First Steps to a Marketing Strategy

As a small or beginning farmer, marketing takes on a special importance as you’re likely unable to rely on past relationships with consumers or the ability to produce large quantities for buyers.
First Steps to a Marketing Strategy - Articles

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Marketing is how you meet the needs of identified consumers or consumer groups. It is the foundation of a successful business.

Set Objectives

Start with setting marketing objectives. What do you want to achieve through your marketing? What will drive you toward achieving the business goals that you outlined (hopefully) in your business plan? Perhaps you want to achieve 40% customer retention during the coming year or increase wholesale sales by 30% over the next 12 months. Don’t stretch yourself thin with too many marketing objectives. Decide on a few high priority objectives that will allow you to focus in on them.

Do Your Research

The market research you do will drive the decisions you make when deciding upon your marketing strategy. Who are your customers? Will you be marketing to individuals or businesses? Direct or wholesale? How does your product fill their needs and wants? You’ll need to know their wants, needs, what they think, believe, how they like to communicate, their price comfort, and how your product “checks the boxes” for them.

It’s important also to research other similar businesses who you will be competing with for your customers’ business. How do you and your product(s) compare? What comparative advantages can you highlight and use to your benefit?

Make Decisions

Once you have an understanding of the market (target audience) for your product, you can begin making decisions regarding your marketing mix, which is a combination of the 4 Ps – product, price, place, and promotion. You may see references to 5, 7, or even 9 Ps, but the American Marketing Association still defines marketing mix as the 4 Ps, and this is a solid foundation as you start and grow your business.

Product

What are the attributes of your product(s) that your customer market values? You need to be able to identify, describe, and effectively communicate these attributes to your customers.

Price

At the very least, your prices need to cover your cost of production. Beyond that, the price can be used to influence customers’ perception of your product as well as to achieve the specific marketing objectives that you have set for yourself. See the publications Product Pricing: What Do I Charge? and Understanding Pricing Objectives and Strategies for the Value-Added Ag Producer for more on pricing.

Place

Place, or placement, has to do with where and when your customers can get your product. Will customers have to come to your farm or a farmers’ market to purchase? If you will sell via a CSA (community supports agriculture) model, will you have drop off locations, delivery, pick-up at your farm? How accessible, convenient, and when are those locations open?

Promotion

How will you communicate, interact, and engage with both your customers and non-customers? Promotion is so much more than traditional advertising, and it extends beyond the sale of your product; as in customer service. A social media presence, event sponsorship, or speaking invitation are all examples of promotional activities. Any form of communication with an individual or group when you (or an employee) can be linked to your business should be considered promotion.

Write It Down

Throughout your research and decision-making process, write down what you’ve learned and the decisions you’re making. What you’ll end up with will be your marketing plan, a document that describes your product, consumer groups, and how you will implement your marketing strategy to achieve your objectives. Why is a marketing plan so important? A well-constructed marketing plan can help you achieve your business goals. Just like a business plan, the process of developing your marketing plan will provide you with the opportunity to thoughtfully consider numerous questions:

  • who your customers will be
  • how your business fits into the greater business landscape
  • how you will position your business and products
  • how you will price
  • how you will communicate and engage with both the public and your customers
  • how you will analyze the success of your marketing strategy

Additionally, a written marketing plan will keep you grounded when presented with opportunities. You’ll have a framework to use when deciding whether or not to pursue those opportunities.

Summary

How you use the 4 Ps in response to your marketing research to achieve the marketing goals you’ve set for yourself is the essence of a marketing strategy. Remember, the key is to know your customer(s). If you can stay on top of this, you can adjust the other aspects of your strategy as your business grows and matures.

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