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Marketing Your Crops the Day They Are Ready
Creating the Electronic Newsletter

By Jane Eckert - Eckert AgriMarketing

The weather has been a bit off, and your sweet corn is a couple of weeks late. Folks have been calling every day. Some of your regulars are coming out to the farm - only to be told the corn isn’t ready. You worry about whether they went ahead and bought their corn somewhere else, and whether they’ll ever come back to your farm.

Then, finally, your corn is ready. You’ll pick in the morning. But you can’t get an ad in the paper until next week. Wow- what can you do to bring in those waiting customers?

If you are in direct marketing- selling right off the farm directly to consumers- the right answer is that you send your consumers an electronic newsletter. Within hours, depending on how you are set up, you can have the news delivered right to their homes announcing that corn sales start tomorrow morning!

Electronic Newsletters

In my last column, we looked at how every farm or ranch (or any other business, for that matter) should start collecting the names, addresses, and email addresses of their customers and potential customers. As discussed, that information forms your database of contact information.

Today, we’ll talk about how to put the database to use. This is where modern technology really helps your farm business grow!

I don’t want to go too basic here, but there are some farms still not using computers, and a few more still not sending and receiving emails. But whether you use it or not, you need to understand that the vast majority of your customers are using email, and they use it a lot. The statistics say that 75% of all Americans use the Internet now. Many people find these “instant” letters so useful that they check their email two or more times every day to see if there is a message from a friend or someone else they know. They check email as often as we farmers check the weather!

The electronic newsletter (let’s call it an e-newsletter) is typically just a short message that you, as a business, send to people who have asked you to keep in contact with them.

This is not very different from a flyer you might mail to your customers, or an ad you might place in the paper or on the radio. The main difference is that the e-newsletter gets to your customer’s for less cost to you, and in most cases, your e-newsletter can be in your customer’s hands in just a day or two- even less if you do all the work yourself.

A radio announcement might go on the air shortly after you call the station, but the customer has to be listening to the radio at the right time. With an electronic newsletter, you customer gets the message on his or her schedule…whether they are working the daylight hours, or the graveyard shift. The e-newsletter is in their inbox when they go to look at their email.

Now most e-newsletters are more than just a plain letter. The most effective ones add a picture or two, the farm logo, and some design features that help their customers recognize the letter on sight. Our pictures here show a couple of good examples. (Jane- we need to send along a couple of screen shots of newsletters you like.)

How to Send a Newsletter

You could do this yourself. You will need to collect all the email addresses, write the letter, add your design touches, and then send it to the people on your list. To do it right, you’ll need to purchase and learn several different softwares, learn graphic design, and you should learn a little bit of computer programming. So there are some real concerns here in terms of the best use of your time and the quality of the message, not to mention some very important legal requirements that you must conform to or face very serious penalties.

In fact, I really don’t recommend that you do this yourself. Many businesses use professional newsletter design services. Companies like ours do professional e-newsletters and websites for our farm customers. In this arrangement, our customers call us with their news, and we have professionals do the writing and the design, allowing the farmer to get back to the farm. We do newsletters on a regular schedule, or we can send a special announcement, such as the “Corn Maze is now open for business!” We add a few pictures, some interesting copy, and have it to the customers before the weekend even begins! The statistics show that they addition of a fully designed electronic newsletter increases the response rate by more than 35%.

There are also e-newsletter services online on the web which are very inexpensive, and very convenient. The one I am most familiar with is Constant Contact, found on the Internet at www.constantcontact.com. Another is offered by Godaddy (www.godaddy.com), but there really are dozens and dozens of these companies.

Here’s how they work. You open an account with them. Most charge their fee on the number of names in your list, or they have a base fee. For example, Constant Contact charges about $13 a month if you list is under 500 names, or $27 a month for a list of 500-2,500 names. You can use the service as often as you want to- though you don’t want to drive your customers crazy with a message every other day.

Once you have an account, you have a choice of several nice templates for your use. These allow you to use a professional design with an effective choice of colors, fonts and graphics that all work together. All you have to do is type in the message you want to send, and the design service immediately shows you how your finished newsletter will look. When you get just the right wording, you can click on a “send” button, and your newsletter goes immediately to your customers. This whole process might take less than half an hour, depending on your writing skills and your message.

So for a very small fee, you can be in contact with hundreds of your farm customers in just a matter of hours or days. The most obvious catch, of course, is that now you are writing your own copy, and taking the time away from the farm to create a newsletter. Still, if your farm is doing your own marketing, this is definitely one of the most effective tools you’ll find.

Can-SPAM Act of 2003

Earlier, I defined an e-newsletter as “…a short message that you, as a business, send to people who have asked you to keep in contact with them.” It is very important that you understand the second half of this sentence. The newsletter goes to “ people who have asked you to keep in contact with them.”

The Can-SPAM Act of 2003 was passed by congress to reduce the amount of unwanted, electronic junk mail, which computer-users call “spam.” The main point here is that if someone does not want to receive your newsletters, it is spam, to them, and you would be in violation of the law. (Penalties include up to 5 years in prison.)

Here are the main points to keep you on the right side of the law, and equally important, on the right side of your customers:

  1. A newsletter must be permission based. The people receiving it have asked to receive your newsletter, or they have done business with you, giving you a legitimate reason to believe they are interested.
  2. The newsletter must have an easy way to unsubscribe. It must be easy for people to click a button and request that you quit sending them your newsletter.
  3. You must remove all “unsubscribes” within 10 days.
  4. Your newsletter must show your correct, physical address, and a legitimate “from” email address, domain name, and IP address.
  5. You cannot “harvest” email addresses from other websites or sources.

There are a lot of other aspects of the law, most of which pertain to businesses that are intentionally violating the consumer’s rights with false information, false routing paths for their emails, and other actions intended to avoid being identified.

This law should not frighten you if your intentions are right, and you are asking your customers for their email addresses, and you are using one of the above types of e-newsletter companies. Most are in full compliance with the laws, and have set up their templates to keep you in compliance. For example, they automatically provide the capability to unsubscribe, and they provide forms that allow you to show all of the required information about your business.

Useful Content Tips

For maximum effectiveness of your newsletter, always think in terms of what you customers want to know. Like when the strawberries are ready for picking. Fresh, timely information is really appreciated, such as how to store their vegetables to keep the flavor and crispness. Always lean towards news, entertainment, and information, and go light on the sales pitch. Put the most important information first, and keep your sentences short and sweet. Short bulleted lines are text are much better than comma-separated lists or meandering sentences.

The Benefits of Electronic News

First of all, the electronic newsletter is almost immediate. If you already have a printed newsletter, you know that it takes about 2-4 weeks for you to put it together, copy it, and mail it second class. With an electronic newsletter, 85% of your responses are within the first 48 hours! And the response rate is about 5 times the response of the direct mail offers!

Secondly, you can create a friendly, caring relationship with your customers. Build a sense of family, and invite them to come see you whenever new, fun things are happening. Chat about how to care for the food and products they buy from you. Be authentic, and enjoy a better relationship with all the folks on your list.

Third, it’s really quite interesting to see how good newsletters seem to grow in readership. You send it out to customers A, B, and C. A then likes an article, and sends a copy on to D, E, and F, and all three of them subscribe. B sends it to G, H, and I; while C sends a copy to J, K, L, and M. So you send out three copies, and the good news spreads like a healthy virus to reach 13 people! Your mailing list grows all by itself…it’s “self-seeding”!

In part two of this article, we’ll discuss some of the more detailed information about electronic newsletters, and how to make them more effective. For example, if you have segmented your database, you can target specific information to specific people. Some days are also more effective than others, and some keywords can make all the difference in the world. (Click here to read Part Two of this article.)

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.