Every company has a target market, right? Whether it’s selling leather jackets to motorcycle riders, or flippers to scuba divers, knowing your audience is the first key to success. But what happens when you uncover an audience that you didn’t know you had? And more importantly, what happens when your traditional marketing messaging just won’t cut it?

That’s when it’s time to get creative, and that’s exactly what John Deere did with their Get Down to Dirt campaign.

The Backstory

If you’ve never heard of John Deere – well, to be honest, I’m more surprised than anything. Starting out as Deere & Company in 1804, and continuing to this day, John Deere has been manufacturing farming, construction, and forestry equipment for literally two centuries. They’re one of the oldest companies in North America, and just about every farm in the country has a John Deere tractor working somewhere on site.

But John Deere was not content to rest on its laurels – and to understand whether there were any markets they were missing out on, the company’s Canadian office worked with Quarry to create their buyer personas. And what they discovered was simple, but powerful: smaller farms don’t see equipment the same way bigger farms do. So how do you target this new breed of farmer? Don’t tell – show. Or better yet, get real people to show them for you. Thus, “Get Down to Dirt” was born.

“Our persona research suggested there are some key differences between people who are farming at a small scale — especially those who are relatively new to farming — compared to the large, established family farms that you might typically think of when someone says ‘farming.’” said the Dealer Development Manager for John Deere Canada during an interview. “This campaign used our understanding of some of those differences to craft stories that we hoped would resonate with smaller scale farmers. We wanted to communicate that ‘we get you’ in an authentic way. Videos of real farm families, telling their stories and in their own words fit the bill. This also allowed us to validate the research and personas in the marketplace.”

John Deere worked with Nicole Strong at Quarry to build out a revolutionary idea — instead of making marketing collateral to appeal to this smaller-scale audience, what if they put tractors, and cameras, in the hands of these smaller scale farmers, and asked them to tell their own story?

“We know that when you’re buying a piece of equipment like a tractor, often you buy it because there is a specific job you want to do, like dig a hole to build a fence or work up a patch of yard for a garden. What was really cool is that through this program, buyers had the opportunity to discover all sorts of new things that they could accomplish. It was bigger than the tractor and the tasks they could now complete (or complete faster or easier),” said our contact at John Deere. The campaign featured five families, working on everything from smaller hobby farms to larger homestead renovation projects, and it turned traditional vehicle marketing on its head. Rather than simply telling farmers what a John Deere tractor could do for them, they let the families figure it out for themselves. And it worked like a charm. “They started to imagine new possibilities for what they could do with their land — they developed a new outlook on their farm.”

So how did this campaign come to be? And what did John Deere learn from the experience? Let’s dive deeper into the interview, and find out!

Creating “Get Down to Dirt”

At Vidyard, we often preach that the best people to share the story of how your product shapes the lives of your customers is… well… your customers. So for this campaign, John Deere’s Dealer Development Manager and the team took this one step further, and decided to show people who had never touched a tractor before just how much of an impact it would have on their lives.

“We gave each farmer an iPad Mini with 3G connection and a lesson on how to use it. The instruction was focused on video capture: some basics to get good footage, how much footage, and how often we wanted them to shoot. We didn’t tell them what story to tell us, we wanted that to come from them. “

We set the iPads up to automatically upload the video to Quarry daily,” said our contact at John Deere. “Separately, our dealers visited with the customers to determine the best tractor for their needs. Tractors were delivered in the fall and the farmers were able to use them for the entire fall season.”

The program wasn’t just a cool way of introducing John Deere products to a new persona — it also paid dividends for John Deere. “It was also a cost effective way to gather a great deal of footage — we didn’t even have to send out a videographer.”

Now, so far, this campaign sounds seamless and easy, but there was a lot of work on the back-end to make it all work. Nicole Strong, Experience Innovation Consultant at Quarry filled us in on some of the behind-the-scenes details. “We split up the initiative into smaller chunks: the video capture, the video production, and the microsite.” Strong said, “We only had specific times of year when we could capture the footage we’d need to tell these stories, so if we missed a window we could be waiting for an entire year before getting a chance again. So, there was some strategic sequencing of activities required with a keen eye to where we were headed with the whole initiative.”

Strong credits the open communication between Quarry and John Deere for the success of the campaign. “It helped that it was backed by a whole bunch of research — we knew exactly who we were designing for, and what might resonate with this particular persona — but what’s really notable is how much we both really believed in that strategy and stayed true to it. Once we’d hammered out the brief, we were really able to stay anchored it. It allowed us to review designs and content from the perspective of the strategy and this persona, rather than personal preferences. It really facilitated great collaboration.”

Since no campaign should be complete without some measure of success, we wanted to know what the key goals were for this campaign before John Deere and Quarry decided to start handing out cameras and tractors. “On-farm demo sign-ups for farming equipment  are one of our main goals for this campaign although we had no way of knowing how that was going to go. Mostly, we wanted to see what people thought of the content. It was entirely different from anything we’d done before and the market is pretty new. The local food movement has attracted several people to farming on a scale that is quite different from what most of our customers are doing. So this campaign was part of a long-game to build brand awareness with these new potential customers.”

So, Were People Down to Dirt?

Creating an innovative campaign for an audience John Deere had never marketed to before was hard enough, but how did “Get Down to Dirt” perform against expectations? User generated content campaigns tend to do well from a social engagement standpoint, but this one was special. And the results spoke for themselves.

“To date, the campaign is outperforming the engagement metrics we set out for it and demo sign-ups are on par with other online sign-up programs John Deere has run,” our contact said. “The content has performed exceptionally well on social media and is helping our social media team drive content direction within other areas of the company. It is outperforming industry and John Deere benchmarks for Facebook CPMs and cost per engagement.”

And that’s not the only benefit. This campaign is also shaking things up within John Deere. “John Deere is a company of stories. When you have over 178 years of history, you touch a lot of people and they love to share their story with John Deere employees. We already tell customer stories very well with The Furrow and Homestead magazines, so our employees appreciated that this campaign puts even more focus on our customers.”

One employee even mentioned that it made them want to become a farmer, which, when you create farm equipment is a pretty high praise.

Even people who have seen the campaign are sharing their love, with one commenter posting “I love John Deere’s video site with the small agriculture stuff. I would have felt silly pulling into a John Deere dealership for our needs before seeing the ads. Truthfully. I just didn’t know John Deere did much in between large mowers and huge tractors.”

Lessons Learned and What Comes Next

While this campaign knocked pretty much every expectation out of the park, there were some big lessons learned, especially around user generated content. The biggest? You can teach people all the right ways to use your equipment – but that doesn’t mean they’ll listen.

“We covered safe use of the tractor extensively, and dealers also provided a walk around highlighting safety when the tractors were delivered.” said our contact at John Deere, “When you’re working with people who may have already formed use habits, you need to be very conscious of this and over-educate them on critically important topics like safety. There was a lot of great footage we received, which was unusable because it wasn’t quite demonstrating what we can endorse as safe practices.”

The campaign ran until the end of October, the team at John Deere will be looking into what to do next. Marketing towards a new market — in this case younger families who are new to farming — is never easy, and there aren’t many examples of success stories as powerful as this one. The combination of user generated content with the editorial power of Quarry’s marketing team created a one-of-a-kind set of assets that exceeded every expectation John Deere had.

The moral of this story? Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. And sometimes when you’re introducing new customers to your product, the best course of action is to set it up, teach them how to use it, and walk away. Just make sure there’s a camera there to capture all the fun!

Jon Spenceley