As farmers, you and I have the unique struggle of pouring our whole lives into our farms (who else is working 12+ hour days now that it’s the middle of July?! I can’t keep up with the heat!) while also needing savvy business tactics to keep our customers coming back for more.
It’s not an easy balance.
I have to prioritize staying on top of the latest business trends just as much as tracking my dairy cow’s lactation and health every single day.
Sometimes that means I’m listening to a business podcast in the car while I’m hauling chickens to the butcher, or handing off gardening responsibilities to my 10-year-old so I can spend an hour on the computer writing a marketing email to my customers.
Because after almost ten years in business, I’ve realized that what worked several years ago to get more customers or sell more product is outdated and stale.
My customers don’t spend their lives on a farm – they spend their days in front of the computer or on their phones, experiencing new trends in business that shape their buying habits.
In listening to last week’s video interview with Nick Burton multiple times, (I have pages of notes & inspiration!) something stood out to me…
My customer’s shopping habits and customer service expectations are changing at a rapid pace, and if I don’t stay on top of it, I’ll miss out on sales.
Thanks to the lightning speed of new technology creation, as well as the extraordinary reach of the internet, you and I need to be resolute in continuously updating and upgrading our marketing skills and customer service.
How I used to market my farm on Facebook just a year ago successfully is no longer effective. What works today may not get me any results six months from now.
How to stay on top of business & marketing trends
If you’d like to see some more examples of where I get inspiration for these marketing trends, I created an inspiration guide with examples from 5 other farmers who are doing creative things – but also examples of other industries.
I don’t get a lot of business inspiration from the farming world, honestly. Instead, I pay close attention to other industries like fashion, design, health food services, and more.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but I take it one step at a time instead of trying to do EVERYTHING all at once.
For example, this last Spring I spent about a month digging into some recent changes with Facebook to make sure I was staying on top of things.
Then when I felt comfortable with that, this past month I’ve been exploring different small business’ websites to get inspiration for new trends in websites and methods of selling products.
By focusing on just one thing at a time, I’ve been able to get good at one marketing trend, instead of spreading myself too thin and being a ‘jack of all trades – but a master of none.’
How do you learn what’s changing or evolving in how your customers shop and what their preferences are?
As always, the information you need is right in front of you – talk to your customers!!
They continuously give us clues as to what they want. In Nick’s interview last week he emphasized over and over that every little tweak he made in his business was a direct result of the messages, both verbal and nonverbal, he received from his ideal customers.
For example, he learned they didn’t want a box of CSA veggies once a week. Instead, they’d rather pay a premium for a pre-made salad delivered to their office weekly.
(And remember – Nick’s farm is out in the middle of nowhere in Texas. In his words, “If we got any more rural, we would fall off the face of the earth.” These trends are happening everywhere, not just in the major cities.)
I see the same on my farm in Oregon. When we began selling meat by the individual cut our customer base grew by hundreds of people per week because people were tired of buying ¼ beef or ½ hogs and feeling limited in their cuts and overwhelmed with the amount of product.
Are big-box stores going out of style?
A few years ago it was common for most people I knew to stockpile cases of meat or vegetables or toiletries from Costco. I remember when my parents first got their Costco membership – I’d open their closet door in the bathroom and there’d be a bulk pack of a dozen toothbrushes and an 8-pack of Secret deodorant. A year’s worth of toilet paper it seemed!
Contrast that with today where many people I know look for businesses who specialize in one particular product, such as the fresh seafood store not far from me, the craft beer brewer who specializes in unique farmhouse ales, or the artisan goat’s milk soap from a local family.
When talking with customers in our farm store, they mention how they’d rather drive out to my farm once every couple weeks for a steak, a pack of pork chops and a pound of hamburger vs. ordering ¼ beef once or twice a year.
They prefer to eat the cuts they want, rather than figure out how to use a whole cow! They tell me they just don’t have time to research the different cuts and recipes and they want an easier option.
Plus, they enjoy the experience of making the peaceful country drive to the farm and visiting with us and learning about nutrition and cooking along with their shopping.
We’ve also had lots of customers come to us who had previously been getting a meat CSA option, and that was still too much meat, so they found us. Over the months their freezer was getting fuller and fuller, so they just canceled their subscription and found us.
The Meat CSA farmer missed a key message there – they were either not listening to their customer’s cues, or perhaps not asking for feedback.
If I hadn’t made the switch to selling individual cuts of meat instead of bulk, I’d still be trying to convince customers to buy my product, instead of giving them what they want.
Today, more people love the convenience of subscription services.
No more jumbo packs of his and hers deodorant – did you know there’s a deodorant subscription that will deliver you a fresh stick of it on a regular basis with no sweat on your part?
(I include that business and a bunch more in this free inspiration guide to the Top Farm Marketing Trends of 2017)
The Dollar Shave Club delivers razor blades monthly. Again, my husband used to get the big ol’ 16 pack of razors from Costco. In today’s world that is starting to prize minimalism over stockpiling, dozens of toothbrushes and bulk purchases of steaks are no longer a thing, and there are more trendy options.
(I just found out in researching this post that you can get fresh towels and sheets delivered weekly, specialty floss delivered on a monthly subscription, and individual smoothie packs to make your morning smoothie routine easier!)
With Amazon buying Whole Foods there’s a significant threat to our farms, and if we don’t listen to our customers carefully, we may be affected. Yes, we farmers know the difference between organic veggies from Whole Foods and buying from a local farm, but our customers don’t realize it’s that different and feel great when they buy from a store such as Whole Foods.
The other night my daughter was craving ice cream, didn’t want to get out of her pajamas, so she pulled out her phone, clicked on some Chunky Monkey through Amazon, and New Seasons, a local health foods store, brought it to her doorstep soon after!
How do we compete with ice cream delivered to your doorstep? We can if we start brainstorming now!
As farmers, we have an incredible product. While we don’t have to be nearly as advanced as Amazon’s one-click, 2-hour delivery service, we must embrace new business and marketing trends to be competitive in today’s world like the businesses showcased in this inspiration guide.
In last week’s interview with Nick, he talked about how he began by raising lettuce. Rather than selling heads of lettuce, he realized he had a customer base who valued the convenience of a fresh garden salad delivered to their workplace, and the fact that it costs five times what they could make it for at home is of no concern to them.
With that kind of convenience and service, we need to step it up on our farms. It will get harder for someone to justify driving an hour and a half to see us if they can get delivery of something similar from Whole Foods within hours of ordering.
No, our farm fresh products are not comparable to Whole Foods products from feedlots and outside the country. But our customers are starting to value convenience and impeccable, prompt service over all else.
How can we combine the two? How can we provide our customers with farm fresh milk, eggs, meat or flowers and slip in the convenience and prompt service of Amazon Prime?
Melissa Miller, the farmer I interviewed right here about a month ago, is combining both super well with her floral bouquet CSA. Delivery and the convenience of a subscription. Her customers receive their fresh flowers without having to put in any extra effort each week to order or pick up.
(Want more inspiration from other farmers doing creative things? Grab the free guide by clicking here)
However, delivery isn’t an option for some people. Legally, I can’t deliver raw milk in my state. But that’s not going to stop me from exploring new marketing methods.
Which marketing trend will you embrace?
My renewed focus for the last half of 2017 is to step up the in-person experience here on our farm. I’ve started offering more free tours to watch the cow-milking process, we keep a calf around that kids can pet and love on, or even take a turn feeding a bottle. We give samples of milk or butter or whatever I’ve cooked up out of our meat selection. We’ll let visitors gather eggs with us.
Whichever trend you choose to embrace, whether it’s delivery, convenience, pre-made meals, subscription or a fantastic experience, it’s important to at least recognize what you’re competing against so you don’t look up one day next year and wonder where all your customers have gone.
I’ve got lots of ideas for you in our Inspiration Guide – they may not work exactly, but it will help you think creatively for new marketing solutions you can embrace.
Listen to your customers above all else.
The best way to keep up on these trends is to listen to your customers. This may mean emailing them one at a time and engaging in a conversation that way. Or perhaps you start scheduling regular coffee and lunch dates as I do with a different customer each week.
Another great way is to be sure in your weekly emails to your customers that you’re asking for feedback. Ask one specific question each email and ask them to hit reply and answer to help you in your quest to give the best customer service you can.
However you choose, you’ve got to figure out how to develop a consistent relationship with them and listen and learn about their needs and desires and then brainstorm how you can fill that need.
In my free inspiration guide today I’ve got all sorts of ideas on what’s working in the current retail world. I looked outside the farm industry for inspiration for you. What ideas can you take from these companies that you can incorporate even on just a tiny level on your farm?
Price is no object.
Like I’ve said many, many times – when you learn to market your farm products based on what your customers’ needs and desires are, there is no competition and price is no object.
I would love if in the comment section below this post you let me know which trend inspires you, and what one step can you take to meet your customers’ needs better?
We are going to start an automatic subscription of a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs and a pound of beef or pork. We’ve listened and determined that’s a good place to start, and we’ll listen more and tweak it when we need to. That won’t solve all our customer’s struggles and desires, but it will fill about half of them. And by knowing we listened to them, they feel special, like they matter to us (which they do!!).
See you in the comments!!