by Melissa Piper Nelson
Successful marketing of agricultural products and services is built on establishing a relationship with buyers. A recent USDA Ag Marketing Service (AMS) study noted that the one of the top “demand drivers” among customers was to learn about the farming practices of the businesses selling food. This, it says, “…engenders trust in the integrity and quality of the food they purchase amidst a backdrop of food safety concerns.” The marketing relationship factor relies on three main principles: establishing reputation, connection and trust.
What makes potential customers gravitate to your specific business? Much of the decision comes from how you present yourself and your business. In developing and demonstrating your brand at a farmers market or through a community supported agriculture subscription service, customers look for honesty and integrity — does the product or service accurately equate with the marketing? One of the best advantages of direct marketing is the ability to tell your unique story and show, as well as tell, customers what you do, how you do it and why it is important to you and to them.
This opens the door for connectivity between buyer and seller, a pivotal part of direct marketing according to a recent report in emerging agricultural markets and business strategies. CSA members surveyed said they felt a strong connection with the farm they purchased a subscription to and wanted, in many respects, to feel a part of the farming operation itself.
Connection to your business establishes trust and integrity, which loyal customers expect and report to other potential customers. They can tell your story, vouch for your quality and customer service and market your product and service without reserve. All of this leads to developing a full relationship with present and future customers.
Marketing techniques, however, should not replace quality of product or service, or the ability to realize and adopt changes as necessary. Customers need to understand there will be times that you, as the owner or manager, need to direct operations, change sales strategies, or try new operational functions to keep your business moving in a positive direction. Helping customers understand the risk basis of agricultural operations should be an important upfront communications factor. Likewise, accepting customer feedback, questions and suggestions helps you to understand what is important to the buying public and how you can respond to the issues that present themselves.
Building customer relationships requires conversation, the exchange of ideas and the willingness to listen. As busy farmers and entrepreneurs, this is not always easy! We have enough throughout the day to keep us busy. When beef producers recently invited food bloggers to visit farms, they were surprised to find out how many people writing about food had not even been to a farm or knew very little about how food was produced. When you feel you cannot answer one more question, understand it may well be an important connection to not just one person, but many.
A customer purchasing food or service from any source expects that what they purchase will be as advertised, even if they do not have a personal connection with the manufacturer or provider.
Agricultural businesses, especially direct marketers, have the advantage of establishing a more personal connection between buyer and seller. Developing that relationship takes time and effort, but creates the strong bond which gives your business a decided advantage.
The above information is presented for educational purposes only and should not be substituted for professional legal or business counseling.
The relationship factor
by Melissa Piper Nelson