Anatomy of a Brand Story: Smoke Signals

Story: “Smoke Signals”
Client: Massey Ferguson tractors
Magazine story:
Web package:

Why it’s compelling:

Mark Colburn and his family shared the story of his syrup operation with other Massey Ferguson customers.

Mark Colburn and his family shared the story of his syrup operation with other Massey Ferguson customers.

In the past decade, maple syrup production has experienced remarkable growth in the U.S. and Canada, both of which are covered by FarmLife. It’s a tremendous farming success, in part because the sugaring industry has been impacted by significant innovation that has led to greater efficiencies in production and revenue for its producers.

Sugaring is also steeped in tradition, which persists despite the industry’s technological advancements. The story describes the history behind the making of maple syrup and how its sugar houses, where production takes place, provides rural communities a sort of focal point. All of which—tradition, history, and community—are major interests of the FarmLife audience.

We talked to a farm family, the Colburns, who had made smart choices in the production process they employed and in equipment they’d purchased. Such decision not only provided them greater income, but also allowed the Colburns to realize their dream of living off the land—a goal that’s shared and/or appreciated by the vast majority of the FarmLife readership.

The popularity of the story on the Colburns’ was enhanced by the timing of its publication. A year prior to the article’s release, a heist of $18 million worth of maple syrup was uncovered. We ran the article just after the report of 23 arrests in the case and an announcement of a major motion picture about the theft. Maple syrup was suddenly a hot topic. As a result, the Colburn story and our online ”Maple Syrup Primer,” which contained details and tags on the topic of the heist, received additional traffic.

Why it’s credible:

Again, the Colburns realized the dream of many of FarmLife readers—to own land and make a living off of it. They explained the workings of their farm in detail, offering our readership another of its favorite topics—how farm goods are grown and produced. In addition to sharing details about their successes, the family also discussed the hard times they’d experienced, specifically when climatic conditions the year before the story was published decreased production significantly. Anyone in farming can relate to Mother Nature’s twists and turns and how they can impact farming.

The story also offered data and quotes about maple syrup production from sources other than the Colburns. That information provided context on the industry, explaining its regional and global importance and making the subject all the more an alluring read.

How it’s connected:

The story showed how the Colburns sought and implemented greater efficiencies throughout their farm operation. When discussion ensued about why they purchased their Massey Ferguson tractors and hoped to buy more—including advantages of reliability, versatility, greater fuel efficiency, and the comfort prized by farmers who spend many hours in the cab—the Colburns reasoning was all the more credible.

The video and sidebar about tractors also delved into the Colburns previous experiences—and dissatisfaction—with Kubota tractors, a major competitor of Massey Ferguson that has gained inroads in the market with low prices for “cheap” tractors. After two Kubota tractors failed to perform adequately, the Colburns tried Massey Ferguson and were extremely impressed, leading Mark Colburn to say, “Cheaper isn’t always better as far as getting the job done.”

A consistent approach:

With content created for both print and digital media, FarmLife promoted the marketing messages included in the Colburns story through various channels. The print story reached an audience through a magazine that is considered a premium. The story was extended on with additional copy, as well as a video, further engaging the audience with additional online marketing opportunities. The entire content package itself was promoted in social media.

Among those marketing messages are Mark Colburn’s reasons, as stated above, for purchasing his Massey Ferguson tractors—all attributes discussed in other FarmLife stories and Massey Ferguson promotional materials. Also, consider the inclusion of how he came to try Massey Ferguson—his son, Devin, had already purchased a Massey Ferguson tractor and was extremely satisfied. The story here is how a 20-something-year-old son convinced his father to make such a major purchase; the message is that Devin’s opinion matters to his father, as well as Massey Ferguson.

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