By Brett Wolff, Center for Crop Diversification
If you are sitting down to write your first Marketing Plan, the process may seem intimidating or confusing. Your plan can be as complicated or simple as you’d like to make it, but your approach to marketing will boil down to a few key processes, which I have outlined below. Spend some time thinking about these before you start a marketing plan and reflecting on them regularly as you change and refine your approach.
Know Yourself & Your Products
If you haven’t thought much about it before, defining your product or service can be challenging. It may seem that the value or traits of your product are obvious or self-evident. You may think that you are “not a marketer” and shy away from telling your story, hoping the product will sell itself. Direct marketing—and the premiums it frequently brings—is often based on differentiating yourself or your product. In other words, farmers markets allow you to tell the customer more about your product than other marketing channels do. If you don’t have a clear vision of who you are as a business and why your product is particularly valuable, how can you share that message with your customer?
Start by sketching out some of the things that make your product special or valuable. This may feel like an exercise in vanity, but you are in the best position to tell others why your product is great. Some ideas may be:
- High Quality
- Product Safety
- “Localness” (“[Insert County] Grown,” KY Proud, “Grown 6 miles from here,” etc.)
- Transparency about production practices
- Supporting Local Economy
When considering the value of your product, you will also need to consider the cost to the consumer. Price, convenience, and time commitment all factor in. If the benefits outweigh the costs, then you’ll have a much easier time marketing your product. Ultimately we are working toward brand identity, and a “Value Proposition” for your business or product, but that really just means .
Know Your Market & Customers
We can see some general trends in local food consumers. This report from the USDA does a good job of summarizing some of these. But not all consumers and markets value the same things. Once you have identified the strengths of your product or your market, you’ll need to figure out whether they fit with the customers you are targeting. Who are your potential customers? Do your customers care that the product is local? Do labels like Certified Organic, grass fed, or Appalachia Proud matter to your customers? They may only care about the highest quality and/or the best price. Investing lots of time and money into attributes that your customers don’t care about can get costly.
The process of figuring this out is broadly referred to as “Market Research.” In-depth market research is beyond the scope of this post, but I would strongly encourage you to get in touch with the Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (KCARD) and/or the Kentucky Small Business Development Center (KYSBDC) for help in conducting research for your market(s). Even if you aren’t ready to jump into these kind of analyses, there are some things you can do for informal market research:
- Start a Facebook page for your Business (if you haven’t already)
- Take advantage of the “Big Data” of Facebook Insights
- Make sure you are collecting Google Analytics on any websites you host
- Talk to your customers
- Consider some informal surveying
- Visit other markets
- Check out the Census Business Builder: Small Business Edition
Typically, we meet people when they have already started a venture and are exploring ways to market their products. The best approach is typically to identify gaps and needs in the market and then to build a production system to satisfy those needs. As you expand your business and consider adding new products or services, consider this approach.
Make a Plan
At its most basic, your plan will include a) your message and b) how you want to promote that message. Your message may be based on a specific product or service or it may focus on who you are as a business including your vision or mission statement and identity. Most successful plans will include elements of both. There are a wide variety of channels you can use to promote the message(s) you choose. Channels may include:
- Social Media or Online
- Social Media Posts
- Social Media Page
- Paper Flyers/Business Cards
The outlets you choose will be based on the customers you hope to reach as well as your budget. Sometimes small businesses are resistant to spending money on marketing, but small investments in the right advertisement can pay for themselves quickly. As a rough guide, consider spending 5-10% of your total expected sales on marketing expenses. If you expect to do $2000 in sales for a market season, spending $100-$200 on marketing would be a good starting target. This may be too much or too little, and tracking your revenue over time will allow you to determine if the investment is worth it. Working as a group to market together can be an efficient way for individuals to spend their marketing budgets. Social media advertisement also offers opportunities to spend a small amounts of money for (relatively) big impacts.
Set, Track. and Revise your Goals
How will you know if your marketing efforts are successful? Setting some goals and tracking them across time is an important on-going part of any plans you make in your business. You may have a mix of goals including online metrics, customer numbers, or sales targets. Your goals will almost certainly change through the life of your business as you are building/maintaining/growing a customer base, expanding your product line, or growing into new market opportunities. In the era of Facebook Insights and Google Analytics, it is easy to get overwhelmed by information or draw faulty conclusions. Make sure your goals—and the way you track them—reflect the priorities of your business, and revisit them regularly to make sure they reflect your values. Examples of good goals might be:
- Increase sales 10% for the 2018-19 growing season.
- Increase attendance at market by 17 percent in July 2018 vs. July 2017
- 100 transactions per month
- Average 10 engagements per Facebook post during the marketing season
- Average revenue of $15 per customer
Note that some of these goals directly reference how much money you are making, while relate to your visibility and engagement. Certain goals will make more sense for one business than another, and as your business plan and marketing approach develop, you’ll constantly learn new things about how you want to approach business.
I have included a few resources below that do a good job of walking through the process of developing a full marketing plan. These kinds of guides are wonderful, but I would highly encourage you to take advantage of the high caliber, direct support services we have available in Kentucky from KCARD, SBDC, and Community Farm Alliance. Establishing a strong relationship with your local Cooperative Extension office is another way to access tons of great resources and support.
If you are interested in marketing trainings, the Center for Crop Diversification is offering a new set of marketing classes entitled Marketing for All. Marketing for All is an adaptable marketing training program available through the Center for Crop Diversification. We offer 11 modules aimed at beginning and intermediate experience levels with a focus in direct marketing. Groups can choose which modules work best for their group. We are happy to schedule directly with grower groups or through extension offices. This program is made possible through the support of the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Learn more here.
The Center for Crop Diversification also offers other marketing resources including
- General Marketing Information
- Budgets including new small scale versions available here.
- Farmers Market Price Reports
- And much more…
If your market is interested in reporting prices this year, please contact Brett Wolff (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
Developing a Marketing Plan (Miss. St. University)
Eight Steps to Developing A Simple Marketing Plan (U. of Florida)
Opening and Marketing (Santa Clara University, MyOwnBusiness Institute)