FGA marketing

Michigan expert Erika Tebbens (from right) gave two presentations on marketing agricultural products, plus answered questions at her booth. Here she gives advice to FGA board members Pam Rieke and Brad Silber, Cincinnati. At the farmers' market, the consultant recommended using a white tablecloth or one with red and white checks. "It's just very iconic."

Erika Tebbens urged producers to "Maximize Your Marketing: How to Stop Wasting Time and Money Speaking to the Wrong People" at the Food and Growers Association Winter Conference Feb. 1 at Batesville Middle School.

She ran businesses for over 15 years, including raising organic bees, honey and herbs at Little Sparrow Farm in upstate New York and serving as the market manager for Kilpatrick Family Farm for four years.

The speaker noted, "Selling and marketing do not have to be complicated. I'm really passionate about showing other entrepreneurs simple ways to boost their bottom lines ... I made a pivot about three years ago."

That was when she and farmer Michael Kilpatrick created the Farmers' Market Success System course, "the only course that teaches you how to attract the right customers, design a stand that increases sales and builds revenue." They found the course is the most cost effective way for farmers to learn, less expensive than individual counseling.

Her presentation at the conference was part of the course's first module.

"How many of you currently sell at the farmers' market?" About five hands went up.

She has a successful customer service method that spells works:

W - welcome

O - offer assistance

R - recommend add-ons

K - know your stuff

S - sincerely thank

Tebbens said it's more important to help customers at a farm stand than to restock, clean or do anything else. "Customer service can produce raving fans. ... It's really important to build in good customer service to everything you do. That's obviously how you get people to come back."

The presenter asked, "What is marketing? The action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising. Letting the right people know you exist and attracting them to you. Figuring out your perfect client and speaking to them about their needs, wants and desires. Creating a cohesive brand that is recognizable and memorable.

"It's everything that happens before you get to market," such as marketing materials, social media and email.

"Marketing is not hawking your goods in a loud, obnoxious way, trying to appeal to the masses, sitting back and crossing your fingers, hoping people want to buy, ... setting up shop at the market in a haphazard way."

Tebbens realizes farmers have "such an intense demand on your physical labor. ... We would notice people would get to market on Saturday morning" and be exhausted, silently sitting on folding chairs.

"That doesn't work. There has to be this healthy balance of production and selling."

Because producers "only have this tiny window of time on the marketing side," the expert doesn't believe they have to be on every social media platform.

"Facts tell. Stories sell," she emphasized, repeating advice from entrepreneur and coach Ali Brown.

Tebbens asked attendees to name the slogans for Nike, McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts. "They are telling you a story through what their motto is."

To craft a marketing message, questions must be answered: "Why do you do what you do? Who do you serve? How do you serve them? What problem are you solving for them? How can you package that up in a quick elevator pitch?"

She continued, "Who are you? What do you stand for? What do you believe about what you produce? This will help separate you from the competition."

Farmer Liz Brownlee, Crothersville, responded, "We wanted to do something tangible. We wanted to bring our family farm back to life." She and husband Nate decided to raise livestock, which is "more fun than carrots. We're better at growing animals than plants."

Half of their income comes from Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) contracts. The couple also sell meat to restaurants and at farmers' markets. "Customers are professors, lawyers, military families and factory workers. They want good food."

Of reviving a family farm, the speaker said, "That is a cool story. That will resonate" with customers.

Tebbens gave examples of farm slogans: Johnson's Backyard Garden, Austin, Texas, which offers CSA memberships: "Locally grown organic produce delivered to your door." Providence Hill Farm, Jackson, Mississippi: "Join the conspiracy for real food." At the farmers' market, its banner says, "All Natural, All Good," stating no herbicides or pesticides are used.

"They all have this similar feel — down home, modern Americana. Their whole message ... 'this is what we stand for.'

"It's good to think about what makes you stand out. Are you spray free? Beyond organic? Do you use heirloom recipes and grains in your baked goods? Has your family been farming the land for several generations? Do you grow specific varieties for flavor? Does your background as a chef influence what you sell?"

She asked attendees how they help farmers' market customers. "Do you get their morning off to a great start with a sausage muffin? Do you provide their salad needs for the week? Keep their pantry stocked with baked goods that taste like grandma's? Provide the bulk of their family's fresh vegetables year-round? Provide a source of fresh, clean, ethically raised meat?"

"Who are you selling to? The ideal client avatar (ICA) is the person most likely to buy what you're selling at the price that you want. Ask yourself: What are their values? What are their life goals? Income? Education?"

The speaker gave a few examples. A woman in her late 20s to early 40s, middle to upper middle class, well educated. She wants what's best for the family. She wants their food to be unique and meaningful. She's hanging out on Instagram probably. She might join a CSA or take the family on a farm tour.

A retired couple in their late 50s to late 60s, middle to upper class, well educated with lots of life experiences. They want to stay healthy and active as they age. The pair host dinner parties and feel that supporting local businesses is important. They have money to spend.

A widower in his late 70s is living on a fixed income in a community for seniors. He doesn't do a lot of cooking, but is OK splurging on jams. Tebbens continues imagining a client. "When he eats those jams, it reminds him of his wife. He likes what you're doing."

She advised, "It can take a lot of trial and error to find the right people and messaging. But when you stick with it, you'll be rewarded.

"How do you use the avatar? Figure out what marketing channels to reach them with. What kind of events they will be interested in. What kinds of products?" Ask what they wished you grew.

According to her, "Our produce was usually the highest priced at the market. People got grumbly." The farmers would tell customers, "'We stand behind our quality.' ... A lot of time pricing tells the story. Pricing can convey quality."

The presenter asked, "How can you diversify wisely and market smartly? Think of multiple ICAs. Are there other farmers' markets you want to go into? Events?"

Sometimes collaborations can boost bottom lines for both parties. "I'm going to buy your produce and put it in my dip, or your beer in my bread."

Producers can take part in retail spaces, restaurants, wholesale accounts, partnerships, farm-to-table dinners, grocery stores and food hub sales. "If you tackle them all, you could get burned out. Maybe pick two for 2020," she advised.

One final bit of wisdom: "Do research ahead of the ask to insure a yes."

RESOURCES

• Tebbens recommended the book "Building a Story Brand" by Donald Miller, "a deeper dive into what we're talking about today."

• To get 10 tips from Tebbens and Kilpatrick to boost farmers' market sales: https://www.farmersmarketchallenge.com/ebook-optin

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-717-3113.

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