If you think you’re too busy to bother with advertising, you might want to think again—particularly if you hope to sell your farm products regionally or even nationally online. To find new customers (and keep them coming back), you need to be able reach a wide audience over a sustained period of time.
A carefully executed, strategic advertising campaign for your farm can help you to do just that.
Specializing in gourmet beef from grass-fed cows, Dan Kaplan owns Heartstone Farm in Charleston, Maine. He ships his products to customers as far away as Chicago.
“We use UPS Ground and dry ice, so, especially when it’s not in the middle of the summer, we can handle shipments that take up to three days,” Kaplan says. He advertises via Google and Facebook to break down geographic barriers and target consumers who are specifically interested in grass-fed beef.
“Our approach from the beginning was to try to use the internet to connect with prospective customers who would value the kind of quality that we were producing wherever they lived,” he says.
So far, Kaplan’s efforts have paid off. His sales’ volume is up, and between 40 and 50 percent of his business comes from repeat customers.
But getting to this point has taken time, patience and avoiding some common pitfalls along the way.
Dos & Don’ts
“In the beginning, Facebook would send me messages saying, ‘Lots of people are liking this [post.] You should boost it.’” Kaplan says. “Well, maybe I’ll get more likes, but I’m not sure that translates into [sales.]”
With a quick click and just a few dollars, boosting a Facebook post may seem like an easy and inexpensive way to get the word out about your farm, but even these small expenditures can add up. Plus, they don’t constitute a very strategic use of your advertising budget.
Instead, take the time to familiarize yourself with the more robust advertising options available on platforms such as Facebook, Google and YouTube. Then decide which advertising vehicles are the best strategic fits for you and your farm.
Keep in mind that different online media can deliver different sizes and types of audiences. If you want to reach the largest number of people, consider YouTube or Facebook.
According to surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2018 and 2019, these sites remain among the most widely used social media platforms.
Of U.S.-based adults surveyed, 73 percent reported using YouTube and 69 percent indicated that they were Facebook users. Additionally, three-fourths of those Facebook users visited the site at least once every day.
The researchers also reported that the bulk of these Facebook users were older, college-educated women. As for people between the ages of 18 and 29, they gravitated to Snapchat and Instagram.
Getting your message just right matters, too. “I see a lot of farms that are not putting themselves in the heads of their consumers,” Kaplan says. “They’re telling all about their farm, but that’s not necessarily what the consumer wants to hear.”
If your customers have reviewed your products or your business online, reading through these is one of the best ways to find out what truly matters to them.
“We have over 240 reviews out there,” Kaplan says. “[Customers] really value the connection with me through their food. And another thing they value is customer service.”
Just as important as dialing in the right advertising medium and message is keeping your advertising budget—and your expectations—reasonable.
“It’s pretty hard to make money or even break even on someone with their first purchase,” Kaplan warns. “You have to look at how much that customer is likely to spend [with you] over a lifetime.
“If they spend $60 on your website, but maybe it took $20 or $25 to get them there and make that click, somebody might look at that and say, ‘That’s not making any money!’ But you have to amortize the [advertising] cost. … We’re looking for consumers who are going to become not just two-time customers, but three-time and five-time—really repeat—customers.”
You should also regularly check the metrics associated with any ads you run.
“This isn’t the kind of thing you should ‘set and forget,’” Kaplan says. “More than once, I’ve gotten a bill or I’ve looked at my credit card and [I was] like, ‘What? How did I spend so much so quickly?’ And then I have to go in there and look to see what’s going on.”
Although plenty of behind-the-scenes data points are available, tracking the effectiveness of your advertising can still be a challenge. No matter which online advertising platform you choose, at minimum, you should be able to see how many people have actively clicked on your ads.
By pairing this information with your own website statistics and sales numbers, you can begin to evaluate the effectiveness of your advertising.
If they are available, you should take advantage of advanced tracking tools such as Facebook’s “Facebook Pixel” feature. These enable advertisers to monitor more than simple ad click throughs.
“The good thing about Facebook Pixel is it’s able to track [a customer] and, even if maybe they purchase 30 days later, I’m still able to determine the path that they used to discover us,” Kaplan says. “There’s this recognition that a sale may not be immediate.”
Are you still not sure where to start? Kaplan has learned a lot about what he can do for his farm simply by examining what other, larger companies do with their own email marketing and online advertising campaigns. He also watches marketing-related instructional videos.
“There are people I follow online who are good marketers,” he says. To learn how to better target and convert new customers, he’s even considering attending an upcoming digital marketing conference.
“When used right, [online advertising] enables a farm like ours located in the middle of Maine to really grow our business,” he says. “We can charge more for our product, because it’s worth more. That’s what our advertising has done for us so far, and that’s pretty good.”
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.