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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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Good Marketing Gains Customers Without Big Ad Dollars

By Jane Eckert

Traditionally, agritourism farmers have relied on paid advertising as their main way of reaching customers.  But on a small budget and changing times, advertising, that is, paid advertising, may not always be your best choice.

You may have heard this from me before—I say it often because it’s the most important advice I can give to any farm about marketing.  Here it is:  There are lots of ways to market your farm, products and services, and only one of those ways requires very much money.  The rest may be inexpensive, and often, they are more effective.

I like to explain this statement using what I call the Eckert AgriMarketing Pie™.    The pie is divided into five slices.  The first slice covers promotions—creative ways to excite the public about visiting your business.  Promotions, such as contests, coupons, celebrity appearances, parades and loyalty cards draw in visitors that might not come otherwise.  Developing successful promotions does take time and planning, but it doesn’t need to cost a lot of money.

The second piece of the pie is media relations. Building a relationship with the media is another great way to maximize your exposure for the least amount of investment.  It does require your time and creativity, but your energies are invested well.  When the suburban paper in the city wants to write a story on fun fall activities, you want to be the farm that they think of to call for an interview. Many of you have become pro’s at getting this free media exposure.  If you are not, you need to take time to meet the media folks, invite them to visit the farm, and make sure they enjoy their visit.

The third piece of the pie is customer communications. It is really important to stay connected with your customers year round.  The original tools for this were postcards, flyers, and brochures; but today, you might be better off investing in keeping your website up to date, and sending frequent communications through e-mail newsletters.

Maintaining a good customer focus is the fourth pie piece.  Focus your business on providing your customer with a great experience, and your guests will come back, and they will bring their friends.   There are lots of ways to focus on the customer.   This includes the training of your staff, the readability of your signs, the speed of your checkout, your property maintenance, and so on.  You also have to find ways to ask your customers, “How are we doing?” Even if all of the other marketing pieces have been done well, this piece is still critical to your success.

The fifth piece of the marketing pie is advertising.  Advertising is not the same as marketing.  Advertising requires the spending of money to get the word out.  It is the purchase of ad space or air time in a newspaper, billboard, phone directories, an Internet page, radio or a TV station.

Frankly, you need to look long and hard before spending your money on advertising instead of on one of the other four marketing areas we’ve discussed.  Here’s why:  In order to be effective, paid advertising requires repetition, and with small budgets, this often isn’t feasible. You must get your message to your audience repeatedly, and you must get it to the right audience-the people most likely to buy your produce or services.

If you don’t have the money to repeat your media placements with some regularity, then there is no guarantee that on a single newspaper ad or radio spot you will reach your audience-even a regular listener tunes out the radio to answer his cell phone.  And the second half the formula is that you must be reaching the right audience.  Every farmer in the state may be listening to the farm reports, but your audience is the families in town that come out to buy your pumpkins.

Before you spend money on advertising, ask the sales person for a demographic profile of his/her audience.  They can tell you fairly accurately about who listens to or reads their messages, whether they are likely families or singles, and about their ages, gender, income range, and spending habits.  If their audiences sound like the people that buy your services or products and come to your farm, then it may be a good match. 

For many of you, though, it’s time to stop purchasing media without knowing if the audience is right for you.  Lets look at some options:

Newspapers- Many farms still rely heavily on local newspaper advertising.  But is it the local folks that visit your farm, or is it people from the suburbs 50 miles away?  Also ask the sales people who reads the suburban or city paper?  These also may not be reaching today’s young people-who get their news on the Internet.  So does the paper also have an Internet version with advertising space?

Radio and Television-You can ask the same questions of the TV or radio sales representative.  Who is watching this particular station or channel at the time I might advertise?  Where do they live?  Get the demographics, so you know what you are buying.

Billboards- How many people drive by?  Are they the same people that come to my farm-or just neighbors? What can you tell me about how effective the billboards are?

The Internet- Everyone’s talking about advertising on the Internet.  Does it make sense for you?  Folks that use the Internet often use what are called “search engines” to search all the vast content of the Internet—you’ve probably heard of and likely used Google or Yahoo or one of dozens of other search engines.  You enter the words you are looking for, such as “apple orchards” and “Illinois.”  The search engine will then show you a list of apple orchards in that state, especially those that have websites.

In addition to these listings, the search engines also sell sponsored links or listings.  The sponsored links will come up at the top of the page, and, to be fair, most search engines  label these as “sponsored links”, and may shade them or place them in another location on the page so you know these are “paid for” listings.  On Google, these sponsored links are based on what the company calls “Google AdWords.” 

To advertise, you contract with Google so that your sponsored ad appears when certain keywords—your AdWords that you have chosen—appear in the customer search.  Google can also tell approximately where the searcher is located, so you can define the AdWords campaign by the person’s location, and the words he/she is searching for.

In other words, you can tell Google that you want your sponsored ad to appear when anyone from zip codes beginning with 606 (Chicago area) searches for the keywords “apple, orchard, farm, fruit, PYO, pick your own, or hayrides.”   This will make your sponsored link appear on the right side of the page (although you may have other advertisers there with you.)  You still don’t pay Google anything unless the person now actually clicks on the link to your website.  These are called “click thrus,” and you actually pay Google based on your number of click thrus, which everyone can consider to be a “real lead” to a perspective customer. 

You can read more about setting up Google AdWords, Yahoo Searches, and others on their respective websites.  With some careful planning, this can be a very wise use of limited advertising dollars, especially with more and more people using the Internet to plan their travels. There are already some farms making good decisions with Internet ad purchases and reaping the rewards through increased customer counts.

Still, remember that advertising is just one portion of a good marketing plan. Study the Eckert AgriMarketing Pie, and see what works best for your business.

For more information regarding the Eckert AgriMarketing Pie there are several books available on my website that will help simplify these strategies and improve your abilities to spend you marketing dollars wisely.

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.