What should we call ourselves?
What should we call ourselves?
by Rick McCarty, Vice President, Issue Analysis and Strategy – NCBA
Research has shown that if consumers feel informed about the beef industry, they are more likely to have favorable opinions about beef production.
Perceptions about various descriptor terms can influence consumers’ opinions of the industry, so research was conducted to identify terms that help consumers see the American cattle industry as making a positive contribution to society.
"Beef producers" is a term commonly used by beef industry participants, but research demonstrated that this term did not elicit a positive response among consumers and conjured connections to "industrial" or "factory farming." Rather, consumers responded more positively to terms such as cattle rancher, cattle farmer or cattleman.
The term "beef producer" should be reserved for communications within the industry. Industry communicators should work to ensure that consumer messages and consumer-facing information avoid using the term beef producers when talking about American cattlemen.
Previous research has shown that consumers who feel they are very or somewhat informed about the beef industry are twice as favorable to the industry as those who say they know very little. It is, therefore, very important to build trust and understanding among consumer audiences.
In order to create shared values with consumers and to build credibility for the industry, it is important that our consumerfacing communications be perceived as coming from people that consumers feel they can trust. This leads to the question of how to personalize the industry; what is the face we put on the industry to build consumer credibility and understanding?
In 2009, a checkoff-funded project was launched to develop holistic messages to use in communicating to consumers about beef production and the values of the men and women who raise cattle in the United States. Solid message platforms designed for response to specific issues such as nutrition, safety and environment already are in use; these response messages are effective in shooting back, countering misinformation and responding to tough questions. Holistic messages allow the industry to be proactive and to shoot first, rather than shooting back.
The first step in the holistic message project was a series of focus groups. The focus groups were designed to engage consumers in discussion and develop and qualitatively test messages that can create shared values that we are doing the right thing and care about consumers, and help consumers see the American cattle industry as making a positive contribution to society.
Part of the focus group research focused on effective message delivery. Consumers are receptive to messages from people they feel they can trust so personalizing the industry is critical to building shared values and creating positive feelings about beef. This led to the question of how to personalize the people who raise cattle. In short, from the consumer perspective – who are we? What do we call ourselves? Who is trustworthy to consumers?
We engaged consumers in discussion about terms such as cowboys, cattle farmers, cattle ranchers, cattlemen and women and beef producers. What became clear in the focus groups is that some names were more trustworthy than others and, in particular, consumers did not have very positive perceptions of the term "beef producer," the most widely used term by which we describe ourselves within the industry.
Focus groups are directional in nature and cannot be used to project that consumers in general think and feel they way those participating in focus groups do. Therefore, a quantitative study was developed to provide a statistical analysis of consumer reactions to a set of cattle raiser descriptors.
To quantify consumer perceptions of various cattle raiser descriptors, an online survey of 1,007 U.S. adults, 971 of whom were beef-eaters, was conducted in November 2009. Respondents were selected from a large panel of consumers and the sample was weighted to be representative of the U.S. population.
Each respondent was randomly presented with four cattle raiser descriptors (cattle farmer, cattle rancher, cattleman, beef producer) along with a random set of 14 descriptive words. Half the descriptive words were positive – American values, honest, trustworthy, credible, caring, independent, smart – and half carried negative connotations – profit-oriented, industrial, factory farming, corporate, high-tech, uncaring, businessmen. Each respondent was asked to select five descriptive words they felt best described each of the cattle raiser descriptors.
Beef eaters generally have positive perceptions of the terms cattle farmer, cattle rancher and cattleman but decidedly negative perceptions of beef producers. In addition, though non beef-eaters represented only about 4 percent of the sample, which is too small a group from which to make meaningful projections, looking at this group’s ratings it is intuitively clear they aren’t just non beefeaters, they are strongly anti-beef.
Figure 1 shows that, in ratings by beef-eaters, the term beef producer was significantly more likely to be associated with the terms profitoriented, factory farming, industrialized, corporate and high-tech. Beef producer was significantly less likely to be associated with the terms independent, American values, honest, trustworthy, caring, credible and smart. There were no significant differences in the ratings for cattle farmer, cattle rancher and cattleman all of whom were viewed positively.
Even the small group of non beef-eaters, who essentially gave every cattle raiser descriptor a negative rating, still singled out beef producer as the worst with that term being significantly more likely to be associated with the words profit-oriented, factory farming, industrialized, corporate and uncaring.
The term "beef producer" should be reserved for communications within the industry. Industry communicators should work to ensure that consumer messages and consumer-facing information avoid using the term beef producers when talking about American farmers and ranchers.
Tags: Beef Issues Quarterly, Research Findings, Spring 2010
June 30, 2010