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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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Marketing-Reap What You Sow!

By Jane Eckert

For most farms, the fall season now contributes the most sales to the bottom line. I think it’s interesting that I’m often asked how to improve sales in November –when in fact, for the best income, we all need to concentrate on September and October.  That is when we draw the biggest crowds and the biggest potential for revenues.  Let’s make the money when the people are on the farm!

It’s always surprising to me to talk with farmers that don’t want to invest any of their time or money on marketing.  Of course, your time is precious, as is your hard-earned cash, but we all know you reap what you sow.  Your farm has to shine brightly to attract customers, and that can’t happen if you leave your light under the bushel.

You have probably already developed (at least in your head) your marketing plan for this fall season but it can always be improved upon. Based on my end of year survey in 2012, I’d like to share with you some of the marketing strategies that farms used last fall to grow their business and what they said they’d do differently this year.

It comes as no surprise that the top three most effective marketing strategies in 2012 were: 1. a good website, 2. utilization of Facebook and 3. sending e-newsletters to customers.  These three strategies certainly sound like the basics but let’s examine them more closely.

1. Website
Have you updated your site to include your new activities, pricing and photographs for the fall season? Nothing is worse than a static website that doesn’t get changed and updated.  It doesn’t take long to get this done and should be a priority.  Your website is the gateway for new and return customers, and it is certainly worth a little time and money each year to keep it fresh and inviting.  If you are still showing photographs from 2009, it’s time you start taking more pictures and updating your site, if not for this year then at least be ready for next year.

2. Facebook
Most everyone now seems to have joined Facebook (1.11 billion users!) and understand how to make posts and add pictures.  Without a doubt, the farms that effectively manage their Facebook page and make frequent posts and add pictures recognize that this has brought them increased business.  If you are still a farm that has a page and makes just one entry a week, it’s time you realized that in order to engage your customers you need to commit to frequent if not daily posts. Facebook is free and its potential value is priceless.

3. E-Newsletters
Many farms have seemed to skip this or feel that it’s less important now that you are using Facebook and other social media, but that simply is not true.  There is still a need to deliver an e-newsletter to the mail boxes of your best customers on a regular basis.  They are now easy to produce with services such as Constant Contact and no one really should have an excuse not to use this tool. Of course, the first step is getting your customers to provide you their email addresses, but that is easily done at both your market and online at your website.

As an additional point of interest,  I’ve recently been shown video e-newsletters through Talk Fusion and believe that this is a new strategy for the future.  A short video showing people in the pumpkin patch and seeing the kids running and trying to lift a heavy pumpkin in just 30 seconds can deliver a visual experience more than mere words.

Beyond these three basic strategies other ideas planned by farm marketers for this year include:

  • Buying more online advertising – Facebook & Search Engines
  • Improve Search Engine Optimization of website
  • Use Instagram to share pictures
  • Create a mobile website
  • Post on Pinterest
  • More networking with local organizations
  • Add more billboards
  • Create a “texting” list with special offers
  • Increase use of special dinners & classes
  • Link farm website to more tourism based organizations & community calendars
  • More emphasis on Google +
  • Develop co-op programs with local organizations
  • Improved roadside signage
  • Contact the media for local PR
  • Create contests to involve customers
  • Groupon & Living Social coupon offers
  • Partner with local radio with giveaways
  • Use QR code banners on the farm

It’s not too late to add some of these ideas to your marketing mix for this fall. Now is the time to sow—invest the time and effort now to be sure that families know about your farm and want to make a trip to visit you. Of course, perfect fall weather can make us all look good, but rain or shine,  I wish you all the best for fall 2013.  Please plan to participate in my annual end-of-year survey, which was the source for the information in this article, so we can all continue to learn from each other.

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.