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Lessons to be learned fresh from the farm

I grew up in farming, so it’s near and dear to my heart. Naturally, I keep my eyes open for farm-related stories and sagas.

A recent article in Canada’s CountryGuide caught my attention because it talks about farms and marketing, two of my top interests in one place. The article offers tips for farmers engaged in product sales online, through retail channels and to the general public.

Author Helen Lammers-Helps says, “Once you’ve got your value-added product or service ready to go, the hard part’s done, right? Not so fast. Chances are you are going to need to work hard to build product awareness. The experts agree you need a plan for how you’re going to let your potential customers know why they’re going to want to do business with you…The marketing plan is a vital part of your business plan plan and should emphasize the five Ps of marketing. Product, positioning, place, price and promotion must be thoroughly dissected. But there also has to be more…Key elements include product differentiation, your ‘story,’ and your customer profile.”

Lammers-Helps details five common mistakes addressed by Gary Morton, a consultant who, has been helping farmers launch value-added businesses for more than 20 years. Following are excerpts:

  1. Not defining their target market. Too many people think anyone who eats food is a customer, but that’s too general.
  2. Not budgeting enough for marketing. Morton says you may need to spend as much or more than what you spent on product development.
  3. Ineffective package design. Here’s another area where farmers commonly don’t spend enough. The package must stand out and be recognizable.
  4. Not giving out enough free samples. “When it comes to food products, it’s essential to give out samples,” Morton says.
  5. Doing only half the job. Too often, farmers think that once they’ve got the product onto grocery store shelves their job is done…you still have to create the market demand.

Best practices for direct farm marketing are provided by Dr. Andreas Boecker and colleagues. Here are excerpts:

  • Network and collaborate with other local businesses. For example, sell non-competing products from other farms or collaborate on events.
  • Get involved in regional publications such as local food maps and local tourism offices that promote culinary or agri-tourism.
  • Connect with local media such as newspaper and radio.
  • Stay connected with your customers. Build a customer database, send out an email newsletter, connect using social media, and use surveys.
  • Offer value-added services. Hold special events, give out recipes, and suggest other local attractions to customers.
  • Take part in off-site activities that fit your brand. Choose events that attract like-minded people.
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