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E-Newsletters Remain Important Marketing Strategy

by Jane Eckert

Last month, I shared with you the three top ranked marketing strategies of farm markets today, based on my annual survey of farms in North America. The most effective strategy, according to those participating in the survey, is their Website, followed by 2.) Facebook and 3.) E-Newsletters.  But now, during my webinars and presentations, farmers are asking , “Doesn’t Facebook replace the need for an e-newsletter?”

My response is an unequivocal NO!

Facebook does not replace the need to communicate directly into the email boxes of your best customers.  In order to even provide an e-newsletter you have had to request the email addresses from your customers.  Often this is done with a special sign up table at your farm, at the checkout, on your website or perhaps for the techies, you have a computer kiosk set up in your market. This important first step means you now have their “permission” to come directly into their email box at home or on their smart phone. They have invited you to keep them up to date on what’s happening at the farm and what produce is ripe and ready!

An old saying is “your best customers are your best customers!” Therefore, the more you are able to stay in frequent contact with those customers who already come to farm, like your products, enjoy the pick your own, attend your events etc., then the more likely it is that they will visit the farm more frequently. Frequent customers mean increased sales. These are the customers who you want to get to know on a first name basis and develop a stronger relationship.

There are certainly communication similarities between Facebook and e-newsletters, including the ease of getting current information out quickly via the Internet.  However, these marketing strategies should not be considered as “either/or” but instead, you need to use these tools in a well balanced approach.

First of all, not every customer is going to have a Facebook account, and among those that do, not everyone on Facebook likes to use that avenue to receive business updates.  You should also remember that on any given day, a person may miss reading their Facebook page but most everyone will check and read their emails daily. On the other hand, there are those who check their Facebook throughout the day, and have it merrily pinging away at them on their smart phones.  Don’t settle for one or the other—the combination of the two communication methods (even if they repeat themselves) is a strong approach to staying in touch.  The strength of an e-newsletter is that you are guaranteed to be communicating with your customer and can reward them with a coupon, advance information and latest deal.

My recent survey asked the farmers whether they use printed newsletters or electronic newsletters to communicate with their customers.  A resounding 86.1% of the responders use the e-newsletter to communicate versus 9.3% mailing a printed newsletter.  Out of this same group 9.9% said they actually use both.

The two other questions that I am frequently asked related to e-newsletters are “how often should I send them” and “what is a good open rate?” I believe in frequent e-newsletters, keeping your brand and message in front of your followers on a regular basis.  As long as you change the content and keep the message fresh, sending e-newsletters out weekly is certainly okay.  But make sure you have something new and of value to the customer in each newsletter—you can’t keep sending the same old thing, or they’ll quickly unsubscribe, or worse yet, report you as spam.  In my annual survey, 33.3% of the farms said that they send out over 10 e-newsletters a year.

An “open rate” is the number of people that actually open your email, versus those that delete the email without seeing the content.  Most online e-newsletter services provide the open rate, bounce rate, and other information about your newsletter efforts. While open rates will vary, I have found from our own e-newsletter clients, and from the farms that have shared with me, that a 30% open rate is very good.  In fact, in a recent webinar a farm shared with me that they have a 49% open rate and that is off the charts.  Compare this to placing a newspaper advertisement, where you don’t have a clue as to whether or not anyone saw your ad.  If I could tell you that 49% of your customers just read your recent e-newsletter, you should be ready to sign up and make this commitment today.

The online e-newsletter service that we use is www.constantcontact.com . We like them because of the ease of use and ability to both write the copy, insert photos and coupons plus access to see the open rate and other statistics instantly. There are many other services also available.

This was the ninth year that I have been conducting the Annual Fall Survey, and it’s interesting to see how both the questions and responses have changed over this period of time. Nine years ago, we weren’t even talking about Facebook, and only a few “pioneers” had started electronic newsletters.  If you would like to be included next year in my survey just sign up for my e-newsletter at my website www.eckertagrimarketing.com.  Participants all receive a copy of the anonymous survey results.

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.