After You Find Them, You Need To Keep Them

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“There are lots of people who want what you have and your job is to find them.”

TIM HOVEN

ORGANIC BEEF FARMER, ECKVILLE, AB

Modern networking tools such as Facebook and blogs can go along ways toward helping direct farm marketers tackle one of their biggest challenges – attracting and keeping customers, says Tim Hoven, a fourth generation farmer who raises organic beef.

While he markets directly to consumers at the Calgary Farmers’ market, Hoven uses both to stay connected to customers from his farm near Eckville.

Hoven told a recent seminar at the GO Organic conference building a brand and maintaining a relationship with buyers are keys to success with direct marketing. Social networking media helps him do both.

“There are lots of people who want what you have and your job is to find them,” said Hoven.

Hoven advised his audience to think of a known brand and the images they associate with that brand. It’s those images of value and ideals that should be consistent and easy to find throughout the entire value chain. When producers are trying to direct market their own products, they should integrate those ideals into every step from the farm to the plate.

It’s important for farmers involved with direct marketing to design their strategy around images and ideals with which they want to be associated.

“It’s very important when you design your promotion materials, that you are pushing people towards seeing you in the way you want to be seen,” he said. Those associations have to do with values or the way people perceive the farm, not with specific products being sold, he said. “You can present the image that you want people to have of you, if you don’t, they’re going to pick that image themselves,” he said.

The first step in direct marketing meat begins once the animal is finished and is ready for processing. That alone is a constant problem for direct marketers, said Hoven. Problems can include booking, having minimum numbers, and having certified organic and federally inspected plants.

Attention to detail in processing is paramount to delivering a premium product to customers. When Hoven moved his product from the Blackfoot market to the Calgary farmers’ market, he hired his own butcher to ensure he would get the quality cuts that his customers desired.

Distribution is another hurdle. Potential problems that have to be overcome include refrigeration, and making sure products get to their destination in a timely manner. Marketing relies heavily on processing and distribution, and can only work properly if quality, quantity and distribution are in place.

Hoven maintains a blog at organicbeefguy.com,which consistently gets about 40 to 50 visitors a day.

Blogging helps Hoven build relationships with potential customers. He also has a Facebook fan page for his beef, which provides updates about his activities and products.

He has numerous followers on Twitter and an email list that allows him to interact with his customers.

Having his business name out there in different ways helps. Hoven has read that a customer has to see a name about seven times before they make the decision to purchase.

Hoven maintains a money-back guarantee for his customers. Dissatisfied customers are offered a replacement product. He wants his last interaction for his customers to be positive. It costs a lot of money to get new customers, so it’s important to try to keep existing customers, he said.

One of the things direct marketers need to do is capture the interest of their customers and understand what is going through their customers’ minds. Customers will begin with an interest in a product, and then they will seek out information.

Direct marketers need to ensure they are easy for customers to find. They should consider whether they will deliver to the homes of consumers, and whether they will be at the farmers’ market, be in a store or sell at the farmgate.

Selling at the farmgate can relate back to what the customer desires, said Hoven. If customers want to see the farm, they can learn more about the farming experience through farm tours, he said. On the other hand, this can be a deterrent for people who are busy and who do not have time.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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