More awareness is not the answer: the messy middle of agtech adoption

“Maybe we should make a database of all the agtech solutions, categorize them, and put it on a website for farmers”

I have heard this, or something like it, way too many times. No matter how well intentioned the effort is, it’s not only infuriating but also a huge waste of money. 

“More awareness” is hardly ever the unlock code for agtech adoption. 

More awareness is not the answer

Overwhelmingly, the go-to solution for lack of adoption seems to be to increase awareness. Bigger booths at more trade shows. More grower meetings with fancier handouts. More impressive digital marketing giveaways. Media placements and podcasts. Tools and databases. 

Technology vendors are certainly guilty of this. But so too are research organizations, government, and industry groups.  

There are at least two problems with the exclusive focus on awareness. First, getting attention is not the same as building a reputation

And second, the adoption process is not: 

        Awareness >>> Adoption

There are three (arguably much more important!) additional steps to address.

The five phases of adoption

Customers do need to know a product exists before they can make any decisions about it. Farmers are no exception. But awareness about an agtech company or product is just the beginning.

Phase 2: Interest. It’s easy to assume that once someone knows about a product, it’ll be obvious that it’s interesting. In reality, piquing a potential customer’s interest is much more complicated.  

Phase 3: Evaluation. While in immature markets vendors will often find customers who didn’t know a solution to their problem even existed, to scale, companies must also win when compared to alternatives.  

Phase 4: Trial. No one gets fired for hosting a demo or attending a field day. But this is another situation where it’s easy to falsely assume “once they see it, they’ll get it.” Challenges like support costs, applicability to local operating conditions, and skill or capability gaps must be overcome. 

Navigating the messy middle: adoption is a psychology problem 

However comforting the idea that “once customers know about the products, they’ll sell” might be, it’s essentially never the case at any kind of meaningful scale because adoption is a psychology problem, not an awareness problem (If you’re not convinced, check out this study from the CSIRO on getting sugarcane farmers to change practices).

There’s no silver bullet solution to agtech adoption, but there’s plenty of useful work to be done. 

  • Startups can do better at customer discovery, develop (non-promotional) educational materials, design business models that understand the difference between users and beneficiaries, and develop partnerships to reduce support costs. 
  • Industry bodies can subsidize or incentivize commercial trials to give farmers confidence about how solutions will perform in localized conditions and across product and seasonal lifecycles
  • Researcher organizations can conduct independent validation of the claims different competing products make. 

And we’d love to hear what you think: what’s working (or not) to increase agtech adoption?  

More of our agtech adoption reflections and resources

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Key takeaways

  • When agtech is not adopted, people often think lack of awareness is the issue
  • There's a well established process for adoption, and each phase has key unlocks
  • Understanding the psychology of customers and users is key to adoption

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