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"I want the family farm - the backbone of our country's heritage - to thrive and survive for future generations."

Articles/Press Releases

Smart Farms Are Thinking Smart Phones

By Jane Eckert

Truth is, there was a time that we thought Facebook was “just for personal use” and that making a Facebook page was not worth our time.  I wondered, back then, who would actually communicate this way.  Well, we’ve all watched as this Internet phenomenon has become mainstream. Now, it is a very useful tool for farms to stay in touch with their best customers.  Many farms have thousands of followers on Facebook who read their posts everyday, and the important thing to remember is that it is easy to use, and it’s FREE advertising!

The Internet and Smart Phones keeps adding more useful tools available to marketers and this month I’ll share two of them with you. In marketing terms, the people that are first to step on board with new ideas are called “early adopters” and this article is primarily for you.  However, just like Facebook was several years ago, it is very important to know about “what’s new” on the Internet and to decide if it’s right for your business now or sometime in the future.

You may have recently begun to see a different kind of bar code used on printed materials—they look more like square patterns instead of parallel bars.  You’ll see them on most anything,  including signs, billboards, flyers, business cards, movie posters, in-store displays, newspaper ads etc.  These new code patches aren’t for reading prices and inventory, they are targeted for use by you, the consumer, to be read on those new “smart phones” we’ve all been buying. 

The bars are called QR codes (an abbreviation for “Quick Response”). They have been used in Europe and Asia since the mid 1990’s but just now becoming seen more frequently in the U.S. The “early adopters” have already recognized how this new smart phone tool can put information right into the consumer’s hands.

Now, or in the next few months, you may be standing in the middle of the store (or even in the middle of the right cornfield) and you’ll see one of these QR codes on a sign or package.  If you have a reader application installed on your phone, you just point your phone at the QR code sign and you’ll immediately receive product information or direct link to a webpage or a video.  It’s fast – it’s informative and it’s FREE to set up a code.

The only “if” is if the consumer has the application in his or her smart phone, and more and more consumers will do so over the coming months.  If you own a smart phone, go to your “applications” section, then go online to search for new apps and search for “qr”.  A list of free and inexpensive QR code readers will appear.  Select one, download it to your phone, and you are ready to read.  The next time you see a QR code, like the one in this article, just select your reader from your apps, point your phone at the code, and see what happens!

A number of large companies are using QR codes to attract the tech savvy consumer wanting more information.  Best Buy is now using QR codes on in-store signs for people to learn more about a specific product.  Realtors are now putting QR codes on their For Sale signs and a prospective buyer can actually view a video about the house they are driving by.  Fox TV is  using QR codes to advertise their television programs.

So, how do you get a QR code to use for your print media? There are many web sites on the Internet where you can register for FREE, such as www.qurify.com/ or http://createqrcode.appspot.com/and create your QR code.  All you need to do is type your message, such as the nutritional values for a fresh vegetable, or a description of the native environment for the llama special in the petting zoo.  Or you could just type in a direct link to a page on your website or video you’ve uploaded to a site like YouTube. 

Tom Tweite,Tweite Pumpkin Patch, created a link to his website homepage and is going to be adding a QR code into his local newspaper advertising.  He said, “If a customer wants to know more about his farm, they won’t need to go to their computer and type in the website address—they’ll just get out their smart phone and connect via the QR code information.”

Scott Lewis of Lewis Farm Market has placed them on his brochures and in his advertisement on restaurant placemats in his area.  Hugh McPherson has created sign outside his blueberry patch where folks can actually join his Facebook page direct from the QR code available from www.likify.net.  Stuart Beare of Tulley’s Farm in the U.K. has been placing them on his printed newsletter and on signs throughout his maze giving hints about how to complete the passage.

Recently, when I was talking with Hugh McPherson (a confirmed techie nerd) of Maize Quest, he told me about his new signs that he has created and is selling to apple growers via his website www.interactiveorchard.com.  He said that he knows a lot of farmers just don’t have the time or inclination to want to learn about QR codes, and he wanted to make it simple for them.  He has created signs with QR codes with a specific video for 15 different apple varieties. Apple growers can purchase these signs and put them out in their markets or orchards where people are picking.

“It will be a fun activity for the fall season customer, and an easy way for farms to get involved with the QR technology and not have to do the work,” says Hugh.

Smart Phone are expected to be in the hands of nearly 50% of all phone users before the end of this year.  These folks are adding “apps” to their phones and using the phone for so many more purposes than just placing a call.  If you want to know “what’s next” then I would suggest you start by searching your phone apps for new ideas.

The next Internet software that I want to share in this article is simply an extension of the QR code in an application that I hope you are already using in your markets—loyalty cards.  I was visiting a new self-serve frozen yogurt store here in St. Louis called FROYO. That’s right – when I checked out at the FROYO register, the cashier offered to scan my loyalty card from my smart phone. For customers, there is no longer the problem of too many loyalty cards in their wallet or cards lost or left at home. Keeping track of your purchases is as easy as presenting your Smart Phone. FROYO company uses www.getpunchd.com, who puts the “loyalty cards” on your Smart Phone. 

The service is priced to the company based on a sliding scale. The GetPunchd website shows some national chain users such as Jamba Juice and Peet’s Coffee & Tea, but it’s also ideal for a farm market that has been using the old type of loyalty card and wants to appeal to your tech savvy customer.

As Smart Phone users rise their demand for instant information and feedback will only increase.  If you want to stay ahead of the curve and be an “early adopter” then I suggest you look into both of these programs.

Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. She is also CEO of www.RuralBounty.com, a search directory for agritourism farms and ranches in North America. Jane can be reached at 314-862-6288 or you may email her directly.