by Cammie Barden
You hear it everywhere — successful marketing requires a carefully laid out and detailed plan. But before developing the best marketing plan to bring in all-important profit, it is crucial to get a grasp on consumer perceptions. Of course, you could read a few blogs or articles in regards to the product you’re trying to sell and gauge your market that way. A better way is to know exactly what the market in your area is doing and thinking about your product. In short, you want an all-inclusive view of your product in your region before creating your plan.
Dan Whitmyer, Vice-President of Strategy at Northlich, had a few suggestions in developing an understanding of a consumer’s thoughts.
To get an understanding of consumer perceptions, a study can be performed. There are many different types of study models which can be used, but covering a wide and diverse background is key to gaining the information you are looking for. Three categories to address are: stakeholders, qualitative and quantitative.
Gathering this information can be time consuming to an extent. But the time spent in gathering this data is an investment in the future of your business.
Stakeholders are those who have a financial interest in your business succeeding. They could be retailers, distributors, or financiers. If your business is large enough, they could be association chairs or CEO’s.
Obviously, this group is invested in the well-being of the company. They feel the product could make profit. The expected sale of the product when compared to other regions or the general attitude about the product is the information they need to give.
The data is gathered in the form of one-on-one interviews. Questions such as “How good do you think the product is compared to others?”, “Do you believe the product is popular?”, “Is the market for this product growing or shrinking” and others should be asked. The questions should all deal with the perception of the product. Remind those being interviewed they are not trying to sell the product at the moment but are evaluating it, so honesty is a necessity.
You could find the data to lead to interesting aspects. In a result survey that was performed, Whitmyer discovered “consumers give the product more credit than [the stakeholders] do.”
These interviews should be held for the same amount of time and ask the same questions. This is a consistency that is crucial for collecting accurate data.

This portion is centered around focus groups. There should be several different groups, from three to six in number, with a consistent number of participants. These people should be of varying backgrounds such as age, race, gender, geography and socio-economic standing.
The interview process should have the same questions which were asked of the stakeholders with some others added in. Additional questions should focus around the buying habits related to the product, frequency of use, and preference of the product.
Under no circumstance should yes-or-no questions be used. Attempt to make them as open-ended as possible and avoid leading the group into answering in a way you desire. The whole purpose of the focus group is to get detailed answers of the actual consumer perception of the product, even if it may not be in your favor. Furthermore, open-ended questions regarding how to increase those positive habits should be asked as well.
When gathering participants, a great way to start is with your regular customers. Ask to see if they are willing to be a part of a focus group and then branch out from there. Offering compensation for their time is always beneficial and will be helpful in getting information to help make your operation more lucrative.
This final portion is rather large. It is a question survey available to a large number of consumers. This survey, much like the qualitative portion, should attempt to reach a wide array of different people from all types of backgrounds. The larger the group, the better.
There should be at least 24 questions on the survey. Keep in mind people really don’t want to spend a lot of time doing surveys. Therefore, the surveys should be on the shorter side. The focus of these questions should be on their behavior when buying the product, the experience when purchasing, their knowledge of the business in the area, and many others.
The idea is to gain an understanding of your consumer. For example, if a consumer states they would go to your business if one was in the area, they may not even be aware your business is in existence. Perhaps the consumer is misguided due to popular terms and phrases, such as organic. They may not be aware of what constitutes organic and which businesses are running organic operations.
The survey is to get a big picture understanding.
A good way of gathering this information can be with using one of the many survey websites available on the internet. Many of these are free to use and can give you the data you need with minimal out-of-pocket expense.
What was learned
Once the data is collected, you may be surprised to see how things are different from your initial understanding. Perhaps your business is not as well-known in your region as you thought. Perhaps the consumers have no idea you exist. Maybe the consumers know, but they are not impressed by various aspects of your business. “Awareness is a key outage,” Whitmyer said in regards to product visibility.
The data collected will help address what needs to be changed to increase your sales. The survey Whitmyer had recently conducted pointed out “’Local’ could be leveraged better,” since the producer and the consumer had two very different definitions for the word. This may be an overwhelming task since there is a lot of data to go over. Spreadsheets or graphs can help narrow down the negatives as well as the positives.
Picking one or two things you want to change is the first step to developing your marketing strategy. If you pick too many, your focus will be divided and not much progress will be made. By selecting one or two, the objectives will be much clearer and you can devote yourself more to them.
Briefly, to create a marketing plan, you want to start with objectives. These should be key words and be very brief for what you wish to accomplish. An example would be, “Increase farm awareness.”
The next would be goals. This should be a number and could be a profit margin, an increase in consumer traffic, or a decrease of red ink in your books.
Strategies are choices you have available to meet those goals. There should be three to five listed, giving you options in case you need to abort one and go on to another.
Tactics are actions you use to implement the strategies chosen. These should make sense to the operation but not be a financial pitfall. If a tactic will take a lot more money than give, then it might not be the best option and may, in fact, bankrupt your business.
Finally, a marketing plan needs some type of measure. This is a list of progress points throughout the life of the plan. Making those points too grand may discourage you and you may not even know if the tactic or strategy is even working, but the same may be said if they are too small. Find a middle ground for the points.
When it comes to measuring, make it pertinent to the goal. Using profit gain to measure consumer traffic is okay, but there could be a better way. However, whatever you decide to choose, stick with it. That will be how you start to measure your success.
By understanding your product in the eyes of a consumer, you are able to address how to increase your sales. This must be a clear-cut picture and distorted as little as possible. This method may not be the only way to attain these results, but it is a way in which one can start to move forward in their business.