LONDON, Ohio – Knowing how to grow crisp vegetables and perfectly plumped fruit is a useful skill, but most farmers know there’s more to it than just planting and harvesting. To make money, you’ve got to get your product to consumers.
Thanks to direct marketing strategies, many producers have gone from boring to booming in the marketplace. During Farm Science Review Sept. 18-20, educators held several sessions on how to succeed with this type of marketing.
Marketing tips. One of the most important things direct marketers can do is understand their customers.
Washington County extension educator Eric Barrett said consumers are often pressed for time, so accessibility and easy purchasing are two elements worth considering.
Finding a niche market can also be rewarding. For instance, 63 percent of Americans sometimes incorporate organic foods into their diet, so targeting this niche could boost direct marketing sales.
Another direct marketing technique is to create an experience for buyers. To prove that experience sells, Barrett pointed to the coffee industry. Coffee bean growers get about $1 per pound for their product, but those same beans bring $50 per pound at Starbucks. Buyers pay a premium price simply to have the experience Starbucks offers.
Direct marketers can use anything from farm tours to decorations to create an experience for their customers.
Business brand. Branding your business also helps with direct marketing. But branding isn’t just creating a logo, it’s about connecting with consumers. Don’t hesitate to share the story of your farm or family, Barrett said.
Also, having a signature item can be helpful in branding your business. Whether it’s gigantic tomatoes or perfect sweet corn, a signature item gives customers a way to remember your products.
Markets. Americans have taken a keen interest in farmers’ markets recently, with the number of U.S. markets jumping from 1,775 in 1994 to more than 4,400 in 2007. As consumers strive to know more about where their food comes from, farmers’ markets offer a chance to talk with producers and ask questions.
Ohioans have taken a particular interest in this type of buying and selling, as the state ranks in the top five for direct farm sales.
“This whole concept of local is very powerful,” said Mark Mechling, Muskingum County extension educator.
But while the interest in local food is growing on its own, it’s still important for direct marketers to know who their consumers are. Most shoppers at farmers’ markets are 35- to 60-year-old women with children.
So, what does that information tell you?
Nothing, if you don’t talk to those shoppers and find out what they need.
“I think it’s really important people talk to their customers,” Mechling said.
And since it costs far more to replace a customer than to keep one, the extension educator suggests making customer service a priority.
“Take care of those customers you currently have supporting your booth at a farmers’ market,” he said. “You don’t have an infinite number of customers coming in. You’ve got to have repeat business.”
Be different. Whether you chose to market right from your farm or at a farmers’ market, it’s crucial to make yourself unique, according to Christy Eckstein of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Differentiate your product, provide samples, offer something complimentary – let consumers know there’s no other product or service like yours.
“You’ve got to do something that’s going to make your place stand out,” she said.
And whatever you do, always aim to provide high-quality products, whether your stand is on or off the farm.
“High quality is really important,” Mechling said. “It’s not a place where you just dump your extra product.”
Although it’s important to grow a good product, the rain and wind and pests are only half the battle. The other half is having a good marketing strategy because farming isn’t just trucks and tractors anymore.
“Farmers are farmers, but you’ve also got to be a marketer at this point,” Eckstein said.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)