Branding helps customers connect with your farm
By Karla Pankow, Bossy Acres
Let’s be honest—even with all the challenges of farming, few of us are likely to yearn for a cubicle somewhere, working on a presentation about “knowledge-based solutions with mission-driven strategic applications.” In fact, I know many people (myself included) who turned to farming, in part, as an escape route away from the business suits and marketing jargon. But with all that said, there’s one corporate word that should cross the barrier from corner office to crop walk: branding.
Although the term gets tossed around so often that it becomes diluted, branding is as crucial for a farm enterprise as it is for any other kind of business. Basically, it’s the development of an identity that resonates with customers, and creates associations in their minds whenever they think about your business.
That might still sound like jargon, but consider this: do you know how your CSA members, wholesale customers, chefs, co-op buyers or others think about your farm? What makes them care? What creates a sense of connection?
As cubicle-speak as it might seem, branding is the way you can begin to answer these questions, because you’re in control of that perspective. You know what customers think about you, in other words, because you’ve guided those perceptions. And once you learn to cultivate that, it leads directly to brand loyalty and repeat business, because customers feel a stronger link to your farm, organization, or enterprise. You invite them along on your journey, and when you do that, they tend to stick around through both the abundant seasons and the tougher ones.
For our farm, Bossy Acres, we’ve drawn on experience in marketing and journalism to develop a strong brand, but it’s not like you need a degree in marketing to employ some solid branding tactics. Here are some tactics to consider:
Make the most of Facebook
Although Facebook is changing its algorithm for businesses—lowering the amount of exposure a page receives from followers, in an attempt to sell more advertising and sponsored posts—it’s still possible to use the site for huge benefits.
We use the site for daily updates on the farm, made easier by using a smartphone to capture images of what’s happening that day. Plus, it’s free. Use these strategies to get the most out of the site before embarking on sponsored posts:
• Create a business page instead of a friend page. This will establish your farm as an enterprise, and people can follow you without having to get your approval first.
• Be consistent. If you post only once every few months, it’s likely that the site won’t be useful for building customer loyalty. You don’t need to post every day, but at least a few times per week is helpful.
• Think about the story you’re telling. Remember that you’re developing a brand. If that means a small family farm that specializes in organic berries, then focus on those aspects— kids, berry bushes, the farmhouse, etc.—and take people through the season with you. Shots of one type of image, like just the tractor, or just the landscape, don’t tend to create much of a story. Put people in the shots. Remember it’s a journey, and vary your images to reflect a progression in the season.
• Think about timing. Begin to notice when you get the most attention for your posts. For us, it’s either first thing in the morning for many people (like 7:30 a.m.) or after 9 p.m., so we time posts for then. Fortunately, Facebook has a scheduling option (it’s the little clock icon in the status update box) so you can create several posts in advance. You could even do all your post creation on Sunday night, for example, and have them appear throughout the week.
• Be a cheerleader. Not every post has to be about you and your awesomeness, although the majority will be. Mix in links to related associations, other farms, local businesses, and anything else that seems relevant. This will help to populate your Facebook page, but it also draws followers from those other pages. You build your brand with these kind of links, because it shows people what you care about.
• In general, avoid rants. It’s fine to be passionate about political topics, but we all know the people on Facebook who make every post sound like shouting. They seem to be outraged daily, and although there’s plenty happening that can cause that level of angry outbursts, think about whether you want your farm brand to be based on political outrage. If you do, go for it. But if not, be judicious in your rants so they don’t overpopulate your page.
Consider jumping into Twitter
When I’ve been speaking on marketing topics, I can see the division of attitudes that come up when I mention Twitter. Some people in the audience are already tweeting their way through the talk while others take on a steely glare, like they’re silently vowing never to get on that awful Twitter thing.
I get it—Twitter is like a fire hose sometimes, where information and opinions are so unfiltered and fast that it can be overwhelming. But you don’t need to spend half your day on Twitter to make it work for you. Consider just a couple simple tips that could turn the site to your advantage:
• Unlike Facebook, Twitter should be all about quick-hit information. For example, I might share a link to a story about food waste, then snap a photo of some seed packets, and send a tweet to a fellow farmer asking a question about tractors. Content should be varied, and reflect who you are as a person so you don’t always have to be “on brand.” Regardless of the social network, you want people to feel like there’s a human on the other side of the screen.
• Be consistent, again. You can put up tweets once a week if you like, but make sure to update with regularity. A seemingly abandoned Twitter account is a slam against your brand, and it’s better to not have an account at all than to have one that’s only updated once every few months.
• Retweet often. Even more than Facebook, Twitter is about interactions. It’s not a bulletin board, it’s a party line, so create a sense of connectivity by retweeting customer tweets, replying to others, and generally providing some conversation. We often retweet or comment on posts put up by our CSA members, and we find that tends to drive customer loyalty as a result. That’s not our primary aim—instead, we retweet to show support—but it’s a nice side benefit that bolsters our farm business.
Build brand through association, consistency
I’ve already mentioned consistency a few times, but it’s worth repeating once again. To create a strong brand, you have to stick to the same message. Think about a certain commercial brand you might like — maybe it’s local butter, or big brand potato chips, or a certain cleaning product — and it’s likely that some type of association popped into your head about that product. You might even think of an advertising jingle related to the brand.
Those marketers were able to create that association for you because they were consistent in their branding. For that local butter, you have images of cows, for instance, and a little red barn on a windswept plain. But you don’t think about the butter itself, right? Instead, the dairy has consistently cultivated a perception of its company based on some core values, like herd management, family farming, or organic practices.
In a similar way, think about what you value, and how you can present that in a manner that creates a larger brand for your farm. Those values translate into images, ideas, and comments that can be delivered through a medium like social media, but can also be used for brochures, online blogs, printed newsletters, and any other communication that involves your farm.
In other words, know the story you want to tell, and be willing to bring your customers into that story. For us, consistent use of images and fun comments cement our brand, and create more opportunities for the farm. We’re not headed for cubicles anytime soon (hopefully never again), but we do think some tactics from corporate life, like branding, shouldn’t be ditched completely. Instead, use those strategies to build customer loyalty, one tractor photo at a time.
Karla Pankow owns Bossy Acres with her partner, Elizabeth Millard, and also runs a farm marketing firm, Bossy Consulting, focusing on social media. Before farming, Karla worked in corporate sales and marketing positions for 10 years, while Elizabeth has been a journalist for 20 years. Follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BossyAcres and on Twitter at @BossyAcres and @BossyConsulting.
From the July | August 2014 Issue