Case study: Using AI to raise awareness for organic farming with Black Farmers Index and University of Miami Herbert Business School

Background for the project

As advances in artificial intelligence (AI) open up new business opportunities, how do we prepare the next generation of leaders to understand and use this technology? This is the mission of the Nustory Project which recently teamed up with MBA students from the University of Miami Herbert Business School to explore the potential of AI for marketing with the non-profit Black Farmers Index: an organization dedicated to improving food security within the black population.

Over the course of ten weeks, a group of five students with a coaching mentor from Deloitte Consulting, worked on the challenge of creating a campaign to entice black farmers in the US to become USDA certified organic.

As Kaia Shivers, Founder and CEO of the Black Farmers Index pointed out, many black farmers use the same techniques handed down through the generations, which means they only need simple adjustments to achieve organic certification, and the economic benefits that can come with selling produce at a higher cost. Obstacles come in the form of cultural barriers in which organic produce and consumption is viewed as simply in-vogue labeling, or a mistrust of organizations such as the USDA based on legacy experiences of slavery, where US institutions bolstered social injustice.

“In the US, black people were the first growers that fueled the country, meaning it was their agricultural work and artisanship that fueled the economy.”

  • Kaia Shivers, Black Farmers Index

The project involved creation of a marketing strategy aimed at black farmers, turning this into a campaign that could be executed, and sharing insights and recommendations based on the campaign. AI was infused throughout this process, and its applicability, performance, and usefulness was monitored and reflected on.

Marketing strategy and AI

A core component of marketing strategy involves understanding the audience so you can create marketing campaigns that are tailored to them. So, for a campaign targeting farmers in the black community, how exactly can you build this understanding?

The student team used materials from Black Farmers Index, industry reports, and other online resources to understand Black farmer demographics. To build more detailed personas, the team used AI tools ChatGPT and Claude. Using these tools, they created three initial personas: the legacy farmer, the new farmer, and the community advocate farmer. One thing that stood out was the degree to which the AI tools can create differentiated personas.

BFI Miami Presentation AI Personas

For instance, here is a Legacy Farmer persona:

Background: Sarah Johnson is a 62-year-old African American farmer from rural Mississippi. She comes from a long line of farmers dating back to the post-Civil War era. Her family has owned and worked the same land for generations.

Income: Sarah’s income comes primarily from her farm, but it’s modest, and she supplements it with a part-time job at a local community center.

Gender: Female

Goals: Sarah’s primary goal is to preserve her family’s farming legacy and maintain the traditions passed down through her ancestors. She values sustainability and hopes to pass the farm on to her grandchildren.

Preferred Channels: Sarah prefers attending local farming meetings, communicating with neighboring farmers in person, and using landline phones for rural communication.

Compare this with the Community Advocate persona:

Background: Aisha Mitchell, a 43-year-old African American, resides in an urban area of Chicago, Illinois. She has a background in social work and community organizing.

Income: Aisha’s income comes from a combination of her small urban farm, grant funding for community projects, and part-time work as a social worker.

Gender: Female

Goals: Aisha’s primary goal is to address racial and social justice issues in agriculture. She advocates for food equity in her community, runs educational programs on urban farming, and actively works to empower marginalized individuals in her neighborhood.

Preferred Channels: Aisha is active on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, where she shares resources, organizes community events, and raises awareness about food justice. She also engages with local community organizations and attends advocacy meetings in person.

We ran through these personas in a Design Thinking workshop with Kaia, the founder at Black Farmers Index, and she was impressed at the level of detail and how it reflects the farmers she meets on a daily basis.

After we created different personas using AI, we went through them in detail with Dr Shivers to define them based on what we were trying to appeal to with the campaign. We listened to her stories of various farmers that she works with. And we’re educated on the history and long term issues that have affected the black farming community for years.

  • Indira Dandridge, MBA Student, University of Miami Herbert Business School

The creation of these personas set us up well for the next phase: turning the insights into a marketing campaign.

Developing a marketing campaign with AI

The next phase of the project involved building a Facebook marketing campaign to test out different approaches to motivating black farmers to consider organic certification. The team decided to focus on the new farmer and the community advocate farmer as these personas were more likely to engage on social media.

We used the Jungian archetypes (which are commonly used in brand marketing) to develop different ads we can test in market. ChatGPT was used to generate multiple advertisement copy options pairing archetypes with personas.

For instance, here’s output text in the Everyman archetype:

“Good Neighbors: We’re all in this together. Healthy fields mean a healthier community and stronger friendships.”

And this is output when asked to use the Outlaw archetype:

“Break free from conventional constraints. Let’s cultivate our land our way, proving that organic farming isn’t just about growing crops; it’s about growing a movement.”

While the copy was not strong enough to put in market directly, it did offer us good directional ideas around use of the archetypes that we could refine.

The Jungian archetype model is very useful because it taps into a set of human emotions that are universal. So it’s easy to use them to create messages with different archetypes that relate directly to the personas.

  • Flavia Cespedes, MBA Student, University of Miami Herbert Business School

Once we had the messaging finalized, we needed to create accompanying visuals. Using text-to-image tool Midjourney, we created the following two ads for the first test:

BFI Miami FB Ad Test 1

Within a week of running these ads on Facebook, we were able to get statistically significant returns. The first ad “Join the organic movement” had a 10% higher engagement rate.

Based on these results, we worked the winning Test A copy into two different variations (keeping the visuals the same), and created short social videos with these frames:

BFI Miami FB Ad Test 2

The copy for Test A is based on the Hero archetype, whereas Test B leans more into the Explorer archetype.

Here’s where things get interesting.

After running this test for a few days, we received the results: the ‘legacy’ Hero messaging in Test A saw 38% higher post engagement. This surprised us, as typically a money motivator performs well in ads, and it was impressive that we were able to out-perform this with the ‘legacy’ messaging derived from the personas and pain points. This has ramifications for branding of Black Farmers Index, as messaging that is not related to financial promises tends to work better for brand differentiation and recall.

Insights and recommendations

Based on the performance of the ‘legacy’ messaging in the Facebook ad campaign, the University of Miami Herbert Business School students made recommendations to the Black Farmers Index around how this could be applied to other marketing channels, such as the website, email marketing, and even events.

This form of brand identity and messaging work is typically costly, and normally reserved for large organizations with substantial marketing budgets. AI offers the opportunity for disruption in this field: opening up brand marketing to much smaller organizations and non-profits like the Black Farmers Index.

At this point, the AI is most useful when paired with human experts. For instance the personas needed to be ratified and the ad copy needed editing before being dropped into market. This is consistent with the view from tech industry experts that AI tools help employees be more productive, rather than replace them.

For this project we did also experiment with the the use of AI for more business-related tasks that are useful for marketing, but go further: such as summarization of key topics from 1- and 2-hour web conference meetings. Again, this required human intervention to confirm all points were salient, but this was a big time-saver: no need to spend time pulling notes from transcripts. Having meeting notes in text format has further advantages for enterprise knowledge management as most company intranets deal better with text retrieval.

While we are still at the early stages of Generative AI, this project demonstrated how this technology can have significant business impact, opening up new possibilities for the application of brand marketing across a broader spectrum of the business universe.

Through this project, we learned that the potential benefit to marketing of the AI tools currently available, whether that’s for refining an organization’s messaging for email campaigns, social media, or website copy. Beyond that, these tools can help with preparing scripts for meetings, or producing summaries from training sessions. There really is a wealth of resources out there.

  • Robert Locke, MBA Student, University of Miami Herbert Business School

The team

Black Farmers Index Project Sponsor

Dr Kaia Shivers, Founder & CEO, Black Farmers Index

University of Miami Herbert Business School MBA Team

Indira Dandridge
Stephanie Guevera
Flavia Cespedes
Robert Locke
Arsh Tiku

University of Miami Herbert Business School ACE project lead

Liam Anderson, Director, Experiential Learning, University of Miami Herbert Business School

Deloitte Consulting Coach

Nidish Mada, Principal, Deloitte Consulting

Nustory Project Team

Daryl Pereira, IBM Senior Brand & Content Strategist (Nustory project lead)
Nustory Design Lead: Michael Powell, Creative Director, IBM (Nustory design lead)