The beef industry has long been the target of activist attacks and consumer misunderstanding. Are we responding correctly?
The response to last week’s blog was very thought-provoking and I appreciate all of you who took the time to respond. It was a great discussion with 55 comments posted that offered lots of different perspectives. That's a remarkable number of comments for one of our blogs and a start in dealing with the many controversial and emotional issues that the beef industry deals with.
I also got some responses privately and I’d like to share two of them with you. One came from long-time BEEF salesman Jay Carlson, and the other came in a discussion with my lawyer-daughter. First, here are some excerpts of Jay’s thoughts on the blog:
I appreciate you having the courage to print this article from the college student. We can only move forward by finding out what the opposition is saying about us and then honestly evaluating their response.
All too often people take on problems, then fire off an answer and think that the problem is solved. Now bring on the next question when the reality is no time was taken to see if the answer truly was a viable solution for the dilemma being discussed
Now with this said, here is another question for you to ask our readers. Let me give a brief background. Years ago I was riding on a train headed to downtown New York City. I met an attorney headed to work. Since my destination was 10 blocks away and near his office, he volunteered to have me walk with him. He soon learned of my love for the cattle business. He said he did not know much about the industry and asked: "Tell me about the cattle industry in America." People talk about an "elevator speech being one minute or less," so what’s yours? Keep in mind we want to sell the value of our industry quickly and, of course, with facts.
I don’t know exactly what I said, but I do recall that my response was pretty much a disaster. Later, from an Iowa cattleman, I heard what I consider the best elevator speech in regard to that lawyer’s question. He replied, "America has the largest economy in the world. The largest segment of our economy is agriculture. The largest segment of U.S. agriculture is the red meat industry at $136 billion."
This was years ago and lots has changed since then, so it may not be accurate today. However, it does address the fact that the American red meat industry is important to our economy. One could further talk about how many people in America whose jobs are tied to beef cattle segment.
If those in agriculture do not understand how to enthusiastically promote the value of what we do, who will? To see if the answer sticks with consumers we must honestly evaluate whether or not the answer actually can stand up to criticism from those with opposing viewpoints. Now with that said, one has to also realize that some people are set in their ways and that this will never happen with them and that is OK.
Jay’s last point is similar to the discussion I had with my lawyer-daughter. In short, she said that we in the beef business have too much of a silo mentality and that our responses to criticism about what we do are too one-sided.
That made me think of an email she sent me in response to my hunger blog several months ago. Here’s her response:
The way you write it is very compelling. We can all relate to the very visual scenarios you put out there with the homeless person and the children. I like that part, and I like the way you said it.
However, my lawyer persuasive speaking has to step in. If you are trying to convince those who are wavering toward the anti-technology side, it's not going to work. In order to do that, you have to recognize their very real concerns (e.g., we don't know how the genetic changes in the food change the way our body metabolizes the food, and what results from that metabolism) and address them. You can say that there have been these studies showing that they’re safe, for example. But you will not win over the people who are thinking through this rationally instead of emotionally by an emotional appeal about hungry children. They will come back at you with an emotional appeal about their child growing an extra head, or getting cancer.
In order to try to change their mind: Identify their concern. Validate their concern as one that is rational (and the "anti-technology" people do have rational concerns based on the lack of studies or knowledge, even if you don't like it). Then very nicely tell them why this other option is in fact more rational and meets their needs better than the stance they took initially.
So what do you think? Are we in the beef industry too defensive in our responses to criticism? Where do you go for valid, bullet-proof information about this business we all love so much? What's your elevator speech about the positive aspects of ranching?
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