Tips for direct marketing farm products

Door-to-door sales, word of mouth and newspaper advertising may sound like Marketing 101 straight out of the 1950s, but it wasn’t long ago that some of the original direct marketers in agriculture were employing those techniques to sell wine, syrup and Christmas trees.

While pop-up markets at farms’ edge have fueled ag sales for centuries, the growth and reach of social media dominates a landscape where once upon a time, a tree farmer would bring a freshly cut fir to the local general store in an effort to gain their business.

“Early on marketing was not much more than word of mouth,” said Lake County Farm Bureau member Jeff Greig, owner of Greig Christmas Tree Farm in Willoughby Hills, which has been in operation since 1956. Greig is also president of the Ohio Christmas Tree Association. “Our business was first on the wholesale side, and during the summer our parents would go to different retailers and take a tree to them to show them the quality of our trees and try to get orders.”

Fast forward 50 years, and things hadn’t really changed that much, according to Alan Binger, owner of Hidden Pines Christmas Tree Farm in Clyde, until the media landscape was abruptly turned upside down with the advent of social media.

“I started in the industry in 2000, but my first year to market trees was 2007. At that time direct marketing was mostly by local newspapers and radio,” he said. “The decline of the local media has been the main evolution. This is especially true with the main target market demographic for our products which is young families. For us, Facebook changed everything. We started our Facebook page for the farm in 2010 when Facebook was still in its relative infancy, but it made an immediate impact. It completely eliminated the other marketing avenues within a few years.”

Jen Freeman and Alan Binger
Jen Freeman and Alan Binger agree-social media has created a direct line to consumers.

Ohio Maple Producers Association President Jen Freeman, co-owner of Richards Maple Products, agreed that social media advertising has completely changed the landscape and created a direct line to consumers.

“Our advertising dollars have changed direction and we feel make a further reach,” said Freeman, who noted that when she started in the industry, her business “sent out catalogs, advertised in local papers, paid to be in the yellow pages of numerous phone books. Now with social media and email blasts, we have a much farther reach.”

It is much less expensive to get the word out as well, but the onus is on the producer to keep the marketing relevant and consistent to drive traffic to a storefront or a website.

“If that means getting on social media when you first plant trees then do it, get your name out there and let people know you are growing trees,” Greig said. “I think building credibility is so important and keeping people informed along the way is one way to build credibility.”
Maintaining an updated website is critical as well, as social media platforms become more diluted, Binger said. “Making sure that our websites are easily found by search engines is critical.”

In a world where hundreds of messages are thrust upon potential customers every day, cutting through the noise can be difficult. Social media alone may not get the job done.

“You need a multi-pronged approach. Not everyone is on one social media platform. You have to use multiple methods to reach the maximum number of people, which is why we still send out a hard copy newsletter to some people on our list,” said Geauga County Farm Bureau member Jane Neubauer, of Sugar Pines Farm in Chesterland. “I think being involved in the local community is helpful for raising visibility as well – and just the right thing to do.”

Donnie Winchell, Ohio Wines
Donnie Winchell, Ohio Wines

Donniella Winchell, executive director of Ohio Wine Producers Association, has been in the business since 1978. She said that no matter what you are producing, it all begins and ends with having a good product to market. And while social media has helped her industry explode in Ohio and around the country, there are some tried and true marketing techniques that never go out of style.

Experiences like a wine tasting at a farm, the family cutting down the annual Christmas tree and the first sugar house visit after a cold winter – and learning and visiting with the people who run the business – are still a main attraction.

“Most of our wineries are owned by families, many of them with several generations involved,” Winchell said. “Since their wine is usually an extension of their personalities, having the mom or dad, son or daughter, cousin or aunt behind the tasting bar proudly serving wines as they share family stories cannot be replaced with technology.

Labor has always been an issue, mainly because we are a seasonal operation. So that's a challenge finding somebody who only wants to work three months out of a year, sometimes up to six months.
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Mandy Way

Way Farms

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Ernie Welch

Van Wert County Farm Bureau

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Matt Aultman

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Jaclyn De Candio

Clark County Farm Bureau

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