By BRIAN LISIK
COLUMBIANA, Ohio — A picture is worth a thousand words, but moving pictures mean money.
The Holthouse Farms website features an in-depth written history of the 112-year Willard, Ohio-based family farm — from the time patriarch Jan Holthuis left the Netherlands in the late 1800s and established the business with his two brothers.
“We have the whole history, but what people go to is the 90-second video,” said Robert Holthouse.
Holthouse encouraged other growers to add videos to their marketing efforts during his presentation, Creating Videos for Marketing and Training. The session was part of the 2014 Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association Summer Tour and Field Day June 25 at White House Fruit Farm in Canfield and McMaster Farms in Columbiana.
That short video follows a crop of Holthouse “Life Brand” peppers, from planting to packaging. The simple, but effective, marketing tool has, by Holthouse’s estimation, tripled the company’s social media impact and increased its overall business by leaps and bounds. (Scroll down to watch the video and another example from an Ohio grower.)
“Increasingly, if a customer is going to buy an pepper, they want to know the story of that pepper — from the beds being laid, to planting, to packaging,” said Holthouse, who traded in a career working in television production in Chicago to return to the family farm.
His initial focus after returning to Ohio was developing Holthouse’s food safety software. That led to the production of company training videos and, finally, marketing the farm to its customers.
“What you want to include are things like how long you have been there and your agricultural philosophy,” Holthouse said of using video to market farms.
“Customers want to know that you are not just a factory putting out vegetables,” he added. “People are more likely to buy from you when you tell them where it came from, when it was harvested, and technology used to harvest it.”
And by customers, Holthouse was referring not only to visitors at local farmers markets seeking locally grown products. Holthouse Farms is a wholesaler providing produce to national chains such as Wal-Mart and Chipotle, a clientele that is concerned with the farming practices of its produce vendors. In the process, Holthouse’s farm videos have become educational tools as well.
“When we attend these (retail food) festivals, I get hit on the head for not farming organically, but many of those people don’t know about how we do farm,” he said. “So the videos are another way of telling our story.
“My family’s farm has been sitting in the same place for more than 100 years and if we didn’t care about the land, we wouldn’t still be farming.”
While Holthouse himself produces training and marketing videos for other companies, he stressed the relative ease and low cost for almost anyone creating them.
“It is so much easier to do than a decade ago because the equipment is so affordable,” Holthouse said, noting how far one can get with a good voice-over script, a $25 microphone, cameras like the nearly indestructible (and relatively cheap) Go Pro, and some web-based video-editing tools.
“You don’t need a $5,000 camera; you can do it with a cell phone and a tripod,” he said. “You can get a camcorder for $200 to $1,000, but I have made videos with my wife’s $500 Nikon d5100 that were better than $60,000 professional film equipment I’ve used. It just depends on how much time you want to put into it.”
The ease of sharing documentary-style videos, or photo-themed promotional pieces, on various social media platforms can increase a grower’s marketing reach exponentially, Holthouse said.
“Things like Instagram are good for little updates and when people friend you, you start popping up on their sites,” he said, adding that industry standbys such as Facebook, Youtube and Vimeo remain good business drivers.
Jon Branstrator, of Branstrator Farm in Clarksville, Ohio, has embraced social media as a marketing tool, with an active blog and upwards of 1,400 Facebook friends.
“I am always trying to tell our a story and looking for ways to use technology to do that — it drives our U-pick business and we couldn’t do the job without it,” Branstrator said, calling Holthouse’s tips on making video a part of that media mix an “excellent presentation.”
“He answered several of my questions and I thought the presentation was very useful,” Patton said. Specifically, she hopes to use video as part of school tours Lynd Fruit Farm hosts.
“We used to be wholesale and our apple packaging line ran all day,” she said. “We have gone more U-pick, and the line is often shut down during the afternoon tours and the kids want to see the apples bouncing around. So we want to use video as a tool for the tours.”
Whatever the impetus, Holthouse stressed the marketing power of simply telling a farm’s story.
“It makes a customer more likely to buy from someone they know, or they feel like they know,” he said. “More and more, customers are more interested in your philosophy on growing the product than they are the product.
“If they know who grew it, that the family has been here 100 years, that you care about the soil, and you want your kids to be able to continue farming, that makes a difference to people.”
Video from Maize Valley Market and Winery, Hartville, Ohio: