22 Immutable laws of marketing applied to agriculture and natural production systems

This book which came out in 1993, by author Al Ries. I’ve always maintained that if we applied some of these core fundamental principles to the primary sector and the export markets we serve.

Melissa Baer
Melissa Baer
December 1, 2021
22 Immutable laws of marketing applied to agriculture and natural production systems

Agriculture as we’ve known it is facing threats from every angle.

In a New Zealand context, the food we export:  

  1. travels the furthest to any region we export to (therefore incurs plenty of negative environmental impact scores  
  1. Much of our NZ exports are ruminant based – which have challenges in the environmental space  
  1. There are synthetics entering the protein space at a more rapid pace than ever before  
  1. Alternative channels to market for producers/ farmers are threatening the current co-op processing exporting model (what were previously hard to reach and regulatory overhead prohibitive, there are now solutions and technology that exists that makes this increasingly less so).  
  1. In the overseas markets that New Zealand competes, the direct-to-consumer model is rapidly growing and there for is a threat for the dollar that our companies compete for.  
  1. The growth of online farmers markets and direct to consumer shops on Amazon, shopify, and other platforms such as Local Line mean that this is increasingly a legitimate option for suppliers and put the co-op processing model at risk
  1. Increasingly volatile geo politically landscape  
  1. Proof of production and processing and food safety and provenance assurances are increasingly costly and complex in both a co-op business model and at an individual farm level
  1. Logistics (Largely due to, or perhaps highlighted by Covid) are challenging, cold storage can be costly and any disruption can be disastrous  

The additional challenge that faces exporters is the saturated market, with an exponential increase in SKU’s, increasing channels to market and more claims than ever before, the consumer is overwhelmed and retaining loyalty, and remaining front of mind is costly and challenging.  

A full piece of research has been conducted on this and can be downloaded here – about the role of the consumer in a sustainable supply chain

Our brands MUST be exceptional at reaching their markets and supporting their supply chain partners to be excellent at delivering value to their end consumer as well.

In fact a cornerstone of branding is to keep delivering value and keep backing up the claims, so that it’s a real, lived experience.  

I’ve recently gone through this for our own company, and its always the advice that the customer needs to “experience” the brand values and it must be more than just words.  

So how do we continue to deliver value. It’s a bit of a “what have you done for me lately”.

So I thought I’d go back to basics. We have the disadvantage of being distanced from our end consumer here in New Zealand. Which results in reactive activities and often a distrust in how to move forward or “what the consumer will buy”.  

So let’s break it down to some trusty old “immutable laws”, who doesn’t love a bit of certainty in these uncertain times.  

So same old laws, fresh take on applying them to the agribusiness sector in New Zealand.  

22 Immutable laws of marketing - as it relates to remaining relevant, growing our primary sector

“Everyone is interested in what’s new, few are interested in what’s better”

This says it all, if we think about the number of new categories that New Zealand companies have created, I’m hard pressed to find many shining examples. There are definitely out there, but what opportunities are we missing but not asking ourselves the question “what category is this product first in”.  

Said another way, a marketing mentor once told me to find the category that I, and only I could totally own. By putting a new category into the space, we immediately own it, it requires others to step to it.  

Perception can work in our favour here in New Zealand, but just as easily it can be detrimental. The point is we can not rest on our laurels, and assume we have a “clean green” image, we must continuously be coming to back that up, produce new evidence to this fact. This often looks like “leading” and being bold in this space. Due to geographical distance (or perhaps other reasons), we are often more responsive than we are boldly leading.  

As an example we could be the country in the world best known for the “future of meat”, we could be investing in alternatives, in recipe creation with both natural produced and synthetics, we could be fully understanding the environmental impact, the regulatory, labelling and transparency space as new technology comes to the fore. How do we make it understandable for consumers to make effective decisions in this new world of so many options.  

This harkens back to Law number 2 – Law of category, but also relates to perception. How do we own a “word” or position in our end consumers minds? How do we support our supply chain partners to carry this perception and use to their advantage?  

What can New Zealand own exclusively that no other country could?  

Hot tip: It’s not clean and green. That is not solely ours to own, and if we are going to do that… we’d better get to work on starting to back that up a bit more effectively.

 If we can’t be number one, then how are we positioning to be the “upstart”?  

Are we competing with Artisan brands, but trying to do it at scale?  

How effective are we at this?  

Another way to consider this is that the animal protein industry has, as the law states, “accrued some negative damage”. So what are we doing to create new ‘upstart’ brands, categories and products?  

We can’t afford to be timid. There are many tales of the Tall Poppy Syndrome domestically, but what are we doing to ensure that doesn’t limit our options overseas?  

Is the “unsubstantiated claim” space the emerging space the space we can play in? Continuously coming to the market with new value?  

A good example of this is/was charcoal… everything. Was there scientific evidence that it was good for you? Maybe some, but really it flourished based on perception.  

What if we as a country proposed to have the most nutritious food?  

Micronutrient dense, and proven to be as such?  

Does this need to be a national strategy or should this be up to each individual company? There is power in a cluster approach, where we all build on a common message, however it is a free market and it’s more cost effective than ever to effectively own your message in foreign markets than it’s ever been. Perhaps there is space for each company to own their own category or use the law of the opposite?  

Boldly lean into verified naturally produced proteins?  

Produced by age old technology – photosynthesis.

The best example of this is toothpaste. The number of new categories launched by one brand now takes up entire supermarket aisles. You’d think it would cannibalise their sales, but they realised that as the category grew the category divided into segments.  

How do we employ this same thinking to continue to lead and provide more options for the consumer?  

What’s exciting about this is that we are now in a time where the category division and segmentation can be based on information. Information such as environmental footprint, production methods, processing methods etc.  

We could easily have segments within categories when you combine all the physical attributes and the information attributes and recombine them in new ways to address different sub segments of the category.  

Essentially resist the urge to extend the line under one brand, and think category and segmentation of a category instead of line extension.  

This would mean many of our big processing brands would need to create new brands and continue to do so. To create effectively “artisan” brands within a company. We’d have product owners and have brand owners.  

They would be responsible for the P&L of the category and brand and they would have access to processing capacity and cost that is afforded to the parent brand due to their size and efficiency, but by maintaining mini brands within, the company would be retaining the premium margins across more of the volume put through the processing facilities.  

This is not separate from the other laws, in fact it articulates in a different way the power of category, the power of perception and segmentation.  

The thing to remember from this is narrow the focus in order to build position in the prospects mind. This is the hardest thing to do because it feels like we give up sales.  

This leads to how marketing is working with sales. How is marketing/ product and category development working with the sales teams to make their work easy, to ensure that the sales teams know the target supply chain partners or end consumers and can effectively articulate the category value, product value and what segment it works for and how it will help the supply chain partners grow their position in the prospects mind as well.  

How much of the product that leaves New Zealand shores is purchased solely on price? As Law 14 suggests, if we don’t have an idea or an attribute to centre around, then we better have a low price, a very low price.  

What attributes are we focusing our efforts around, in the beginning it really is a thought experiment and if you are a farmer or have spent any time with farmers, you can begin to see how many inherent attributes are behind the gate, untapped and un-leveraged for the value chain, for differentiation, for growth, and for category creation.  

There is also a universal law of scarcity, by producing a scarcity perception (real or otherwise) in the mind of the prospect, this can drive price. First light achieved this with their “meat list” in the US when they first started.  

So the question is how do we continue to produce scarcity? Well this leads to the earlier law of category and segmenting categories. By producing new categories we produce scarcity in that category and can garner high margins.  

Value after all is scarcity multiplied by utility. So how scarce and how useful is it.  

I wonder if a specific micronutrient found only in the animals of the south island produced cattle, that helped with frown lines… would have some serious utility and also scarcity in specific markets. Just as an idea off the top of my head.  

This could be the most helpful Law of them all in this current “environment” for New Zealand companies.  

By stepping up and saying, “Hey we agree, our cows produce methane” and then using that to gain trust and come up with the ways we’re creating solutions and how it’s a point of difference because we’re working extra hard to find solutions.  

Being honest about what is commonly understood, is a great place to start and build trust from there. Ignoring the elephant in the room does nobody and no brand any good.  

Law 16 and 17 are very much related. We can’t predict the future and we can’t control the competition, but we can control what we do, and we can work hard to produce new value, new claims, new categories, and new segments within categories.  

In fact, if we focused less on “what could go wrong” and analysing to death what the consumer will want theoretically, and just got on with it a little bit, became proficient at productization, category creation and value proposition selling. Where we created, tried, and tested rapidly and cost effectively.  

The cost of bringing a new product to market is pretty eye watering at the minute in our current business models, this is one thing that first and foremost must be addressed if we want to continue to lead and be the option of choice in the prospects mind.  

Building in flexibility into the business is both a mindset shift as well as a tactical shift. This has technology implications; this has strategy and HR and training implications.  

I find it best articulated this way, pick your mountain (aka the trend), but don’t be attached to the pathway, because at each plateau or peak, you’ll see the world differently and the options and best course will be obvious from there.

This is particularly interesting to me, because the size of the companies that now export food products is quite large. The complacency of “brand” that we might fall into, that it’s our name of our country that is the reason people buy our products. It’s a little bit back to the “what have you done for me lately” concept of brand marketing and ensuring the claims are backed up continuously and providing NEW value.  

It also suggests there is massive scope for mini brands with their own P&L within the larger organisation, with access to the cost effective production/processing capability and logistics buying power. Ironically this might be a talent attraction strategy as well, a new brand with a fresh new value prop, a small team where young people get to own the success of it. They get to be part of something, the brand can stand for something and can chart its own course outside the restraints of the mothership, and we don’t fall into the line extension trap.  

A skill no doubt. In discerning trends from fads. Again, what is the mountain and how do you continue to back up the claims, what do you stand for, and how are you bringing new value to the consumer each time they interact with your brand and your products?  

Scarcity – never totally satisfy the demand. If you’ve successfully created a new category and you are owning it, in fact you’ve got competitors now in the space, and you may even begin to think about segmenting the category. How are you ensuring you’re maintaining scarcity? Because after all Value is scarcity multiplied by utility.  


These are some poignant reminders of marketing basics, that done well can help us through these uncertain ever-changing times. They can be used to our advantage given we are at greatest distance away from our end prospect. They can remind us to do the basics well. Just as the All Blacks focus on “run, catch, pass” so must we focus on the basics of creating value to the end prospect.  

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