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

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Direct Marketing:  The “New” Basics

By Jane Eckert

It’s that time of year when we pass ourselves coming and going.   In fact, while I write this article, I am more than 30,000 feet above the earth on my way to a farm in the state of Washington.  But I know you are just as busy, so this month’s article is short and to the point.

Here it is in a nutshell:  The basic rules of direct marketing have changed.

We all have adopted the word “agritourism” as a way to define our industry, but let’s not forget what this really means.  We are “direct sellers” of our products to the consumers.  We are “direct marketers” of our businesses to attract customers to come to our farms.

In the past decade, the choices of marketing strategies focused directly to the consumer have changed so dramatically that everyone is having a hard time keeping up.  I’m seeing many farms that are doing a great job keeping pace with the growing and farming trends, but you still have to keep that third plate spinning—marketing your products, services and attractions to the consumer.
So here are the new rules:

Facebook no longer optional
A recent study tells us that 96% of people in the U.S. between the ages of 12-50 now use Facebook.  It is no longer an “optional” choice but it’s “required.”  Farms that have made Facebook an integral part of their daily marketing mix are growing “fans” and loyal customers.  For example, we have a new web client with a brand new business, www.fromthefarmtreats.com, and see that 25% of the visitors to the new website are referrals from their Facebook page.

Tune into the new version of “Let Your Fingers Do the Walking”
This simple slogan used to be how the telephone yellow pages advertised their services, but now, it’s more about “flying thumbs” than fingers; now, phone books are obsolete and I’m talking about people using “smart phones” to access the Internet 24/7.  People can and do still talk on smart phones, but they also text, send and receive emails, twitter, scan QR codes, and go on the Internet to get any information they could access from a desktop computer without ever flipping the pages of a phone book.

Customers now expect “deals”
The down turn in our economy over the past few years not only has challenged our businesses, but it has changed the way we do business. The consumer is now holding onto their wallet and is searching for “deals” to incentivize them to purchase.

Market your uniqueness
Our customers enjoy coming and shopping at our farms because we’re unique.  We are not a “box” store, and we don’t have aisles and aisles of generic food items.  We have open fields, animals in the pasture and a John Deere tractor parked at the side door.  We sell what we grow, we pick it the day it is ripe and packed with nutrition and flavor, we allow our customers to go to the fields to pick for themselves, and we encourage them to ask questions and to meet our families.
When a farm brand truly markets their uniqueness, our customers will remain loyal and tell others.

Your website is perhaps the single, most important marketing tool you have
A website has literally become your billboard to the world.  A website has replaced your local newspaper classified advertising and yellow page listings to become the—and I mean, THE— informational source of choice for local and distant prospects to be attracted to visit your farm.
Good website design, informational content, search engine optimization and great photographs are an absolute must.  Farms who fail to appreciate the importance of good visual design and frequent updates are missing out on today’s single, most important marketing strategy.

Marketing the Guest Experience
The final marketing step is managing the guest experience provided by your employees.  This one has not changed.  As an owner/boss, you have the first opportunity to create the best guest experience through friendly and educated employees.  Don’t leave this step to chance.  Your employees need training, motivation and inspiration…daily.  Great customer service takes time and effort but the payback from our customers can be huge.  Take the time to develop an employee culture to always “exceed expectations” and you’ll keep your customers returning again and again.

If any of you ever have a topic in mind that you would like me to write about I welcome your suggestions and emails.

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.