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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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Top Ten Successful Marketing Strategies

By most accounts 2013 was a very good year for direct farm marketers, with an average of eighty-eight percent increasing their revenues. Most of those showing growth in revenue reported increasing by more than 15% over 2012. That’s a nice increase.  This information is based on more than 125 farms representing every region of the U.S. and Canada that completed my annual year end survey.  Over the next few months I will be sharing more of this information, but the most important responses impacting you right now is to hear how these farms increased their revenues and how they spent their money.

Here’s a little bit of a surprise: on average, these farms actually reduced their marketing budgets and increased their sales.  It can be done, and especially right now for businesses transitioning to more cost effective internet marketing.  To grow sales while reducing marketing expense requires some clear planning, and those that did so took advantage of the greater efficiencies of the multitude of Internet tools available today. Please note that I didn’t say they spent less time on marketing, just less money.  Here’s what the farms reported.

10. Most farms reduced their advertising in local newspapers and did not see a reduction in sales.
If your customers are families with children, it has been shown that this demographic no longer gets their news from the newspaper.  So it may be time to redirect those funds to something more effective.

9. Farms tended to focus on targeted television and cable programming as their local media of choice. While it can be a bit overwhelming to make these buying decisions due to the multitude of media channels, it is a most visual medium to show off your farm experience.

8. Local radio spots with special promotions, give-aways and contests continue to provide good results for many.  Finding the right station and time of day to air your commercial is a challenge, and often takes a little trial and error.  Don’t leave this to chance-take the time to study the station reports and select times and programs that appeal to your customers.

7. Billboards, roadside signs and increased on farm signage were often stated as a primary reason business increased.  Highway signage can be expensive so it’s always important to study the traffic count, their speed of travel and the proximity to your exit to see if this is right for you.

6. Online advertising with Google, Facebook, banner ads and mobile placement appear to be gaining in popularity and use.  These ads can be well targeted by zip code, sex, age and income to reach the type of active folks with money that you want to come to your farm.

5. Traditional brochures still play an important part in delivering our marketing messages and showing your farm experiences.  Instead of the one-size fits all brochure for a farm, you are increasingly producing more niche brochures with a single purpose, such as picnics, birthday parties, weddings, tours etc.

4. Internet tools gained in popularity and usage this year as well.  We all know about the benefits of e-newsletters direct to our customers, coupon website offers, and QR codes, but Pinterest and Instagram are now registering with greater utilization and effectiveness for those that take the time to use them.

3. Improved farm websites are on the “must have” list of effective Internet strategies, especially those that have worked with their web designer on specific search engine optimization (SEO).  Mobile websites have now been created by almost 20% of the farms that responded to the survey, and this was up from 7.5% in 2012. There is no doubt in my mind that our use of Smartphones will change the way we create our online marketing strategies.

2. Facebook was the most utilized online resource by87% of the farms saying they have a Facebook page.  Even more amazing about this number is that almost 40% of them make daily posts during their season.  In general, the daily posts are made by a family member, but there are farms now outsourcing this daily task to a hired professional.

1. The number one marketing strategy ranked as most successful to bringing in new customers remains word of mouth. Whether you realize it or not, word of mouth begins by providing good customer experiences and courteous staff, reinforced by consistently maintaining these positive opportunities over the length of time in business.  Positive word of mouth begins and ends with our ability to pay attention to the details, day in and day out.  If your customers are pleased, they will tell others, and having others deliver your message is indeed “priceless.”

Finally, the survey shows that there was also a big increase in the number of farms that had free media this year on television and in print.  The incredible fact about the free media this year was that it is was not directly solicited—instead, the news entities approached the farms and asked if they could do the story. As the fall season numbers continue to explode, and the local food movement is being featured by all levels of media, we can all expect these calls to increase.  In fact, in a future article I will share with you my thoughts on when the media comes to call.

Jane Eckert, a national speaker, author and agritourism expert, is principal of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a firm that helps farmers sell products directly to consumers and develop their operations into tourist destinations, and Farm Web Design, an Internet marketing firm specializing in agritourism farm websites.  She is also CEO of RuralBounty.com, a consumer based directory of agritourism farms in North America. Jane can be reached by phone 314-862-6288 or at jane@eckertagrimarketing.com