Small farmers can grow their revenue streams by directly marketing their goods, according to Jennifer Werlin, University of Idaho Extension, Teton County, who presented “Cultivating Success Small Farm Webinar: Direct Marketing.”
Werlin said that it all begins with branding.
“This is your persona,” she said. “It starts with your goals, mission and vision. Developing this is integral to getting started and marketing.”
She said that farmers need to decide what products they sell or want to sell and to whom.
“Be authentic,” Werlin said. “You are your brand and your brand is you.”
She quoted a Cornell University research brief from 2014: “Most people do not really know why they buy what they buy, eat what they eat or do what they do.”
She added, “Most are not aware of their purchasing habits and buy on impulse.”
To tap into those impulses, it’s vital to follow consumer trends and test the waters before changing something big.
“Survey customers and talk with them about what they like,” Werlin said.
A big trend among consumers is knowing the source of their food and learning the back story of its source, for example. Authenticity and transparency strike a chord among discerning consumers.
Another trend is smaller serving sizes, ideal for people who live alone or who want food to eat on-the-go.
“Consider single-serving containers,” Werlin suggested. “More are health conscious. Are they looking for healthful foods and snacks? You can tweak things and get the most bang for your buck.”
She listed as direct marketing basics, be yourself, show up, cultivate relationships, create a brand, market presence, and online and social media presence.
“If you sell at a farmers market, you have to show up each week,” she said. Otherwise, farmers risk disappointing customers.
On the website, listing keywords integral to the brand and what consumers want can help ensure the website loads toward the top of search results.
Werlin said that food is more than “just” food. It can also provide entertainment, pleasure, local economic development, community building, reduced environmental impacts of consumption, link to past generations and stories.
Conveying these ideas is part of taking on the role of the direct seller. While marketing does bring a lot of additional responsibilities, Werlin said that it can also offer higher returns and keep the control in the hands of the grower.
“Evaluate what you have the capacity for and the desire to do,” Werlin said.
Farmers selling at farmers markets can help increase sales that take place through other venues such as farm stands, agritourism, community supported agriculture, sales to restaurants and web-based sales. Farmers markets can also provide an incubator for getting into direct sales and trying out new products.
“You can get a premium for your product if there’s demand,” Werlin said. “You can use the local food market trend. people want to know where their food is coming from.”
She urged farmers to avoid using their personal social media profiles, but to establish separate profiles for their businesses to provide consistent branding. Werlin recommends a Facebook page as well as Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and blogging.
“Google likes blogging,” Werlin said. “It raises your listing in searches with new content and keywords.”
As helpful as online media may be, farmers don’t have oodles of free time to add another chore to the to-do list. That’s why Werlin recommends www.hootsuite.com, which can post across several platforms at once.
Selling wholesale versus selling directly often requires different skill sets.
“If you have a farm and you don’t like to deal with people, hire it out or bring on a partner who likes this,” Werlin said.