period. This number is not publicly visible, but you can use other techniques to estimate audience size. We recommend looking at the following public statistics:
- Total views on the channel
- Sort videos by date descending to evaluate views per video on the last 30 to 50 episodes.
- Sort videos by “most viewed” to check for one or two videos which performed well while all others performed poorly.
You will have the best results with a channel which consistently gets a good number of views with an occasional standout video.
Some companies start by sending equipment to as many channels as possible. Instead, we recommend carefully choosing only one influencer in your niche. After you have successfully worked with that influencer for a year or more, you might be ready to find a second. We recommend involving your first influencer in this decision. Remember, influencers are in a competitive business as well, and reaching out to a direct competitor can damage your relationship.
Your second influencer should represent a different niche. For example, our channel focuses on compact tractors and attachments. Another channel might focus on wood-cutting but use compact tractors. Another channel might focus on hunting and use compact tractors to create food plots. Another might be a farmer.
If you are selling brush mowers, each of these channels would be able to show your product, but they would not be direct competitors. Each influencer with a different focus will broaden the exposure to your product. Selecting two influencers in the exact same niche and likely sharing the same audience will be less effective and potentially cause competitive conflicts.
This is not a one-size-fits-all process. If you sell online, a commission approach works well. If you use a dealer network, a monthly retainer can work. In some cases, the equipment itself can be the entirety of the compensation. Every situation is different.
If you find a quality influencer partner, make sure that you consider the total value they provide. What would it cost to get quality close-up video of your product in action? Several different applications over time? Don’t hesitate to compensate them well. A relatively small marketing fee from your company could make a huge difference in the quality of the ongoing relationship.
Get in touch with Tim Marks at Tim@TractorTimeWithTim.com. Call him or send a text message at 317.689.8625. He and his wife Christy would be happy to help you make that first step into social media marketing, even if you’re outside their niche. Oh, and don’t forget to try a jar of those pineapple spears in coconut water! They really are tasty!