Modernizing a resource.
While at AgResource Company, a small but influential consulting and research firm operating in the global ag and food sector, I led a sweeping initiative to re-brand the company and holistically re-think the way people receive, interact with and consume AgResource’s digital products. The result redefined, rejuvenated and repositioned the company.
New brand and refreshed messaging
New website and content management system
New ways for users to find and consume content
New social media presence and strategy
New content "marketing" and innovative outreach
Just seven months after launch of the new brand and website, the company saw:
21% increase in paying readership
1,650% increase in web traffic
Planting the seed, growing new business.
AgResource delivers time-sensitive, highly valuable market information and analysis to a wide variety of clients across the global food and ag value chain. They are good at what they do--the best in the world, in fact.
When I first arrived in 2014, the company was sending four daily email with a PDF attachment that contained the latest market insights--a way of operating that was largely unchanged since the early 1990s.
There is nothing inherently wrong with doing things the "old way", but things--more to the point, technology--had changed since Bush Sr. So, after deep user research to better understand the experience from the users' perspective and industry analysis to see what others were doing, there emerged some big problems with the status quo, and, more importantly, some thrilling opportunities.
Armed with insights and a vision, I suggested the company do something about its technology, its brand, and the user experience for paying subscribers--that is, how they received, consumed, searched for, and even shared content.
As often happens, what started off as an exploration into the "now" became something much bigger: a vision for "next". It took over a year, but by the end of the project, the company had fundamentally changed, attracting entirely new kinds of clients and engaging in entirely new business models. The results speak for themselves.
messaging and tone
What values should ARC embody?
Alerts didn't alert everyone.
Some clients needed to be updated immediately any time there was an "urgent" matter. But there were challenges in quickly, easily sending these alerts and challenges for the users reading them.
Difficulties downloading PDFs, especially on mobile & in rural areas.
Users complained that the old email PDFs would be hard to download in rural areas, and were hard to read on a smartphone--especially outside on a sunny day.
Account for different preferred mediums and consumption habits.
Introduced text or WhatsApp (international clients preferred WhatsApp) message alerts so farmers and traders could more easily receive notifications; email alerts easily sent out by the team in fewer clicks; customized distribution lists.
Make content web native, optimize mobile, minimize file size.
Made content live native on website, ensured it was adaptive to different mobile screens; decreased load time/package size so content be easily accessed or downloaded in areas with poor service.
MarketWatch AM radio segment:
popular content, hip format, dying medium.
Every day, listeners across North America tuned into AgResource’s “MarketWatch” AM radio update. But AM radio alienates youngsters, has geographic limits and, for demanding advertisers, is hard to accurately measure ROI.
Digitize & disseminate.
For the first time ever, we streamed the daily Market Watch radio update (which was done by our analysts and broadcast to millions across the country) and delivered the audio updates as part of standard content; also made them available on our website.
Hard to find what you're looking for.
All content existed within PDF documents and only organized by day, making searching for particular analysis on a particular topic from a particular time difficult.
Topics, tags, taxonomy & search.
All content would live native on the website (in addition to PDF, for those who didn't like change); content categorized by date and topic area (corn, wheat, soybeans, etc.) & content that’s searchable. The four daily emails also broke down content into buckets/topics.
I started creating engaging and actionable free content that, together with email social media campaigns, drove traffic and"set the hook," compelling readers of free content to pay for a subscription.
To compete with other media and research consultancies, the content needed to be timely, the copy needed to be catchy, and the user experience excellent.
After refreshing the brand, updating the messaging, and launching the website, the real work began. That meant a solid marketing strategy and execution.
Short videos that my team and I posted consistently, where done in an engaging format, contained relevant, insightful information via an increasingly important medium.
Quality was essential. Content needed to be worth watching: in-depth analysis straight from the mouths of analysts they read every day. Actually seeing the analysts builds trust and brand loyalty, too.
Daily Market Watch audio reports sent via email and streaming on the website.
Originally, the only way to hear the audio reports was via AM radio, via stations all across North America.
The Virtual Crop Tour was an innovative idea that strove to add value while also creating community and generating buzz.
It relied on crowdsourced geotagged images that people would send in, in addition to AgResource's own in-the-field pictures from crop tours--complete with a big branded ruler and all!
All of these efforts complimented each other, contributing to a successful content marketing mix. They were a huge reason for the company's growth.
Newsletters didn’t resonate with youngsters & the content was dry.
Surveys showed that the “newsletter” concept alienated many would-be clients--especially the younger ones--since they were used to the way they consumed digital content elsewhere online.
Make it more like the content they consume everywhere else.
The website would look and feel llike a modern media organization, with richer content, new ways to consume it, and content that could just as eaily be consumed via an email inbox--the traditional "newsletter"--or online.
Users struggled to find what's relevant.
Consuming content on the old website was hard--it all lived within a clunky database; required downloading a PDF; no search or categorization.
Modular content, meaningful categorization and flexible navigation.
The homepage would contain all the latest and greatest content available with one click--for signed in subscribers, that is. Headlines and briefs gave users a sense of what they need to know; search, categories, and filters made finding something specific easy.
Creating solid content doesn't automatically mean more clicks or paying subscribers. The strategy and execution behind amplifying that content is equally important. At AgResource, the top two channels through which we amplified were email and twitter.
Hidden from search.
A lot of content was created every day, but because it lived in PDFs exclusively, search engines couldn't see any of it. This contributed to poor SEO and organic web traffic.
Open to the world.
Moving content from PDF to native on the website let search engines crawl it, and potential clients find it.
Email may feel old school, but it remains one of--if not the--most effective ways to get clicks and drive sales.
Powered by the meaningful [free] content these email campaigns featured (via "AgResource Extra"), our email campaigns blew industry averages out of the water, averaging a 40% open rate and 15% click rate.
Farmers, traders, buyers and sellers--they all love twitter. We were able to raise the following from around 500 to over 5,000 by engaging with them consistently and creatively.
Every time we made an important post, a tweet would go out. During campaigns, hashtags would build momentum (like #VirtualCropTour). If one of our analysts was quoted in a story by major industry media, we would interact with them to capitalize on the momentum.