Many farmers I meet are scared of marketing.
They say it makes them feel icky, they don’t know how to do it, or where to even start. Maybe that’s where you find yourself, too.
If you’ve ever thought:
- “I’m an organic farmer! People should just know my produce is the best.”
- “I don’t need to do marketing — we have the highest quality products, so customers will find us.”
- “Marketing is only for people who have to trick others into buying their stuff.”
You’re not alone. The problem is, this approach to marketing stunts your business growth.
Before we go any further, let me ask you: what do you think of when you hear the word “marketing”? Is it a used car salesman or a Mad Men type executive, trying to convince you to buy something you don’t want? That’s the old marketing.
Today’s marketing is based on permission, genuine relationship-building, and generosity.
It isn’t about making someone think they want something that they don’t need — it’s about connection, storytelling, offering something that will improve another’s life, and doing it in a way that’s honest and transparent.
Today’s marketing is about growing relationships. And as an organic farmer, you’re perfectly positioned to successfully market your farm.
Think of it like building soil — one of the most important things you do as a business owner, and something you should be doing consistently.
In much the same way, farmers who learn how to honestly share their farm’s story and genuinely connect with customers can grow a thriving farm.
Instead of hoping people will come to you, you can reach out to them, and flip the script in your head to something like this:
- Since I’m an organic farmer, I can feel proud to reach out to customers and market my farm.
- We have the best quality produce, and helping customers find us means they’ll be able to eat healthier and learn how good veggies can actually taste.
- Connecting with people in a genuine way helps us build trust with our customers, and that trust leads them to growing a relationship with the land and us as farmers.
So, ready to learn how to amend your relationship with marketing and start growing the customer relationships that will keep your business healthy?
Here are three steps to get started with marketing:
1. Start with why.
In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek writes “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
If you have a choice between an organic tomato from a local farmer whose mission is to grow the best-tasting food possible and a conventional tomato from a conglomerate whose mission is to make food as transportable as possible, which will you choose?
There is a distinct “why” behind each choice. Taste vs. Transport. Care for the land vs. Convenience. You can say a tomato is a tomato, but which one we buy is based on the why behind each option.
As a business owner, you need to know your why.
Why are you running a business? Why are you farming? The answer to this question will inform what and how you communicate with your customers.
For example, instead of simply saying what you do, you’ll be able to add why you do it:
We believe food should taste great, so we choose heirloom varieties known for their flavor, and we use organic practices to grow the healthiest plants possible — because healthy plants produce tastier tomatoes.
2. Tell stories.
There’s a saying that goes, “facts tell, stories sell.”
The most effective marketing sprouts from stories, and when you’re telling your own story you don’t have to worry about competition. Even if every other farmer in your region is growing tomatoes, you’re the only one with your story of how and why you farm.
Stories don’t have to be long — you can communicate something personal and compelling in just a few sentences. Let’s look at two examples:
“We grow brandywine tomatoes because they taste great. Want to try one? They’re $5/lb.”
“My grandma used to slice tomatoes, sprinkle them with salt, and dish them out to me and my cousins on summer afternoons. I can still hear the smile in her voice every time I bite into a ripe brandywine. Want to try one? They’re $5/lb.”
Stories let your customers feel the why behind your product and create a tangible connection between your offering and their desires.
In both scenarios, you’re not tricking anyone into buying a tomato. But in the second one you are offering an honest glimpse into why you grow tomatoes, and that story creates an opening for a customer to connect with you and decide to buy.
3. Ask yourself: How would I communicate if I were talking to my ideal customer?
There are people who will choose the conventional tomato over the heirloom organic tomato. That’s okay.
The key to effective marketing isn’t to try to convince people who don’t share your ideals — it’s to talk to those who do.
Everytime you go to share a story on Instagram, Facebook, or your website, imagine you’re talking to your ideal customer. The one who also believes food should taste great, the one who understands that food is more than what you eat, it’s a connection to those you love. When you speak to someone who’s already looking for what you have, you can switch from pushing to offering. From convincing to sharing.
When you know your why, tell meaningful stories, and offer something to people that they genuinely want, not only will they feel good about buying from you, but they’ll tell their friends, too.
And no matter how targeted Facebook and Instagram Ads can get, word of mouth marketing is priceless.
Because relationships can’t actually be bought — they’re grown story by story, seed by seed.
So take these steps and start growing your marketing. Your farm will grow along with it.
This post was originally published in NOFA Notes, NOFA-VT’s quarterly newsletter.
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