John Deere: Stories from fields and farmyards

bethbohnert    November 21, 2017

On the screen, the toddler offers the bit of food in his hand to some grazing sheep. “Num … num,” he insists. The sheep, unimpressed, bleat in the background.

This slice of rural life, captured in a Twitter post, was part of a radically new marketing approach for equipment manufacturer John Deere.

Founded in 1837, the company is known for its big machines, from tractors and combines to bulldozers and backhoes. But through its work with Quarry, the award-winning St. Jacobs-based advertising agency, John Deere Canada discovered an underserved market for its smaller equipment and used digital media to reach them in meaningful ways.

The research

Quarry worked with John Deere Canada over a four-year period, helping the giant equipment manufacturer build buyer insights through audience segmentation and persona development.

That work uncovered a shadow persona, which Quarry defines as a persona that should be created, but is not because the customer it represents is hidden by an existing customer categorization model.” (Drummond & Mohr, 2017)

In this case, the shadow group was a new untapped market—small-scale farmers, relatively new to agriculture, juggling young families as well as full-time jobs. They are a growing population and while John Deere was paying attention to them, the company also recognized its traditional marketing approach, focused on large producers, wasn’t ideally matched to the needs and motivations of small-scale farmers.

“[The term] ‘hobby farmers’ doesn’t do them justice,” says John Van Daele, Senior Content Experience Creator at Quarry.

“They have smaller operations and need smaller-scale equipment, but their intent is no less serious than large-scale farmers. We needed to create an online environment just for them.”  (J. Van Daele, personal communication, November 20, 2017).

The challenge was to create a marketing campaign that would engage these farmers in ways that were both authentic and practical.

“We wanted potential small-scale farm customers to be able to actually try the machinery and see what it could do. We wanted to make the campaign story-based because we know that stories are what engage audiences. And since this audience is web-savvy, we knew this needed to be an online campaign,” adds Tony Mohr, Managing Director, Experience-Innovation Insights. (T. Mohr, personal communication, November 20, 2017).

The plan? Loan five small-farm families a new John Deere tractor suitable for the size of their operations. And at the same time, give them iPads and ask them to film the impact of the new equipment on their farms.

“We didn’t give them a lot of guidelines. We said, ‘Show us a day in the life of your farm,’” Van Daele notes.

The seeds for the Get Down to Dirt campaign were planted.

The campaign

The resulting videos became the foundation of the campaign. Over the span of 13 weeks in the autumn of 2015, the families shot at least five minutes of footage every day. But the videos they created were about much more than machinery. In these vignettes, the participants spoke about the challenges of balancing family life, jobs and farming. And they shared their dreams for their farms – to build businesses, raise their children in a rural environment, or live a greener lifestyle. Dreams that the tractors were helping to make possible.

The Quarry team housed the videos on the Get Down to Dirt microsite, crafted by web and user experience designers to be both rich in content and easy-to-use. The microsite focused on the experiences and aspirations of small growers, people learning the business.

The microsite was supported by a multi-prong strategy, including banner ads on the main John Deere Canada site and a robust social media strategy, focused on Facebook and Twitter.

For Van Daele, who wrote the copy for the microsite as well as the social content, the insights gathered through the persona development were key in helping to create content that reflected the experiences of both the participants and the target audience.

“We had developed such strong personas through the research process. And then I watched the videos the participants produced. The entrepreneur who’s growing hops for craft breweries in the region. The little kid chasing the sheep around the field. I feel like I got to know these people and that helped as I was writing the social media content.”

“It’s like when you write a note to a friend. You can picture them clearly and it becomes a conversation. We were able to maintain that integrity all the way through the web experience and social media.”

The strategy also addressed the sales and marketing needs of John Deere dealers.

“Dealers are always striving to find ways to do more with less and they may not have sizeable marketing budgets,” Mohr says. “We prepackaged about 100 posts, complete with video and images, and gave them to dealers to share through their own social media accounts.”

The microsite was also configured to send alerts to dealers when a visitor expressed interest in a product, allowing them to follow up on these leads.

The results

The Get Down to Dirt campaign wasn’t the first time John Deere had harnessed user-generated content in its social media efforts. For instance, “Deere sightings”—photos of equipment contributed by proud John Deere owners—regularly appear on its Twitter and Facebook feeds. But this project was on a much larger scale and required a significant budget.

“Several folks at John Deere became champions [for the project],” Mohr says. “They were willing to sponsor this initiative as a learning ‘lab’ and provide the budget for the project as an innovation bet.”

The wager paid off.

Get Down to Dirt generated a significant amount of attention on social media as well as a respectable number of sales leads. Its innovative approach garnered attention both in the media and in the marketing industry. And the company continues to explore ways to market its smaller tractors.

But most importantly, Mohr says, “the campaign was a learning experience. We helped John Deere discover a way to speak to these people in a manner that’s relevant and that resonates with them emotionally.”

“It wasn’t just a feel-good campaign to watch,” Van Daele adds. “It was a feel-good campaign to work on.”

Lessons for Others

Here’s what we can learn from Quarry and John Deere about using social media in marketing.

Know your audience, not just what you think you know.
Quarry spent considerable time gathering both qualitative and quantitative data on John Deere’s small-scale farmers. This enabled the team to create a persona that was not just a mini-version of the larger farming population, but one that spoke directly to the target audience.

Make the process as easy as possible
If you want to inspire user-generated content, remove as many barriers as possible for your content creators. Quarry supplied the Get Down to Dirt participants with powerful 3G-enabled iPads that automatically uploaded footage to the cloud. They also made sure that families received an orientation and safety training on the new tractors.

Make use of partnerships
Social media campaigns are not just about the creative. You may need to work with partners inside and outside your organization to operationalize your campaign. For instance, Quarry worked with dealers across Canada to supply participants with tractors and training.

Watch your language
“If you’re any kind of brand, the majority of your content needs to be relevant and useful,” Van Daele says. Refer to the persona you’ve developed to ensure you’re using a voice that your audience can relate to. Use their language and be respectful of their goals and values.

Organization: John Deere Canada
Industry: Machinery manufacturer
Name of Organization Contact: Tony Mohr, John Van Daele - Quarry

Authored by: Beth Bohnert

If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.


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John Deere. (n.d.) Get Down to Dirt. Retrieved from

Bernazzani, S. (n.d.) The 10 Best User-Generated Content Campaigns on Instagram. [Blog post]. Retrieved from

John Deere (2017, April 29). Learn Something New Every Day. [Video file]. Retrieved from