Marketing your farm and product is an important part of selling direct to consumer and requires an additional set of skills. As a direct market farm, you must present your product in a way that makes customers want to buy it. Knowing the demographics of your area and who your target customers are is valuable. In addition, customers must know that you and your farm exist. This means marketing you, your farm and your product to a customer base through physical and digital means.
“Who are my potential customers and what do they want?” is an important question to ask yourself. The answer to this will determine what and how you sell. Age, income of buyers, food and product trends, cultural diversity, and competition from other farming operations are all things to consider. A Producers Guide to Conducting Local Market Research from the Agricultural Marketing Research Center at Iowa State University is a great way to learn more about conducting your own research.
Once you have the information from your market research, think about what products meet the needs of your customers. How will those products stand out? Can you look for ways to differentiate from other farms in your area? This basic market research you preformed can help you gain insight into merchandising and any niche markets you might be able to fill.
For additional information and an in-depth worksheet on merchandising, see A Market-Driven Enterprise Screening Guide from the Western Extension Marketing Committee.
Packaging to Sell
Having attractive packaging that clearly states what it contains goes a long way to selling your product. How the packaging looks is important, but you must also remember certain farm products have labeling requirements. See Licensing and Regulations for more information on labeling requirements.
In this increasingly digital era, it is important that your farm and products have some sort of digital footprint. Customers are searching the internet for where to go to get their fresh produce and local products. You want to make sure your farm is included in the mix. While it can be intimidating to add more to your already full plate, it is important your farm’s correct information is available to potential customers. You do not have to add every digital marketing outlet at once. Pick one and work on it. When you feel comfortable adding more and it is a good fit for your operation, do so. Try one or two out and see how they work. What are other farms using in your area? Are they having success with it? Not all outlets make sense for every farm. Below are some examples of digital marketing farms can take advantage of:
Website Having a website where you control the content is very important. Websites can be as simple as a website builder like Square, Squarespace and Wix all the way up to more complex and customizable options like WordPress. 7 Simple Steps for Creating a Website from Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) discusses the pros and cons of different website platforms.
Newsletter Email marketing (including e-newsletters) is a key strategy for farms. Building an email list and sending out a regular e-newsletter is something you as a business owner have 100% control over. It allows you to communicate directly with your customers, ensuring they get up-to-date information on hours, crops, product availability, and what is happening on the farm. Breakdowns of different platforms can be found from CAFF in How To Pick An Email Marketing Platform.
Social Media Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and others are ways to directly communicate and engage with your customers (and potential customers) on a regular basis. They allow your followers to ask questions, see new products and availability, and connect with you on a personal level. The general public loves content around farms, farming, food, local products, and livestock. For farms who have existing social media accounts and would like to make them more effective, check out 10 Tips For Farm Social Media from Land-Grant Press by Clemson Extension.
Online Sales Incorporating online sales into your business comes with some things to consider. You’ll have to decide what platform you want to sell on and if your current website has ecommerce capability. There is also packaging to consider. Can your product be shipped? How easily? Will the cost and time outweigh the benefit? Oregon Tilth discusses the different platforms in Online Sales Platforms For Farmers. If you are considering adding online sales, Community Alliance with Family Farmers has some resources for a deeper dive.
Google Business Listing Creating a Business Profile (or Business Listing) in Google provides another opportunity to promote and market your farm business. With 70% of total web searches happening nationwide on Google, it is important that your business be listed there correctly. A Business Profile ensures that your farm appears in Google Maps and in the local results of Google searches. It also lists all the farm contact information, what products your sell, how and where you well, hours, pictures, reviews, and more. And the best part, it is free. Instructions on how to claim your Business Profile.
Local Farm Directories and Cooperative Marketing Efforts
List your farm and products on local food and farm directories to reach a larger audience through cooperative marketing efforts. Below are Oregon examples:
- Local Harvest – a national directory that can be searched by area and product type.
- Oregon Taste – local directory of local, fresh foods offered by independent producers.
- Food Trails (Travel Oregon) and Oregon Farm Loops – cooperative marketing efforts that link farms to the public for local food and fiber as well as experiences.
- Organizations’ directories – can be great places to list. These specific directories can be organized by crop, growing practices, location, or any number of things. Examples of a few in Oregon are: crop commissions (strawberries, blueberries, etc.), Oregon Tilth’s directory, High Desert Food and Farm Alliance directory, Oregon’s Bounty. Friends of Family Farmers has put together a great list to Find Local Food.
Customer Experience and Service
Customers are looking to buy directly from a farm for a reason. This could be because they want to know where their food and products come from. It could be they want to support local businesses. Maybe you produce something they can’t get anywhere else. They also could be looking to connect with their local farms and farmers specifically. Whatever the reason, you have a unique opportunity to create a great purchasing experience and deliver your farm product directly into their hands. Creating an environment of good service is critical for finding and retaining customers.
Some things to keep in mind when creating a good customer experience:
- Having hours of operation posted clearly, digitally and physically if applicable.
- Make sure it is clear where and how the public can buy from you. If it is at a specific market, list it. If it is a CSA pickup, make sure you communicate to your customers how and where. If you are opening your farm for sales, make sure public areas are clearly marked and safe.
- Communicate crop availability, changes, and updates to customers. This could mean a phone answering machine, website, social media, or newsletter.
- Answer messages, both from the phone and through digital platforms, in a timely manner.
- Be friendly!
Thinking Like a Customer
Put yourself in a customer’s shoes: What would you have questions on if you didn’t know anything about your farm? Would customers be able to find out what you sell? Where to buy? If you can’t pinpoint where this information is listed, think about adding it to your communication channels. This could mean updating a voice message or adding additional information online. More and more people are looking to access information before they set out to buy and usually through an online search. Listing hours, products, and sales channels are all great things to start with. Having your information listed correctly on your website, social media and Google gives the customer a better understanding of how and where to buy your products. This can lead to a more confident and pleasant experience for the customer when they go to purchase your products.
For more information on what is good customer service, look at Customer Strategies That Work by Jessica Kelly - Direct Farm Marketing Program Lead/OMAFRA.
Additional Marketing Resources
Small Business Marketing Resources from Travel Oregon: https://industry.traveloregon.com/resources/virtual-training-engagement-and-assistance/resources-for-tourism-businesses/small-business-marketing-series/
Worksheets from Whole Farm Management Book: https://www.storey.com/farm-plan-worksheets/ Appendix 1-18
Small Farm Tech Hub, Community Alliance with Family Farms: https://caff.org/small-farm-tech-hub/small-farm-tech-hub-resources/#csaresearch