The Plow that Won the Heartland . . . and the Heart

Ashton Belk
15 November, 2021

This is blog post number one in a seven-part series that unpacks the key questions we encourage brands to ask when evaluating their brand relevancy.

In this article, we address: “Do we really know exactly why customers buy our products instead of competing products?”

Our Founder, Jim Huebner, has written a lot about John Deere over the years. It’s a brand we keep coming back to because it offers a great example of high-quality, long-lasting marketing success. Jim even confessed that he bought a Deere mostly for that brand, even though it cost at least 30% more and has given him more trouble than cheaper competitors. 

Today, I’d like to revisit the WHY behind the brand’s prominence. What seeds did the founders plant years ago that continue to bear such strong brand awareness? And what can we learn from their story for our businesses today?

Reputation built on quality

John Deere became a hero of the Illinois agriculture scene in the 1800s with a patented plow
that worked better than any other. 

And that’s the story he told about his invention – it’s the best!

Some might argue he was simply able to get his plows into the hands and fields of farmers when others couldn’t and that’s what really made the equipment so popular. However, as a talented blacksmith, it really was Deere’s design and use of superior steel that cut through the thick prairie grass of the heartland like no other.

The quality helped build a brand that has grown and endured across farm equipment, heavy machinery, lawn and garden, toys and merch . . . even into financial services (a credit union to help customers pay for it all).  

Customers buy Deere equipment because it works; and because it works hard. 

But don’t they buy it for the story, too? 

The brand is truly an American icon – a rich part of frontier history akin to the Winchester Rifle and Pony Express. The green and yellow palette are instantly recognizable worldwide by farmers and non-farmers alike. And you can sell a used John Deere tractor whether it runs or not. 

In fact, you can sell it for quite a lot.

Value beyond the price tag

One auction site reports a rare 1937 John Deere Model 62 with a cracked block selling for $56,000. It originally sold for less than $500 (equivalent to about $10,000 today). Now granted, that is a collectible item, but it represents more than a 5x increase in value. And it was broken! 

The Model A tractor from 1952 commonly sells at auction for about the same price it cost back then, around $2,400. The cost for a new one in today’s dollars would be about 10 times that much but the value has certainly endured for a 70-year-old machine that you probably can’t even use for farming anymore. 

Of course, when it comes to today’s more contemporary models – that aren’t collectors’ items yet – tractors depreciate much like driving a new car off the lot. However, Successful Farming magazine reports in a sampling of models that John Deere and two other brands were the only ones to depreciate less than average. And Deere actually led the pack holding 22% more original value than average. It’s the #1 best-selling tractor brand in the U.S. according to an Ag Equipment Intelligence report, which also indicated brand loyalty at 60% – far outdistancing the nearest competitor that had 25% brand loyalty. 

Old green and yellow tractors have high perceived value and so do the new ones – Deere & Company reports a 34% sales increase for Q2 in 2021. 

Why we care

As Deere & Company demonstrates, high-quality features and benefits are the foundation of customer satisfaction. But it doesn’t hurt to offer customers a hearty slice of pride, as well. John Deere has remained a premium brand (with amazingly high resell value) for more than two hundred years because they’ve stayed focused on what makes them relevant to their loyal customer base. 

Which begs a few questions:

  • Is your brand positioned to remain relevant over the long haul?
  • Do you really know why your customers choose you over your competitors?

The answers could help you build a brand that offers your customers more than just a product . . . but a sense of pride in ownership. 

Need help digging into these questions? We are experts in helping manufacturers identify what makes their brand most relevant to their customers. We’d love to talk.