When my two sons, now grown, were in primary school, I volunteered as an assistant Cub Scout leader for their pack. My wife worked as an office manager for a physical therapy clinic whose clientele included Neal Anderson, then an All Pro running back for the Chicago Bears. She was able to arrange for the Scouts to hear Neal talk about his training regimen, followed by a little group workout, then photos and autographs.
As an unexpected bonus, Neal talked candidly about his philosophy of training. To him, our bodies are temples that we need to nurture and maintain. This includes proper diet, nutrition, and exercise, starting with the “core” muscles – the chest, abdomen and calves. If an athlete’s core is not in sync, the rest of his body won’t be either. But Neal didn’t stop there. A deeply religious man, he also spoke about his beliefs providing the Core for his actions to follow. Everything was integrated, working together to help make Neal a premier running back. This made an immediate impression on not just the scouts, but the adult leaders as well.
Just as Neal Anderson relied on his core beliefs and core body muscles to make him a star football player, it’s important to know our own personal Core Story to succeed as communicators in food and agriculture. Let me explain. A Core Story relates to the inner beliefs and values that drive you each day to share with others how your help feed people – whatever that role may be. I don’t have the skills or the temperament to be a farmer – that is, to produce the food I need each day. But I do aspire to farmer values of hard work, integrity and continuous improvement. I believe people should know enough about where their food comes from in order to appreciate the work farmers and others in the agricultural supply chain contribute each day to supply us with an ample food supply.
How do you tell an authentic Core Story? It starts with the WHY, before the WHAT.
Consider these two statements from a Midwestern dairy farmer:
“My family farms 500 acres and milks 150 cows. We ship the milk to our local co-op to be processed into fluid milk. We milk three times a day to get the maximum efficiency out of our animals, and average nearly 70 pounds of milk per cow each day. I have a son and daughter who are both interested in taking over the business someday.”
Here is the second statement:
“As a Midwestern dairy farmer whose grandparents started this farm more than 50 years ago, I believe in continuing our legacy of providing people with the best milk possible to put in your fridge and on your table. My family, now in its fourth generation as farmers, is dedicated to doing what is right for our cows and our land, so you can have safe, nutritious and delicious milk to do your family right.”
If you were a milk consumer, which statement would you appreciate more? Wouldn’t it be the one that addressed why this farmer remained in the dairy business, the one that reflected your values, and spoke to how the farm operation benefited you and your family?
This values-based statement can directly help milk sales. As consumers, we tend to buy more products and services from companies we trust. And, in the current communications environment, it’s not enough to say, “Just trust us.”
As the ethnographer Simon Sinek has said in his popular Ted Talks video on You-Tube, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” You must give them a reason to “buy” your idea, or your product.
It all starts with shared values. If I believe that you, as an agriculturalist, are operating in my best interests because your values are aligned with mine, I don’t have to worry about all the details of how you farm, or how your company helps market agricultural products. I trust you to do the right thing.
Now, it certainly helps when what you are saying is supported by veterinarians, neighboring livestock farmers, and others in your community. This is called “third party alignment” and carries extra value.
But it all starts with you.
An easy way to start telling your Core Story is to practice introducing yourself to those outside of agriculture by leading with the Why before the What. The next time you are in a social or professional situation and have the occasion to present yourself as a food and agriculture person, try leading with your values as a way to connect with your listeners, and see where that takes you.
The next step is to develop an “Elevator Speech,” that is, a 60- or 90-second self-introduction that is basically an extended introduction of yourself. Base this on your values, not just details of your job each day. You will find many uses for this as you interact with those outside of the agricultural community. When you do it, though, make sure that your introduction addresses the specific audience you are talking with. Make your introduction all about THEM, not just about yourself.