Yeah, it sounds like one of those dirty corporate words to me too. Yuck.
But, lets face facts, farms are businesses. If we really hope to be sustainable, that means financially sustainable (AKA: profitable) too. And there are few businesses out there that get to profitability without doing a little marketing.
The problem is that most small farmers are terrible marketers. They are not alone in this. In fact, most small business owners are terrible marketers, but farmers in general seem to have a few unique obstacles to overcome.
Small sustainable farmers tend to have an almost visceral disgust of marketing. I can’t blame them because I too share that disgust in some cases. But we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Marketing is a very basic business tool and can be used for good as well as for evil.
- Selling of Products or Services: the business activity of presenting products or services in such a way as to make them desirable
So like it or not, we engage in marketing every time we go to a farmers market or talk to a customer. We are engaged in marketing when we attempt to describe our farm, our process, and our products to anyone. Heck, if you’re anything like most of the farmers I know you probably love talking to your customers about your farm. We love to tell our story.
The problem is, while most of us farmers are fairly engaging on a personal level, we don’t expand our story into our wider presence very well. I rarely go to a farmers market and see a stall that really has a well-defined, unified look that tells the customer who they are, or what they’re about. Remember, there are a lot of people out there who are intimidated or uncomfortable initiating conversation with strangers, so we need to be able to get our message across without necessarily speaking. Even those customers that you do speak with have started to form opinions about you before they even start to strike up a conversation.
If you are selling products in a retail store, where you the farmer are not there to tell your story, then your marketing is even more important. You cannot tell the story, so your product, packaging and sinage has to tell it for you. Worse yet, your message has to compete with the messages of Tyson, Land ‘O Lakes, Dole and all the rest of the big food companies. With that kind of competition we can’t afford to have bad marketing, we need better marketing to accomplish our goals of creating a better local food economy.
As you may know, I am about to embark on a move up North, and probably will not be able to farm full time for the next year. I still think that I can leverage some of my experience to help other beginning (and established) farmers to get their marketing house in order. I have worked for 5 years as a Graphic Designer at two printing companies, so I’ve seen every mistake in the book from our local clients. Save yourself some trial-and-error and learn from their mistakes.
So here are the biggest problems that I typically see with farmers marketing:
- Bad identity design
- Inconsistent identity / brand
- Failure to describe benefit
- Failure to use technology
Now that we know what’s wrong, stay tuned as we fix these 4 problems.
First up, Identity design.