Maintaining a social licence to operate

23 May, 2018 04:00 AM
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Dairy Australia research highlights the reality that more than half of the population does not have a good understanding of how milk is produced.
We must accept that the urban population has a long list of demands from the dairy sector ...
Dairy Australia research highlights the reality that more than half of the population does not have a good understanding of how milk is produced.

Years of work to ensure dairy's nutritional bona fides are firmly planted in the Australian consumer psyche have resulted in a broad understanding that dairy is good for you. That is no longer enough.

The modern consumer wants to know more than simply whether the product on offer tastes good and is healthy. They seek answers to a broader set of questions, like whether it's ethically sourced or whether it harms the environment.

The battle for the hearts and minds of the modern consumer -- and the sustainability of our industry -- will be decided on our ability to continually answer those questions in a way that satisfies community expectations and retains their trust.

In the past year, Dairy Australia's marketing focus has shifted from driving consumption to maintaining a social licence to operate.

We must accept that the urban population has a long list of demands of the dairy sector and these demands won't go away.

For us to retain our social licence to operate, we must continually meet those demands or a breakdown in trust will see consumers voting against us at the checkouts or lawmakers seeking to change the way we farm.

Trust can be eroded quickly and a single event has been known to bring down an industry overnight -- the NSW greyhound racing ban springs to mind.

Or it can be eroded over time with a steady stream of hard questions and negative coverage.

Regardless, if any of the issues facing our industry are allowed to reach a tipping point, the consequences will be dire.

Our Dairy Monitor tells us that public trust in the dairy industry is in decline, dropping from 70 per cent in 2011 to 63 per cent in 2017.

It is critical that everyone involved in dairy becomes more engaged in the task of reversing this trend.

As proud as we are of the standards we uphold in areas such as animal welfare and environmental sustainability, we must continue striving to go beyond compliance until the community sees us as a beacon of good practice in these areas.

When we see something that doesn't meet the expectations shared by the industry and the broader community, it needs to be called out.

We need to continually demonstrate our alignment with society's values.

Another key to staying ahead of the community's expectations and keeping their trust lies in information and managing the gap between what people think happens and what actually happens in our industry.

It is easy for us to assume people know where milk comes from, how it's made and what happens on farm.

However, our research highlights the reality that more than half don't have a good understanding of how milk is produced.

In the past, it would have seemed prudent to shy away from aspects of our industry that raise difficult questions.

However, this approach has allowed animal rights and vegan groups to control the narrative around these issues with their 'awareness raising campaigns'.

For dairy to retain its social licence, we must reclaim the narrative with open, honest and transparent communication about everything we do.

We need to build awareness of all the good reasons why our practices are essential, and not let activists tell the story.

We have identified the 10 main issues affecting trust in dairy across the areas of health and nutrition, animal welfare and environmental and technological practices.

We have also undertaken a large piece of work to break down and better understand who we are talking to, what they need to know in relation to those issues and the messages and channels we need to better activate to increase their level of trust in dairy.

This research has enabled us to zero in on a group we are calling 'The Changemakers'.

They make up about 45 per cent of the population, they have a high desire to make change, an appetite for facts, are open to what we have to say and they hold influence over others.

They want to fully understand the impact of our product to their health and know that our animals are treated well, that our farmers are supported through challenging times and that our industry is environmentally sustainable.

These insights will guide Dairy Australia's approach to campaigns, digital content, issues response and media relations.

While challenging conversations will be a big part of this, so too will celebrating the reasons why we are proud and passionate about this great industry.

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