by Catie Joyce-Bulay
“I like to think of it as ‘the smell of the flower will draw in the bee,’” said Matt LeRoux, describing the importance of creating an identity for your farm business. “We’re not going to survive, especially small farms, if we don’t have an identity. This identity will draw in your target customer.”
LeRoux recently gave a presentation on marketing called “Connecting with Customers Along the Value Chain” at the Maine Grain Conference. He outlined the four steps of a marketing plan and covered each one in detail, including strategy, research, objectives and communication.
He defined marketing as the process of “understanding what the consumer wants, developing the product and getting it to them,” and added that everyone needs a marketing strategy, whether you sell wholesale or retail.
“The less you like marketing, the more you need a strategy,” advised LeRoux, who has a master’s in agricultural food marketing from Cornell University and worked for Cornell Cooperation Extension for 11 years as an agriculture marketing specialist. He started a consulting business this year, working primarily with small farmers in the local marketplace to develop their marketing plans.
In the first step of a marketing plan, farmers need to identify their audience in order to give themselves direction. “Marketing strategy is about solving the customer’s problems, not yours,” he said. Farmers should ask “why” at each stage of the customer’s decision-making process. For example, “Why does my customer choose to shop at a farmers market?” The answers will help you learn about your target customer.
One possible answer to that question is that they like to shop local. LeRoux divided local buyers into four main groups: 1) foodies or locavore enthusiasts who are experience driven; 2) people driven by a social cause or personal health; 3) ethnic or religious buyers, who are culturally driven; and 4) other customers like processors, bakers, chefs, brewers, retailers, etc. Each of these groups has different needs, motivations, desires and buying habits that, once understood, will help you develop a more targeted marketing strategy. He gave the example of a customer who buys carrots at a farmers market. Their need is carrots. Their motivation may be that they want to support local farmers and avoid pesticides. They desire red-cored Chantenay carrots to show off at their dinner party or on Instagram – what LeRoux called “bragging rights.” This customer’s buying habits might include not having the time to stop at the farmers market for just one thing.
With a more detailed picture of your target customer, LeRoux suggested creating a strategy sentence using this template: “Our farm raises [claims/products] for [target customer] who [activity/demographic/behavior].”
For those who wonder if focusing all of your marketing energy on one customer could alienate others, he said to think of your target customer like a bull’s eye.
“For example, Carhart’s [strategy] sentence might be that they make tough, durable clothing for people who work in rugged outdoors conditions like farmers, carpenters and lumberjacks,” he said. “The concentric rings are folks who identify with that – they maybe have an office job, but also want tough clothing for mowing the lawn or home gardening. Further out are consumers who live in urban centers, who want to look tough. If Carhart just came out saying they make good clothes for everybody, we probably wouldn’t be talking about them today. But by serving the target consumers really well, they have drawn in lots of other folks.”
In developing your strategy sentence, think about trying to draw a caricature of your customer. It’s okay to exaggerate a bit because it will give you a clear picture to focus on. He warned that this sentence is only for your business’s internal use. “If it’s nice enough to put on a brochure, you haven’t gone far enough,” he said. “It should make you laugh.”
When discussing the importance of market research, which includes analyzing feasibility, sales projections, demand, trends and competition, he warned against the pull to educate consumers about the value of your product. “I’m going to argue that we don’t need to do this,” he said. “As marketers, understanding the consumer is far better than convincing or educating the consumer. Other groups can get grant money and educate. We don’t have the time.”
When developing marketing objectives, your audience and budget should be taken into consideration, as well as the objective’s measurability. “Marketing objectives pay off when they are specific and measurable,” he said. These don’t always have to be sales-based; for example, they could involve wanting to increase Facebook followers.
The last step in a marketing plan is communication, or the action plan. Your communication plan will draw on all you’ve learned from the previous steps to create a message or promotion.