Beef advocacy requires understanding, appreciating and respecting industry customers
During the Progressive Resource Manager Forum, held during the Wyoming Natural Resource Rendezvous Convention and Trade Show in Casper on Dec. 6, Beef Industry Trailblazer Kacy Atkinson offered a fresh perspective on the old concept of telling agriculture’s story and gave insight into how best to navigate beef advocacy in today’s day and age.
“The idea of telling our story has been harped to death, but no one has come up with a better way to say it. We have to tell our story, because if we are not telling it, someone else will, and we may not like what they have to say,” Atkinson said.
She further noted cattle ranches wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t people in the world eating beef. Therefore, it is crucial producers take time to get to know, understand, appreciate and respect their customers.
In an effort to do this, Atkinson said it is crucial for producers to advocate for the industry, which doesn’t necessarily have to come in the form of media interviews or social media posts, although these are also great options.
“The first thing to consider is comfort zone,” she said. “We have the obvious list – social media, blogs, letters to the editor, media interviews, etc. But, if a person would rather stick a spoon in their eye than do any of those, there are some other options.”
One of the options Atkinson mentioned is doing some advocacy work at the local grocery store.
“I’m sure some of us have been at the local grocery store and noticed someone staring at the meat case, clearly lost. We watch them pick up different packages of meat before they end up grabbing the cheapest one and putting it in their cart,” she shared. “In an instance like this, it would be easy for one of us to walk up, mention we raise beef for a living and offer to help them.”
To take this a step further, Atkinson suggested setting up a table at the local meat counter with an “ask me anything” sign and let shoppers approach with questions.
Additionally, Atkinson suggested opening up farms and ranches for a tour, inviting children for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-based after school programs, going into schools and teaching students about the beef industry, hosting a dinner party on the ranch or simply talking to a stranger on a plane.
“All we have to do is talk to the people in the community, the town or the county. Every person we reach and every person whose mind we change fundamentally affects all of our future,” she said. “It is just one person at a time, and in some ways that is going to be more effective than preaching in front of a crowd.”
Dos and don’ts of advocacy
“There are some hard truths we need to accept if we are going to be successful,” Atkinson said in regards to the dos and don’ts of advocacy.
The first thing Atkinson encourages producers to do is play on emotion, not logic.
“We want everyone to know the numbers. We want to be able to preach facts and data. However, sound science and customer acceptance are two wildly different things,” Atkinson stated. “The truth is, if we are honest with ourselves, we don’t even listen to the facts and data if they don’t marry with our belief systems and the things we have already ingrained in our minds as the truth.”
“There are so many divisions in our own industry. We can’t agree on our own data, so why do we think they are going to listen?” she added. “If we preach science, we aren’t going to win. We are hardwired to react to emotion, which is where we need to start when approaching our customers.”
Next, Atkinson says it is imperative producers do not come across as defensive, arrogant or insulting.
“I say this with love, but so often we come across to people outside of our industry as defensive, arrogant, insulting and demeaning,” she stated, further referring to a joke she’s heard about not spending years to raise a cow just to have someone eat it well done. “We make fun of how someone feels comfortable eating beef, and why do we care how they eat it, as long as they are eating it.”
“So often we attack vegans and vegetarians for their food choices, yet in the same breath we expect them to be supportive of how we eat,” she continued. “The reality is, whether a person is a vegan, vegetarian, carnivore, omnivore, etc., they are supporting the agriculture industry.”
“We need to be cognizant of what we say and how we come across,” Atkinson reiterated. “Another thing I can’t stand to hear is that our customers ‘need educated.’ If someone were to walk up to me and tell me I need educated, I would be offended.”
In fact, Atkinson noted today’s society is the single most educated group of people in human history.
“They don’t need educated. They have just been educated by a show they watched on Netflix, a book they read, the news media, their doctor and their friends,” she said. “We might not agree with the education they are receiving, but we need to move away from this idea of educating our customers and move into a place of building trust and relationships.”
Lastly, Atkinson highly encourages producers to receive their own education in regard to beef advocacy. She notes the Masters of Beef Advocacy Program is a good place to start so they can be credible and well-informed when visiting with the general public.
“A beef advocate is going to represent the entire industry, not just the silo they came out of,” she explained. “On a daily basis, I get asked about packing plants, feedyards, retail and foodservice, but I am just a cow/calf producer. If I can’t answer their questions, I have to at least be able to send them to a contact who can.”
Atkinson also advises producers to be cognizant of the credibility and integrity of the information they choose to believe and spread.
Loving beef customers
To wrap up her presentation, Atkinson told attendees she believes it is crucial producers begin to recognize, understand, appreciate, love and respect their customers.
“The other day I was interviewing William Wise, chief executive officer of the Oregon Beef Council, and he made a comment that really struck me,” she stated. “He said he doesn’t think the beef industry loves our customer, which is a problem and will be our undoing.”
“He said we love people who look like us, think like us and fit in our box. We love the customers who are more conservative, believe in traditional values and fit in the box most of us would put ourselves in,” she explained. “However, many of our customers live downtown in big cities. They might have spiked, purple hair, are covered in piercings and tattoos, are bisexual and liberal, and yet, they eat beef five times a week.”
“Our customers represent all demographics,” she added. “How do we stay in business if we don’t figure out who our customers actually are and how to love them?”
Atkinson continued, “I’m sure a lot of us don’t want to hear this, but as cattle ranchers, we also have to be in the people business. We share a lot of values with our customers. We are parents, kids, families, churchgoers, exercise fanatics and travel junkies. There are so many ways we are like our customers. We need to build connections and show them this.”
Atkinson also encourages producers to spend a little time thanking consumers, because without them, cattle ranching wouldn’t exist.
“I’ve heard so often producers saying people should be more appreciative of the beef industry. I don’t think anybody misunderstands how important agriculture is and that eating is necessary for survival,” she noted. “But, do we ever flip the mindset and think about how important it is to thank the people who support us, buy our product and keep us in business?”
Therefore, Atkinson reiterates the importance of beef advocacy and building meaningful relationships with consumers based on a mutual understanding, in appreciation, love and respect.
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.