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Websites Ranked Number One Marketing Strategy

by Jane Eckert

The preliminary results are in from my Annual Farm Survey, and I’d like to share some of the early marketing results with you while you are making your plans for 2012.  This is the ninth year that I have been conducting this survey and it’s interesting to see how both the questions and responses have changed over this period of time. This online survey is sent in early November each year to my e-newsletter database, and is available to all visitors to my website, www.eckertagrimarketing.com until the end of the year 2011.

Websites Rank #1
It’s no surprise to me that websites are now ranking as “the most effective” marketing strategy used by farm marketers.  While the percentage of farms not having a website (approx 4.7%) has not changed over the past four years, now, over 70% of farms taking my survey rank having a website as their “most important” marketing tool to get new business and to service their existing customers.

Most of the farms participating have had their website for over seven years, but there was just over 18% that have had a website for three years or less.  The message for you folks that still don’t have a website – you are not effectively competing in your marketplace or serving your customers unless you have a website. The bottom line is that consumers today want their information fast and at the touch of their fingertips in their home or office.

Another important measurement related to their website effectiveness is that over 50% of the farms are updating their sites more than 10 times a year.  Frequency of update ranks is an important factor in terms of search engines like Google when it comes to their ranking your farm—frequent updates indicate you are an active rather than passive provider of products and services. And, of course, getting your website to appear on the first page of search results should be a goal for everyone.

By the way, while traditional newspaper advertising still appears to be part of the marketing mix, it is truly dropping in usage and perceived value by farm marketers today. Only 4% of the farms taking my survey ranked newspaper advertising as their most important marketing strategy.

Facebook Ranks #2
The first time that I even included Facebook or Social Media as a marketing strategy on my survey was in 2009.  It is truly amazing at how quickly this medium has been accepted by not only farm marketers, but also our customers. This year, 84% of the farms responded that they are now using Facebook, and over 62% of them ranked Facebook as either their “most important” or “second best” marketing strategy. 

The strength of this social media tool is evidenced by an additional 24% of the survey responders who just got on the Facebook bandwagon in the past 12 months. Even more impressive is that over 45% reported that they post to Facebook at least once per day, and many make multiple posts.  If you have been doubtful about the effectiveness of Facebook, I believe these survey results are important for you to consider—the indicators are that if you aren’t posting to Facebook, you should add this strategy to your 2012 marketing mix.

Facebook, of course, is not the only social media option, but it is certainly the leader.  While some farms are using both Facebook and Twitter, the choice of Facebook is the standout choice. Over 41% of the farms now have over 1,000 followers on Facebook, and many exceed 3,000 – 5,000.

Electronic Newsletters #3
Developing a customer database proves to be a winner for many farms, allowing them to proactively reach out to customers, rather than “waiting to be found.”   Over 57% of the survey responders show e-newsletters to be an important part of their marketing strategy. Furthermore, when we look at how they rank this media tool, 76% of the responders ranked e-newsletters as either their “most important” or “second best” marketing strategy. Clearly those farms that use e-newsletters feel very strongly that connecting directly with their best customers is a marketing must.

While the list size varies, a significant number of farms have made collecting email addresses a priority, with almost 35% of the farms indicating that they have databases larger than 2,500 names. The e-newsletters they send are most often written and updated by the owner or a family member, with just over 14% using an outside contractor or marketing company to manage their updates.  Frequency of e-newsletter contact is also very important, with over one-third of the farms indicating they send up to 40 e-newsletters a year.

One Final Strategy
While the above marketing strategies were shown as vital to success, the other significant strategy that the responders checked was to participate in farmers’ markets.  While, of course, they make sales at the local farmers’ markets, many farms consider their presence at the market as a marketing tool to get people to also come to their on-farm market.

For many small farms and those just starting out, participating in your local farmers’ market might truly be the best way to achieve farm recognition and new customers.

There are many more observations that can be gleaned from this year’s survey, and in fact we will continue gathering data through the end of the year 2011.  If you haven’t already done so, and would like to participate, please go to my website, www.eckertagrimarketing.com, to take the survey.  Everyone that completes the survey will receive a full breakdown of the results early in January 2012.

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.