These days, social media marketing gets all the buzz like us on Facebook, tweet about us on Twitter, pin us on Pinterest. While this interactive, Web-based marketing is becoming an important tool in attracting and keeping customers, it often seems to both enhance and negate the human factor. If you’re virtually connecting, where is the reality? It boils down to personal interactions, whether they occur face-to-face or via some form of technology.

Marketing involves identifying your target customer, enticing them to try your products, keeping them satisfied, forming a relationship, and communicating regularly in order to sell your products and stay in business. It includes advertising and promotion, as well as pricing, packaging, display and customer relations. Physical, social and commercial cues influence a customer’s decision to purchase a product. The best marketing plan creates an experience that elicits a positive, neutral or negative response.

In the fact sheet “Marketing Your Enterprise,” Desmond Jolly, cooperative extension agricultural economist and University of California Small Farm Program director, noted, “Marketing is simply determining what people want, planning and providing products and services to meet those wants, and selecting the most effective ways of reaching those who might pay for these products and services.”

“Friending” in real life

Befriending someone requires real effort, not the push of a button. In much the same way, the human factor in marketing requires some effort to form a positive relationship with customers.

It’s possible you won’t ever meet some customers in person. If you sell your products online, your customers are virtual. Likewise, if you wholesale your products, the end consumer might only know your farm by name, or through whatever promotional material is made available. Adding a human factor to your marketing means developing a direct line of communication, no matter your sales venue.

Answering phone calls, responding to email and replying to social media posts adds the human element to your customer communications. Although not in-person, it’s still personal. Ignoring these types of communications is akin to giving someone the cold shoulder when they walk into your farm store. If you aren’t going to answer email, don’t advertise an email address or make it clear that questions are only answered once a week. If you aren’t going to communicate via social media-offering updates, answering questions and acknowledging comments on a regular basis-you risk offending customers who rely on this type of interaction. If you can’t answer the phone all the time, post a detailed message with your hours, directions, and some means of allowing customers to reach out to you.

The human factor in marketing requires some effort to form a positive relationship with customers.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THOMAS_EYEDESIGN/ISTOCKPHOTO

Despite the prevalence of social media, in-person marketing isn’t obsolete. Offer a smile when a customer browses through your farm store or market booth. Greet them and politely ask for assistance. Acknowledging that the customer is seen and that you or your employees are attentive to serving that customer are key components of marketing.

While you can answer email in your pajamas, appearance is important when making in-person sales. Dirt from the field and the smell of manure may be authentic, but from a food safety perspective, as well as aesthetically, they aren’t appealing. Think about it. Do you go to social events in your fresh-fromthe- field boots?

Clean boots and clothes, using hand sanitizer between handling cash and handling food, and a clean display and sales area send the message to customers that your farm offers safe, wholesome food for their families. You are an extension of your farm’s image, as are your employees.

Beyond the sale

Marketing isn’t over once the sale is completed. Communication after a sale offers a way of listening to your customers and serves as a tool for ongoing promotion; it’s just as important as that first impression.

In their market research article “Why Customers Buy,” David Seavey and Otho Wells, formerly of University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, wrote:

“The customer’s concern does not end with the decision to purchase. He/she almost immediately begins to re-evaluate the product or service. ‘Did it perform as I expected? Was I treated as a valued customer?'”

A customer may buy your product even if they didn’t like the salesperson or thought the display was lacking, but if they want to tell you about their experience and you don’t respond in a meaningful manner, you’ve lost them as a customer. To successfully market your business, correcting mistakes is almost as valuable as not making them in the first place.

In “Effective Customer Service,” John Berry, agricultural marketing educator, Penn State Extension, wrote: “Don’t forget that it’s harder to satisfy a customer who has a complaint, or who has had a bad experience. But when you do, you have created a loyal customer, one who will continue to shop your department not only because of the quality of your merchandise, but because you care about your customers as individuals.”

Marketing success depends upon customer satisfaction. No matter how many followers your social media efforts generate, how great your product is, or how reasonable your prices are, your operation won’t succeed if your human interactions leave customers dissatisfied. Forging a positive bond with your customers isn’t optional; the human factor holds the real key to marketing success.

Tamara Scully is a freelance contributor based in New Jersey. Comment or question? Visit http://www.farmingforumsite.com and join in the discussions.