Money & Markets: Developing Your Farm’s Marketing Plan

One of the challenges that direct marketing farmers face is determining the target market. What does your customer look like?  Where do they live? And probably most importantly and the most difficult to answer is… What do they want?

While there are examples of “If you grow it, they will come”, most farmers have to do some research to determine who, what, where, when and why of marketing your products. As important as it is to understand who your potential customer is, it is just as important to get to know your competition. The research doesn’t have to be complicated, but it will pay off in the long run if you take the time to do the research and develop a marketing plan.

Additionally, a marketing plan is an integral part of developing a business plan. While a business plan is important to help determine the direction of the business, it is also a key component in seeking out and successfully receiving loans from lending institutions.

Keys to Developing the Marketing Plan

The Customer

Studies have shown that the “stereotypical customer” that buys directly from farmers is more affluent, highly educated, and predominantly female. So, there it is in a nutshell – if you go after the educated woman with an above average salary, you’ll have your target customer. If it only was that easy!

You will want to spend some time asking yourself the following questions about your product(s):

  • • Who is likely to buy my product/service?
  • • Where does that customer live?
  • • Is there an income level associated with the person likely to buy my product?
  • • Is there an age pattern associated with the person likely to buy my product?
  • • Is there an ethnic or religious affiliation with the person likely to buy my product?

Using local demographic trends should help you identify information such as age, gender, race, marital status, education, household size, income. Based on this information, you can develop potential “customer profiles” of your target customer.

The next questions to then ask are:

  • • Is there a season when customers are more likely to buy my product/service?
  • • Why would a customer buy my product/service?

The Competition

Successful direct marketers build their marketing action plan based on not only an in-depth knowledge of the wants and needs of their potential customers but also by studying the competition. Less successful direct marketers can regularly misjudged the true strength of the competition and over estimated the loyalty of their customers.

Consider the following:

  • • Who is your competition?
  • • Why do people buy from your competitors?
  • • How does your competition appeal to customers (convenience, price, etc)?
  • • How does your competition advertise and promote?
  • • What has your competition done to stay in tune with market trends?
  • • What are the similarities and differences between your products and the competitor’s products?

Market Research

In reality, everything we’ve discussed to this point is all a part of doing market research. The research that has been discussed helps you determine who you want to sell your products/services to and who you might be competing against to capture the customers. However, armed with this information alone may not be enough for you to be successful.

Research about existing consumer trends related to your product/service would be a wise step. There is a wide variety of consumer information available through trade associations, University researchers and other institutions that should be easily found either through internet searches, calling trade associations or connecting with your local UW Extension office.

Additionally, it may be necessary to conduct your own market research studies. In some cases, the only way to truly understand the buying patterns, needs and wants of a local community/ethnic group/religious group is to ask them. This is especially true in the example of Jimmy and Jenny. There is significant information available relating to ethnic markets that will be extremely helpful to them. However, for Jimmy and Jenny to truly understand the existing situation and how their product/service will perhaps either fill a gap or provide a better, higher quality product, their best solution is to connect with the community and start asking questions.

Conducting market research studies should not be complicated. You will find you have a wide variety of study participants just within your friends, family and co-workers, etc. The only caution is to choose people you know will provide you with true and constructive information.

You can conduct the research in a variety of ways. A simple way is to hand out samples of your products/service and ask for constructive feedback about what they liked and didn’t like. Ask questions such as:

  • • What are current buying trends related to the product/service? Do they buy the product once a week, month, year, etc?
  • • How much of the product do they purchase when they purchase it?
  • • Where do they currently purchase the product/service?
  • • What comparable products/services are they currently using that your product/service could substitute for?
  • • Would they be willing to substitute your product/service for what they are currently buying? Why or why not?
  • • What would you need to do differently (price, packaging, quality, convenience, etc) for them to consider switching to your product/service if they aren’t currently willing to switch?
  • • Are there other products/services that they would recommend you consider adding to your product/service line?

With all of the marketing research work behind you, it is now time to determine where you want to focus your marketing energy. Choose a niche where you can uniquely meet customer needs where there is currently little or no competition or where the existing competition can’t meet the existing demand.

Now is also the time to determine if you will be introducing new products/services to your new target customers. Additionally, spend some quality time really evaluating what your pricing structure should be. Time after time, consumers have shown that they will pay the price for a high quality, local product/service that they have confidence in.  There should be no shame in asking a fair price that will allow you to make some money and continue running a successful business.

While there will be time and energy involved in creating a marketing plan, your research will help you integrate new markets, find new customers and improve the bottom line of your business.

This article is an excerpt from the Publication: Developing Your Farm’s Marketing Plan by Rose Skora, Community Agriculture Educator, Kenosha and Racine Counties UWEX. A complete copy of this publication can be viewed at http://learningstore.uwex.edu/pdf/A3811-13.pdf.

Adapted from: Developing Your Farms’ Marketing Plan,

Authors: Rose Skora

Community Agriculture Educator, Kenosha and Racine Counties

Originally Published: The Weekend Farmer, Winter 2006/07