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The most elemental component of a marketing effort is a brand. Your brand is the story that you tell about your farm, the values that you communicate, and the sense that customers have of your business. Ask yourself: “When someone thinks of my farm, what comes to mind?” The answer defines your current brand: your brand is what your customers think of your farm business. If your current brand does not align with your self-perception, your values, or your goals, then it is not as strong a brand as it could be. Public perception should align with your vision of your business.
Think about your business and why you run the farm that you do. What about your farm is most exciting to you? What values drive your decision-making the most? What makes you unique? Write down the adjectives and descriptive phrases that come to mind. They don’t have to be clever or form a coherent tagline – a brainstorm is fine.
Write down your “elevator speech,” the 20-second spiel you would give if you have only an elevator ride to introduce yourself and your business to someone new. Think carefully about the core identity that you want to communicate; this shouldn’t just be a laundry list of what you grow.
Begin by identifying your core customers. These are the top ten customers who, if you work to understand and target them better, will help you refine your brand identity. Think about the people who show up as soon as you open for the season, the people who call to ask when their favorite crop is coming into season, or the people who respond to any communications you release.
Talk to your core customers one-on-one about what they like about your business. Why do they choose to purchase your products? These customers have identified something that appeals to them in your existing self-presentation, so they can offer great insight into your strengths and into any areas that your current brand may not align with your goals. They can also help you to identify other services, products, or markets that might be appropriate for you.
Once you have a sense of what drives your core customers and what they think about your business, it’s time to identify your target audience. This is the larger group of people whose attention you want to catch through your branding. Identifying the people you want to reach and beginning to strategize about how to reach them is how you begin to develop a marketing strategy.
Now that you know how you want to be perceived and how well you’re conveying that message to your core customers, take a step back to begin thinking about how your brand will fit into in the marketplace. Ask yourself the following questions:
When Polly Hutchison started Robin Hollow Farm in 2006, she was able to develop her product line, business name, logo, and tagline from scratch. Polly and her husband Mike had fourteen years’ experience running a vegetable CSA, so they had plenty of experience with marketing and had developed related skills. Because events are a large component of the business and the aesthetics of events are highly personal, Polly notes the importance of communicating that she is capable of creating any look with flowers, be it rustic, modern, or romantic. She must balance communicating her versatility against maintaining her own brand, which she does by being consistent in her use of her own logo, colors, and other pieces of her branding work, while also making available many photographs of the work she has done for events.
Cut flowers are a relatively high-value crop, so they enabled Polly to build a financially stable business on a small piece of land. In addition to growing flowers for sale at markets and through their flower CSA, Robin Hollow is a full-service florist, so they work with other farms and florists to provide a wide range of flowers and to do events year-round. Polly is a serious grower, her flowers are long-lasting, and her bouquets are lush and professional. She creates a high-value crop, and the sophistication of her marketing materials reinforces that with shoppers.
Polly and Mike wanted to establish a sense of place with their farm name. Robin Hollow describes a geographic characteristic of their land, so it conjures a pleasant image and communicates the connection between the business and the land it’s on. The name works, says Polly, but “sometimes I 4 Marketing 101 Manual wish we’d been a little more specific about what we do.” A farm name can’t communicate everything about your business, so think an advance about what is most important and accept that you will have to use other methods to tell your whole story. Robin Hollow Farm uses two taglines: “outstanding cut flowers and events” is the more literal descriptor printed on business cards, in Polly’s email signature, and on the website. They also use “Fresh – Local – Sustainable,” a tagline that is a direct description of their values. “Fresh – Local – Sustainable” is effective because it is straightforward and strong. Neither tagline is used on every single piece of their marketing materials, but both are consistently deployed.
Polly worked with a designer to develop the logo for Robin Hollow Farm. She said that they must have gone through twenty drafts before settling on their current logo. The logo, like their website and print materials, is modern and clean. Polly said, “People tend to think of farmers as old fashioned, but that’s not us.” The logo reflects their modern sensibilities.
Paul Crowell is the third generation at Crow Farm. His father Howard still works on the farm, and his son Jason is currently moving into a management role. The farm is truly a family business, with Paul’s mother Judy managing the website, and Paul’s wife Ellen selling baked goods at the farm stand. The product line and farm brand has changed quite a bit over the years as each generation puts its own stamp on the business.
Today, a significant portion of the farm’s income comes from greenhouse crops, and the rest comes from the four acres of orchard, ten acres of sweet corn, and fifteen or so acres of mixed vegetables. Paul says that the product mix is a balancing act between focusing on the most profitable crops (the greenhouse crops) and growing the diversity of crops that enables them to draw people to their stand throughout the growing season. Selling their own peaches, apples, and sweet corn helps Crow Farm stand out, but they need to grow a full complement of vegetables to flesh out their offerings. In recent years, Paul has added strawberry and raspberry plants, which are high-value crops that fit well with the rest of their offerings. Strawberries are especially promising, because they are a food crop that is in season when the greenhouse crops are in full swing.
Crow Farm’s wholesome, honest, family-based ethos is clear at the stand and in the farm’s marketing. When asked to describe the farm’s image, Paul says, “Well, we’ve always been focused on ‘eating the seasons,’ because that’s how we grew up. The business is wholesome and Cape Cod-y because that’s what we are.”
Because many of the greenhouse plants are sold wholesale, you can find Crow Farm flowers in color boxes and hanging baskets at garden centers around Cape Cod. Paul has noticed that shoppers are willing to pay more for those luxury items at garden centers than they are at the Crow Farm stand. He suspects that this is a marketing issues: people pour in to buy plants for their gardens and corn for their cookouts, but they don’t associate Crow Farm with high-end, expensive products. Therefore, the garden centers can sell color boxes made from Crow Farm flowers at higher prices than Crow Farm can command. Crow Farm is not moving towards establishing a more luxury-based image, so it’s just an unfortunate truth, but it is an interesting example of how deeply your farm brand can affect the ways that customers interact with you and your products.
This material is based upon work supported by USDA/NIFA under Award Number 2010-49200-06201.
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