By Chris McClure, Contributing Editor
Have you ever noticed how some messages that are repeated frequently eventually just become background noice, while others, repeated just as frequently become part of the very fabric of society? What is it about some messages that resonate with the listener? Is it the wording? Is it the delivery? Are they the non-verbal signals that accompany it?
Advertising agencies spend a good deal of time searching for just the right wording to include with their products. They utilize focus groups and test audiences to determine which phrasing elicits the response they are seeking. Often, they will substitute only a single word in a phrase and completely change the message’s receptivity. Their life is focused on communication and their success is based on their effectiveness.
For those of you who are participants in the world of social media, you know that the message of beef as a valid, sustainable food product is the subject of many posts – both positive and negative. There is a war of messaging that is constantly being fought in order to control the “public mind” regarding the primary product of our businesses. Ultimately, the goal is to establish in the consumer’s mind one of two things – beef is good, or beef is bad.
I suspect there are many things at the root of this battle. One is the emotional response that many people have to animals. When their mind connects the dots that the steak they are eating was once a cute calf, they rebel on an instinctual level. It is one of the hazards of making pets a part of one’s family.
Another possible reason is that the cattle industry is one of the last populated by independent, freedom-loving individualists who resist the control of their lives by our friendly representatives in government. To gain control, the industry must first be destroyed. Then, there are those who believe beef production is destroying the planet. I’m really not sure what to think of that group since most of them live in concrete and asphalt jungles. Perhaps their delusion is tied to all of the vehicle exhaust they inhale on a daily basis.
The cattle industry is populated with experts who understand the science and build careers around debunking the messaging of those who seek to end beef production as we know it. They are knowledgeable people who make a tremendous contribution to our industry. They aren’t marketing people and frequently struggle to craft their messages in a way that can become sound bites for the consuming public.
We once were effective in our message. Who out there over the age of 10 doesn’t hear the voice of Sam Elliott saying, “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” when they see the photo of a sizzling steak on the grill? That was one of the most effective messages our industry has ever created. It became part of the fabric of society I mentioned earlier. Somehow, “Cows, the ultimate carbon up-cycler” doesn’t have the same ring to it. It’s an important message, but it doesn’t resonate.
The folks who came up with that plant-based “burger,” which is experiencing a tremendous amount of growth in sales, seem to know how to create an effective message. They even have someone who appears as if he might have walked out of a feedyard office saying, “I’m a damn fool” over his plant-based meal. Hmmm … even those in the cattle business love the new product – at least that appears to be the message being conveyed to and swallowed by the consuming public. I suspect they employ top-notch marketing/advertising agencies to help craft their message.
In a way, we are in a political campaign. Our candidate, beef, is seeking the vote of the people through their purchases. We should be hiring the very best campaign manager and staff to help craft our talking points. We then need to develop grassroots campaigns that are highly coordinated and supplied with effective campaign material to convey our talking points to the voters. They must be highly motivated and passionate about their subject, and willing to “knock on doors” to make the message heard. Oh, wait, we’re talking about folks in the cattle industry who can’t even work together effectively, but are instead on the verge of fragmenting existing organizations into more and less effective ones. What am I thinking?!
Perhaps the message we are conveying today is that we can’t get our own act together and are therefore vulnerable like never before. It began with the war between marketing labels on beef products – whether country of origin labeling, or organic vs. not organic products. We opened the door to attack by attacking each other. It is only getting worse. Bar fights – even between “friends” – usually escalate.
My message about messaging has been a little bit like what my kids used to call “lecturing” – it wasn’t very effective with them and probably will have little effect here. Hopefully, though, someone who is more adept at crafting a message that will resonate with the people who need to hear it will take my words and re-draft them into something that will resonate with the folks who need them. Meaningful communication needs to become one of our top skills.