My wife gave me a book for Father’s Day that I finally got around to opening this last weekend. It was entitled “Seven Events That Made America America.” One of the author’s goals was to look at some of these events through the eyes of our founding fathers, asking whether they would have approved. Secondly, he wanted to “learn from those events of our past to help build a better future and a stronger America.” I believe that would be a good starting point for our industry, as well.

Differences of opinions, partisanship and political maneuvering are probably inevitable. Yet, few would disagree that things have somehow changed in our culture. For example, the current administration came to power promising an end to rancor and partisanship in Washington, yet it’s grown to unprecedented levels. The exploding growth and intrusion of government is something the founding fathers sought to avoid, but now even the optimists believe that containment of growth is the ultimate goal. The harsh reality of today is that there is more money to be made inside of government than outside, and that the growth of government is accelerating.

Reading this book helped me understand just how much our perception of government has changed. We now look to the government for solutions in so many areas that we once looked to ourselves for. Perhaps that’s one reason partisanship and factionalism are growing so rampant. It’s the nature of the beast.

The same goes for our industry. I think it’s safe to say that the differing factions in our industry would agree that the industry needs to make changes to ensure its sustainability. But one side believes we do it by building beef demand; the other thinks we need to convert our market system back to something resembling the early 1970s.

One side equates all our problems to the change in marketing structure; the other sees primarily a lack of beef demand, and that the changes in marketing structure – more differentiation, grid pricing, branded programs and select-supplier relationships – while certainly not perfect, are a step in the right direction.

Having a similar goal but a different view of how to get there usually wouldn’t preclude the two sides from working together. The problem is that while value-based marketing can and has co-existed right along with the commodity mindset, the side that wants to cement, in essence, a commodity system can’t do it in conjunction with the side that favors choice. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition because it requires the industry to set aside the economic drivers that have forced these changes, and replace them with a government-controlled and mandated system designed to maintain the old system.

Therein lies the rub, folks. If value-based marketing and market differentiation are allowed to continue, it will increase the economic pressure on those who want to take this industry back to an earlier marketing structure. And, in order to ignore economic realities and make an artificial system work, it means the changes must be eliminated.

It’s the age-old debate between equality and freedom. For every increase in equality, we see a similar decrease in freedom.

However, the current industry debate is even more irreconcilable in that we are, in essence, trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube. What one side calls a sweetheart deal, the other side calls a select-supplier relationship. One side tends to be more emotional-based is its language, while the other is more business oriented. Thus, the two groups speak past one another.

But, I see hope in the fact that both groups are using the same data – though with vastly different interpretations. There is only one correct interpretation of the data, however, so it’s possible that healthy debate and discussion could generate a consensus. After all, both sides want a healthy and vibrant industry.

The question is how do we get there? We agree on 95% of the issues; the question is how can we develop a marketing segment that allows for the commodity and value-based system to coexist?
-- Troy Marshall