When buyers from your farm think of you…what do you want them to think about?
That’s where your message comes into play, according to Dr. Ron Rainey, professor of agricultural economics and agribusiness with the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. Rainey told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor, “Understand who your target customer is. Is that a buyer within the wholesale distribution system, or is that the individual consumer that’s going to visit your farm, or try to call you or visit your website? Think about the message that target may want to hear, that will build your brand.”
Rainey said in the current environment there is an unprecedented desire, both by consumers who buy direct from farms and by middlemen like wholesalers and retailers, to know where their food comes from. Where customers are overwhelmed with options, investing in a message that enhances your farm’s reputation, trust, history and longevity can pay with huge demands. He said, “Consumers want to know whether or not you’re local, whether or not you’re a family farm. We live in an experiential society now; people want to experience things. If you are a third generation professional farmer and want to go direct to consumers, you can talk about how we’ve been in this business for a long time, we have a great deal of trust around our products, a great deal of credibility around the care that we take in delivering a highly valued product.” On the other hand, your message to the middleman could be that you’re a reliable supplier.
Your name and symbol are part of your brand. Even if your business is incorporated, using the term “Family Farm” in your branded product will carry a different connotation than “Inc.” or “LLC.” Images can also help; Rainey said, “If I am a third generation farmer, then I might want to have a picture of the farm, showing the three generations that have worked on it. I might want to have the photo on my brand or on my box; there is a strawberry grower that has pictures of their kids on it, talking about their family farm.” You can also use social media like Facebook to post pictures of your family members or depicting your production practices.
Rainey said the message should stay away from product price. “Don’t say, ‘I’m the low cost leader,’ because there’s always going to be somebody bigger and better, and if you’re competing on price it’s going to lead in the long term to reduced profit,” he said. To review how successful your branding efforts are, you can generate consumer feedback; for instance, enclose a postcard with the product, or put an email address for comments on the receipt.
In 2001, Dr. Patricia Whisnant of Rain Crow Ranch, a Doniphan, Mo., producer of grass-fed beef, entered into the direct marketing business. She got the idea from an acquaintance who, as it turned out, was a computer whiz and helped the farm establish its website. “There are lots of avenues out there for a farmer who is trying to market his brand, whether it’s a single farm or a collaboration of a supply chain,” Whisnant told OFN. “I cannot tell you the hundreds of times my husband, Mark, and I have stood in a retail store talking to people about our beef, letting them sample our beef. There’s no magic; it’s being available to help whoever your customer is, be it a restaurant or a retailer, to sell that product. You make yourself available to get people to taste it, and talk about why you believe it’s better. That is more small relations marketing than any kind of slick advertising gains.”
If the customer is not happy or satisfied with the product, she said, they offer a 100 percent guarantee, no questions asked; if a wholesale buyer has a problem with packaging or delivery, they’re compensated with credits. Although the grass-fed market is facing competition from larger operators and imports, Whisnant said the family farm label and transparency in their production processes are among their biggest selling points. “My big bandstand was always the idea that these family farms could survive by being able to find a niche market in which they could cover areas where the big guys don’t want to go,” she said, “and I think that has to do with how you approach the market itself.”


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