A Farmer’s Guide to Online Marketing
By Simon Huntley
Editor’s Note: This is Chapter 2 of Cultivating Customers: A Farmer’s Guide to Online Marketing by Simon Huntley just released in October 2016. If you have any interest in marketing your farm online, it’s a must-read!
BUILDING ONLINE INTEREST
Now that you know who your target customers are, let’s dig deeper into how to generate customer interest using online tools.
Your story is your most powerful marketing asset. And one of the best ways to get your story out is through social media.
The local food movement is highly visual. Fields of greens, colorful fruits and vegetables, brimming farm stands, and farm scenes are pleasing to behold. Social media platforms that highlight visual media work best to carry your online message. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and to a lesser extent, Pinterest, are great ways to share your story online.
Rather than trying to spread yourself too thin, start with one or two platforms and expand out from there when you’re ready.
Building a fan page on Facebook is an opportunity to communicate your business and connect with existing and potential customers. The best way to get started on Facebook is to simply commit to sharing your story. You’ll naturally connect with your existing followers and grow as you go.
Instagram is dominated by photos and is therefore tailor-made for food growers and marketers. Many of the farmers I’ve worked with have had great success with Instagram. It’s a “no-brainer” addition to your marketing plan.
We’ll go more deeply into the nuts and bolts of social media in Chapter 6.
Marketing by email is an often-overlooked strategy, simply because it’s not as trendy as some of the newer platforms. But it’s still one of the most effective communication tools for local food businesses. If you can communicate effectively to your customers via email, you’re tapping into a one-to-one messaging platform that is as old as the Internet itself. And despite what many people say about the demise of email, most of us are still paying attention to our inboxes.
There are, however, some big mistakes to be made in email marketing, which I’ll cover in Chapter 8. For now, simply setting up an email list is a good start. There are plenty of free marketing solutions for managing email and tracking results, such as MailChimp.
If you don’t already have a website or blog, it is time you did. Websites and blogs are easier to put before. They also don’t cost much to run. You don’t even have to hire a website developer or designer. You can find a wealth of do-it-yourself information online. There are plenty of how-to videos on YouTube.
You can purchase your website name (called a domain or URL) from registrars such as GoDaddy and set up your own website using ready-made templates from WordPress. Easy website hosting can be found at HostGator, Bluehost, and many others. If you’re already using email through Google, you can set up a blog through your Gmail account.
I actually started Small Farm Central back in 2006 to help local farmers build websites. Farmers had been telling me they didn’t have the time or know-how to do it themselves and it was way too costly to hire a web developer. So I began working on solutions for farm-friendly websites that would work well for local farms with limited budgets and time. We found a way to build customizable templates designed to meet the particular needs of small farms and we created a support system and hosting geared specifically to local farmers. Our Site Builder tool is still an important part of what we do at Small Farm Central, along with other e-commerce tools.
We’ll discuss websites in greater detail in Chapter 7.
One of the easiest ways to get started with online advertising is through Google AdWords and Facebook. I’ve experimented with other platforms, but I find these are still miles ahead of most other options.
It’s essential to target your advertising geographically and by specific interest in order to maximize results. With Facebook, you can target ads to people with interests such as locally sourced food, CSAs, or farmers’ markets to better reach your customer personas.
With any online paid advertising, it’s important to track performance. You can do so by offering a coupon or other incentive that brings customers to your market stall, or to sign up for your CSA. In this way, you can gauge response. Knowing your results is extremely important when it comes to paid traffic through ads. It’s too easy to spend money quickly with paid advertising. So be sure to measure your results.
You can set any budget you like to make sure that your daily ad spend doesn’t get out of control. On some platforms it’s possible to spend as little as $5/day. There’s room for testing and experimenting, then scaling up as you see positive results.
Many strategies work. I’ve seen farms and markets achieve success by simply “boosting” posts on their Facebook pages. It’s a good, low-cost place to start and see how it works out for your business. You can get more advanced results by re-targeting your website visitors. Well-planned strategies can justify the investment of time and money. You’ll find out more on boosting posts in Chapter 6.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) involves using keywords in your website pages that match what potential customers are searching. If you run a farmers’ market in Lexington, Virginia, you’d certainly want to embed the words “farmers’ market” and “Lexington, Virginia” while you’re at it. Most local food businesses do very well by simply optimizing three to five quality keywords.
You don’t have to hire an SEO consultant to attain excellent results. You can work some basic SEO tasks into your weekly marketing schedule. In Chapter 10, we’ll take a more extensive look at how to approach SEO.