The sales rep shows up with a new program. Just fill out the form, and you can be a part of it. Ad slicks, POP displays, radio scripts, perhaps even billboards, are yours for the asking. All you have to do is invest in matching dollars and staff time...time learning the program, time training your sales force and time informing your customer. Dollars and time are in short supply. Do you do it? What will the return be on those dollars and hours?

What's your return on investment (ROI)?
Calculating ROI on advertising and promotion is like the search for the Holy Grail, said Scott Downey, Food and Agri Business Center, Purdue University. "There is no perfect formula that researchers have been able to point to," he said. "The 'I' part is easy; the 'R' not so much. The reason is that any message you send to a target audience has residual impact. It connects in numerous ways."

When CHS introduced its award winning Cenex Guy campaign in late 2006, the goal was not an immediate increase in sales, but rather enhanced brand awareness of Cenex C-stores, propane, fuel and lubricants. "Our benchmark survey showed high aided awareness, but unaided was pretty low among general consumers," said Ann Mann, director, energy communications, CHS, Inc.

Results were impressive in targeted areas with an estimated 580 million impressions, 8,625 visits to the Cenex Guy home page and more than 3,000 downloads of Cenex Guy Wallpaper/calendar. "At the end of 18 months, we did a second survey, and unaided awareness had moved from 11 percent to 19 percent. We had more than 57,000 people who took action and dialed the 800 number. That response correlated with convenience store visits, which had been at 9 percent among those surveyed and was at 20 percent on the follow-up.

"In the case of Cenex Guy, comparing the difference in recognition of the Cenex brand is a more realistic measure than asking if sales went up," explained Downey. "The whole reason for any campaign is to enhance sales. That said, you need to understand what it takes to move a customer to buy. You can institute an advertising campaign, but getting your sales force aligned with the key message should enhance the affect."

Seed Program Enhances ROI
Bill Parsons, Citizens LLC, invested staff time and marketing dollars in Syngenta's AgriEdge program. He is more than satisfied with his ROI. The program has helped the central Michigan operation grow business and satisfy customer needs. The AgriEdge is just one example of various programs annually established by companies to compete with each other.

"I have a lot of guys who can't say if the triple stack hybrid made them money this past year," reported Parsons. "Here I can point to getting the job done with the same hybrid without the trait. For the guy getting excellent weed control with a program like Lexar, why buy the additional trait. Glyphosate-resistant weeds also are an issue. Getting control without problem weeds showing up makes a great selling point for us."

Syngenta's goal was clear: maintain and build market share with crop protection products in the face of competitive trait seed by demonstrating the value of its products through trial use. At the same time, Syngenta was continuing to promote and sell its trait seeds and related products. AgriEdge is an attempt to encourage and incentivize good agronomics by reimbursing growers based on what seed and products they use.

"As a retailer, I've always been tied very closely with Syngenta and their products, so the seed and chemical program fits very well for me," said Parsons. "It gives me a tool to get a long-time herbicide customer to try NK seed if they haven't before and helps me hold on to that seed customer who has been approached with the idea of a value in seed and chemical tie-ins with herbicide-tolerant seed."

At the same time, the program also provides ancillary benefits to the dealership. "We see it as a profit center," he explained. "We are selling more than just the products that are on the rebate list; we are also selling other products that make them work well. When we sell Quilt, we are also selling a surfactant."

Syngenta supported the program with the full array of materials, POP displays, sales support pieces, advertising and on-farm plots. "We run this through all three of our seed brands with a list of authorized dealers who are knowledgeable in the program," said Pat Steiner, head of marketing, Northern Field Crops and AgriEdge marketing manager, Syngenta Crop Protection. "Not every retailer is knowledgeable and on the list."

That investment in time to understand the program by retailers like Parsons is key to its success, suggested Ryan Valik, area Syngenta sales representative. "I feel the program was much more driven by Bill at the retail level than the national campaign materials," he said.

Stepping Outside of the Box
Similarly, Mann says the local buy-in by managers for the Cenex Guy campaign invigorated the campaign, the employees and customers. One component of the billboard materials was a slightly larger than life version of the Cenex Guy with an arm waving at passers by.

"We saw managers re-purpose the 'Guy' component in all types of ways," she said. "One manager took him to her wedding and posed the bridal party with him. Another set up a lighted display in the town park at Christmas with the Cenex Guy waving at passers by. He was used at trade shows and brought to life in many different ways at the local level, like at the opening of a new C-store. We even had him at our annual meeting, and more than 400 people had their picture taken with him. That told us people were engaged with the campaign."

Bill Hansen, Colle & McVoy, the Minneapolis advertising agency that produced the campaign, said local marketers should look at such efforts for the leverage they can provide. "A program can double your marketing program with matching dollars and provide professionally produced ad materials that will drive traffic better than locally produced ads could," he said. "You can take advantage of investments the corporate partner has made in design and development. Sales happen when you drive people to the store. The retailer's responsibility is to make the sale when they get there."

Active Retailer Involvement
It is good to leverage your marketing dollars with partnering dollars, but only if it benefits both you and the campaign sponsor, noted Downey. "What is the overall objective and its potential impact on your organization?" he asked. "How does it fit with other activities you are trying to accomplish? It is perfectly reasonable to ask how success will be measured and for the evaluation results to be shared. If they aren't measuring results, perhaps they would share in the cost to do so."

AgriEdge has changed considerably since being introduced, and most changes were based on retailer input, noted Steiner, and with good reason. Without active retailer involvement in filling out forms, tracking purchases and qualifying customers for the rebates, Parsons suspects the program would have failed. "The key for us was staff training and follow up," he said. "I know other dealerships where the staff didn't prepare information so the customer could qualify."

While AgriEdge hasn't made it to any weddings, it has provided motivated dealers like Parsons with a unique customer relationship-building opportunity. The program prevents most accounts from being settled up until crop protection products are used mid and late season. Thus, accounts are often settled up in late summer.

"I go out to a customer with a check for thousands of dollars in rebate long after they made the purchase decision and may have forgotten about the program," explained Parsons. "It puts a big smile on their face at a time when they can look at their fields and see that the seed and the products worked."