As winter winds down and the growing season is in sight, if you haven't already done so, now would be a great time to update your marketing plan. You do have a marketing plan, right?
This relatively quiet time between all the winter farmer meetings and the start of spring planting is perfect for freshening up an existing plan or creating a new one. If you have a plan in place, the first step is to evaluate last year's marketing activities, and then use that evaluation to modify your plan for this year.
Consider every aspect of the plan.
- Were your target audiences the right ones?
- Did you correctly identify and address barriers and considerations that affect those audiences?
- Were the tactics that you employed effective? If not, why? Was the timing wrong?
- Did you get a good return on your investment of advertising dollars and other expenditures?
- Did your key messages seem to resonate with your customers?
The majority of activities on your marketing plan should be achievable; otherwise you may come to the conclusion that making a plan is pointless. So as you update your plan, don't just add new ideas. Look at last year's activities with a critical eye to see which ones worked and which ones didn't and should be eliminated. Some questions to ask include:
- What was your most successful marketing activity?
- What made it successful?
- Will or can you do it again this year?
- Should you do it more frequently? For example, if you hosted a concert on the farm that was well-attended, generated sales and earned you some new customers, why not make it a series this summer?
- What was your least successful marketing activity?
- Why didn't it work?
Photo courtesy of Scarletina/morguefile.com.
If it can't be fixed easily, delete it. See what else you can eliminate so you can put your time and energy into the most effective tactics.
Consider trying one new activity each year that you've never done before. Right now, that might be to start using social media. Not a bad choice, since it's no-cost and low-risk, but what else could you try? Is there something you've had in mind for a while, or did you pick up an idea at a farm marketing conference? Give it a whirl!
Don't beat yourself up, however, if you didn't achieve everything on last year's plan. Sometimes things just don't work out - and that should be part of your evaluation. Why didn't it work out? Should you try again or leave it off this year's plan?
This is also a good time to do some research to inform your marketing plan. With the wealth of online resources, a little Googling can turn up useful information, such as demographics and consumer trends. Check food and ag trade media websites too. Exchange ideas with other farmers on Listservs and discussion boards.
If you never check your website stats, do it now. That data can be relevant to your marketing plan. Most Web stat packages tell you which pages get the most views, the search terms that people used to find your site, and what other sites referred them to your site.
You can use that data to determine what your customers are interested in and what other venues they're using. For example, if your Web stats show that a lot of visitors are accessing your site via Facebook, you'll know that your Facebook page is working - people are sharing your status updates or talking about your farm.
If you're seeing a lot of referrals from Facebook or Twitter, but are not using those sites yourself, start your accounts! It's clear that your customers are on these sites.
If a lot of visitors are coming from links that you've paid for on another website or Google AdSense, you'll know that it was money well spent.
The growing season will soon be here. Plan now and you'll be ready for a successful marketing year.
The author, a freelance writer, is a public affairs specialist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Amherst, Mass., and was previously director of communications at the Massachusetts Department of Food & Agriculture. Read past marketing columns by this author online at http://farmmarketing.blogspot.com.