If someone asked what you or your company stood for, what would your response be? Could you look beyond the products you create and the services you dole out and proudly state that your colleagues are doing something to make a difference, something that changes the lives of the communities around you for the better? That’s the heart of the concept known as “cause marketing.”
Wendell, North Carolina-based tractor company KIOTI has poured years of energy into cause marketing campaigns, supporting veteran- and women farmers and responding to needs in both the local area and in regions elsewhere that have been hit by a crisis.
“Relative to some others, we are a smaller company, but being small allows us to be somewhat nimble with less bureaucracy that can get in the way of showing a company’s personality,” explained Greg Bibee, director of strategic sales and marketing for KIOTI. “We thrive on that, and it’s enabled us to do some of those things that larger companies maybe cannot do for various reasons.”
This is outreach that’s more than just signing over a check to a nonprofit or kicking in funds for a community revitalization project — KIOTI’s cause marketing is focused on giving tangible materials toward a need or actively promoting an issue that encourages the “pay it forward” mentality. In an era where 46 percent of the public pays close attention to brands’ actions and where 70 percent want to know how companies are tackling social and environmental issues, it’s an effective way to form new connections with individuals and with the heavy machinery industry as a whole.
KIOTI’s efforts have evolved in recent years, as the tractor brand — a division of Daedong-USA — has continued to explore ways to engage and to inspire others to do the same. But where they stand today has roots in many past experiences and efforts. In short, they’ve earned the opportunity to take it to the next level.
Over the past decade, some of the highlights from KIOTI’s cause marketing efforts include:
- The Pink Tractor campaigns, where KIOTI painted tractors and utility vehicles pink for breast cancer awareness and auctioned them off, has yielded donations for various causes, including to the N.C. Cancer Hospital.
- In 2019, KIOTI connected with triple amputee veteran J.D. Williams, who started the Mohawk Outdoors charity, with the goal of taking other wounded veterans into the field on excursions like camping and fishing trips. KIOTI took a K9 utility vehicle and partnered with Life Essentials to have the machine retrofitted with chair lifts and hand controls so that Williams could make his trips available to even more people.
- When Category 5 Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico in 2017 and knocked out virtually all power on the island, KIOTI teamed up with the Red Cross and donated five Mechron utility vehicles to the relief effort with the instructions for the Red Cross to “use them as you see fit.” These UTVs were able to traverse the messy road conditions and other damaged infrastructure to deliver aid and supplies to areas that may not have been accessible by truck or car.
That’s just the tip of KIOTI’s recent history, where benefiting servicemen and -women and helping to meet the needs of the community’s impoverished and hungry have also become part of the company’s DNA.
“That’s one of the things you’ll see a lot of, we try to incorporate our products,” Bibee said. “It’s not just about telling people about our brand, or showing pictures, or doing an ad campaign — it’s about how do we use our products to actually benefit the community beyond just donating money.”
It wasn’t long ago when KIOTI asked itself: What’s next? How does a brand like KIOTI take the desire it has to help others and inspire that in a bigger group of people and encourage them to take action?
This was a chance to go beyond what the corporate entity would do and nurture a grassroots sense of community.
That initiative sparked the creation of the KIOTI Dirt Brigade, which launched as a virtual association of owners using their heavy machinery to better their communities. Through their Facebook group, hundreds of Dirt Brigade members have shared inspiring stories of their own acts of kindness — from assisting with hurricane cleanup to helping with snow removal to maintaining an elderly neighbor’s yard.
The reach of this effort has extended across the United States and Canada, and it has far surpassed any impact that could have been achieved merely from KIOTI’s North Carolina facility.
“As we started doing that, we got some momentum,” Bibee said. “And other owners joined the group and would see the stories, then they’d want to share their stories, and before you know it, we’ve built this community of people looking for ways to do better in their local areas.”
Certain folks got “inducted” into the semi-official ranks of the Dirt Brigade and thus spurred the spread of this message. And KIOTI’s dealer network has gotten energized by being able to share something about the company beyond its products — they can also be proud of KIOTI’s ethos and how it spreads in the community.
The company has had a steady increase in Dirt Brigade members since the launch and from those who follow the stories on social media.
An extension of the KIOTI Dirt Brigade was kicked off in fall 2021 with Rebuilding Together of the Triangle, a nonprofit that operates in the Raleigh-Durham-Cary area to provide no-cost home repairs to neighbors in need. Rebuilding Together has many chapters across the U.S. and is the largest nonprofit that works to provide affordable homeownership and revitalization in neighborhoods. At any given time, the chapter in the Triangle has over 500 projects under consideration, but usually only about 100 to 150 can get done in a given year. Those who need help are often in underserved parts of the community and include seniors, single parents, and disabled veterans.
Because Rebuilding Together usually rents heavy equipment for its projects, KIOTI donated a custom CK2610 HST tractor with a loader and a backhoe to help bring hands-on assistance to the nonprofit’s work. Now, tasks such as water displacement can be more easily completed with machinery instead of by hand-digging.
KIOTI is documenting some of the projects and sharing that with the Dirt Brigade community to further inspire action.
It’s likely, too, that this kind of outreach from the tractor company could extend to other chapters of Rebuilding Together, further inspiring people to do good.
There is so much value in seeing companies such as KIOTI improving the world around them. Many agricultural companies support STEM education, FFA programs, pollinator programs, and mental wellness among farmers. It pays off, especially as one out of every two consumers are belief-driven buyers. Yet even if the results are not easily tangible in some cases, the effect on the world around them is apparent to all.
“We’re not out here counting good deeds. We’re not trying to measure our impact in dollars,” Bibee said. “To us, it’s more that as a company, we were trying to figure out what we stand for, what is important to us, beyond the fact that we sell good products.”
Ryan Tipps is the founder and managing editor of AGDAILY. The Indiana native has a master’s degree in Agriculture and Life Sciences from Virginia Tech and has covered the food and farming industries at the state and national levels since 2011.