5 things innovative AgTech brands will need to succeed
The history of agriculture is the history of agricultural technology. While GPS and drones have been farming tools for only a handful of years, farmers have had to rely on the best available technology for thousands of years.
World population is expected to reach 5 billion by 2030. That's a lot of mouths to feed. Farmers make up 1% of the U.S. population (down from 40% in 1900). The current number of farmers and the number of acres farmed can't feed the population without significant increase in output, nor can we increase the number of farmers and acreage farmed in time to feed the need.
Precision agriculture is the only way to feed the need.
As they always have, farmers will continue to work hard and do what it takes to feed the rest of us. But it can't happen without significant advancement and rapid adoption of innovative AgTech practices.
The AgTech space is booming, with new players continually entering the market. As with any tech boom, some innovative brands will thrive, inferior brands will naturally (rightfully) die and some great ideas will (unfortunately) fail.
All business owners, farmers included, are skeptical of new and unproven technology. However, there are a number of factors unique to agriculture that could impede or halt the adoption of new technology.
American farmers are growing older at a pace much faster than most business owners. 62% are over 55, 33% are over 65 — while only 5.8% are under 35. While it's a generalization to say the older we get, the more resistant we are to change, the demographic facts of the farming industry illustrate a few key barriers to sale that all innovative AgTech brands should bear in mind:
There are many factors that determine whether an innovative AgTech brand will succeed or fail. Below are 5 key principles of success for AgTech brands:
1. Innovation — the price of admission
Being better is a requisite, but it's not enough. An innovative AgTech brand can't succeed if their solution is not demonstrably better than the status quo. But being better is not enough. Innovative technology is a means to an end. The "If you build it, they will come" approach only works on ghost baseball players. The same spirit of innovation and design thinking that went into building your superior product or service needs to be used to not only prove your solution is superior, but also demonstrate how it will improve the lives of your customers and impact the bottom line. Superior technology can't be the only thing, but it has to be the first thing.
2. Specialization — the differentiator
Focus, focus, focus. A natural advantage that small to mid-sized innovative tech companies have is they tend to be really great at one thing. The large players in the industry have diversified in order to grow—whether through expansion or acquisition. With well-established distribution channels in place, it's easy for the big guys to sell a lot of different products and impossible for them to be excellent at all of them. If the company that produces your seed also makes aspirin or cassette tapes, it's hard to know how important you are to them. Trying to be all things to all farmers opens up many potential points of failure that smaller, more agile companies can exploit. Innovative AgTech brands should resist the temptation to diversify. Keep the precision in precision agriculture. Continue to do what you do better than anyone. Stay agile and creative. Employ the same ingenuity that built your company to find innovative ways of reaching your audience and getting them to fall in love with your brand.
3. Branding — the emotional connection
To take market share from the big guys, an innovative AgTech company needs a great brand. Many innovative tech companies are so singularly focused on the technology that the corporate brand is often an afterthought, if a thought at all. The sooner you think about your company as not only innovative technology, but as a brand, the more effectively you'll tell your story and the sooner you'll be able to start winning the hearts and minds of your potential customers. Technology is cold. Brands are warm. People use technology. People love brands. Building a strong brand fosters strong love connections between your company and your customers.
Here are the steps to developing a great brand for innovative AgTech companies:
Brand Assessment. You can't get where you're going until you know where you stand. Brand assessment gets to know your team and your customers on a heart, mind and gut level. Internal interviews uncover valuable insights and build internal consensus. Audience interviews dig deep to learn more about your potential customers. Then audience personas are documented to profile your distinct audiences, identify their emotional triggers and prescribe how to effectively engage them.
Brand Strategy. Inspire your audience to take action. Brand positioning articulates your unique place in your sector, how you're different and why people should care. Brand messaging establishes the voice of your brand and forms the foundation for all brand messaging to come.
Brand Implementation. This is where your brand starts to interact with your audience. Corporate identity establishes your overall look and feel. Web identity builds your total digital presence from website to email to social media. Marketing touchpoints are individual pieces prescribed to meet your needs and can include videos, direct marketing, advertising, infographics and print materials.
With only 20% of acreage currently managed using AgTech, the market potential is huge. Strong brand identities will help innovative AgTech companies rise above the crowded field and make meaningful connections with farmers.
4. Collaboration — the specialist's secret sauce
Specialization not only builds expertise, it reduces competition. The fewer your competitors, the greater your potential partners. When a company offers everything a farmer could need, that company is a competitor to all and a potential collaborator with none. Hyper-specialized AgTech businesses have incredible opportunities for mutually beneficial collaborations. Look for companies that share your ethos and provide complementary products. Seek partnerships where you can help them as much as they help you. From simple social media sharing to co-branded efforts, the opportunities are plentiful. A rising tide lifts all boats and there are a lot of other small to mid-size boats out there that could be stronger as part of an armada.
5. Prove it — the science behind the sale
Farmers love hard data as much as engineers. Great branding can grab your customers' attention and tell them why you're better. Science can prove how you're better. Sales, marketing and advertising can't replace hard data — it gets the conversation started. The data closes the deal. Independent third-party trials, peer-reviewed research and results demonstrated by your collaborators provide the cold, hard data to support your warm, engaging brand story. Precision agriculture has the potential to increase profitability by $55–$110 per acre. Proving how your solution fits into that equation is critical.
It's 2026. Do you know where your brand is?
Farmers will continue to adopt AgTech practices over the next 10 years. However, the agricultural technology race is a marathon, not a sprint. AgTech companies that rush to market with unproven technology will burn off and slow overall adoption of precision agriculture — but, the AgTech revolution will not be stopped. Big data, expansion of rural broadband, increasing focus on stewardship and the rise of the next generation of farmers — along with rapidly increasing food demands will necessitate broad adoption of AgTech practices.
AgTech brands that will endure the precision agriculture marathon will have a deep rooted culture of innovation and hyper-specialized, best-in-class solutions. They'll embrace and nurture their corporate brand on a holistic level, collaborate with a plentitude mentality and always back up their brand story with reliable data.
About Toolbox Creative:
Toolbox Creative offers a powerful engine to grow technology brands and take on the big players in the field. We help innovative companies like yours look and sound as good as they truly are, increasing brand equity, boosting media buzz and making the most of your marketing dollars.
Sources: Digital Agriculture: Improving Profitability, Beyond the Hype: How Agriculture Technology wins customers and creates Value, USDA Census of Agriculture, The Need for New Farmers, Farmer Generation Gap