I have to admit that I was completely stumped when trying to come up with a topic for this month’s column. I spent hours surfing the Internet looking for ideas on new marketing tactics, consumer trends, unusual products and the like. I tried taking a break to do other mindless tasks that would give me a chance to think.
Could it be that all there is to say about farm marketing has been said? Not possible. Part of the problem, I believe, is that there is so much yet to be said that it was hard to settle on one subject. Following are some of the random topics I tinkered with.
1. Events, coupons and good Web site maintenance
While surfing around, I happened upon a list of events offered by Verrill Farm in Concord, Mass. Not only was their list up-to-date (not always the case on other sites), but they had some creative ideas like a school vacation cooking class. Evidently, I wasn’t the only one to like the idea; the class was sold out.
By noting that fact on the page, not only were the folks at Verrill Farm providing useful information to their customers, they were also sending a message to anyone interested in signing up for other events: “Our events are popular and worth attending, so sign up now!”
The Verrill Farm site also offered a couple of coupons. Not a new idea, even on the Internet, but notable because they were also up-to-date (as in not expired). So, by being so on top of their Web site maintenance, it gives the impression that they run their business, grow their crops and care about customer service in the same diligent manner.
2. National Agriculture Day
Celebrated each year on the first day of spring, this seemed like a timely topic for this issue. I checked out the official Web site, hoping that there might be a nice tie-in to or useful information on farm marketing. Given that the primary sponsors are a major farm equipment manufacturer and a giant agribusiness, it’s not surprising, I suppose, that there wasn’t a whole lot of information relevant to small, family farms.
The site does have some interesting talking points on American agriculture that relate to marketing, many of them related to exports:
• Agriculture is America’s number one export.
• U.S. farmers and ranchers produce more than 200 raw commodities yearly for domestic and export markets.
• One in three U.S. farm acres is planted for export, and 25 percent of gross farm income comes directly from exports.
• Every hour, the U.S. exports $6 million worth of agricultural products.
• In 1999, one farmer produced enough food to feed about 144 people each day.
• American consumers spend the lowest percentage of their annual income on food—just 9.3 percent.
3. Farm signage
This is a topic that is worthy of its own column or even a feature article in the future. Suffice it to say for now that signage is an important aspect of marketing that establishes your visual identity. This is evidenced by the more than a million hits that result from a Google image search for “farm signs.”
If you’re just looking for some inspiration for designing your own signs, you’ll find plenty of nice examples this way. Of course, you can also find professional sign makers online, as well. Using Google image search is also a good way to get inspiration for a new farm logo.
4. Customer service horror stories
Inspired by a recent experience with a produce vendor in Florida, I went looking to see if I could find any similar ag-related stories online. I didn’t really expect to find much, and luckily I didn’t, but I did find plenty of stories related to other business sectors.
My experience was with a vendor at a produce stand who didn’t post prices, and then employees quoted different prices to each customer. When I went to pay for a basket of tomatoes, a woman working the stand gave me a price double what her co-worker had previously quoted, then she grabbed the money out of my hand. So, I called her on it. She practically threw the change back at me, uttered an obscenity, and then yelled at her co-worker. Needless to say, I will never shop there again.
It’s worth noting, though, that the Internet provides a ready forum for customers to broadcast their bad experiences, so be sure that none of your employees are giving them material. It’s somewhat entertaining to read about other companies’ bad habits, but reading about your own online—not so much.
Those are some random thoughts and musings on farm marketing, for what they’re worth. I guess random is the best you can do when there’s too much to be said.
The author is public affairs specialist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Amherst, Mass., and was previously director of communications at the Mass. Dept. of Food & Agriculture. Read past marketing columns at http://www.farmmarketing.blogspot.com.