Marketing the Farmers' Market Experience
I recently had the opportunity to chat with a group of farmers about marketing and advertising. All of the farmers sell their products in farmers’ markets – markets operated by PCFMA as well as markets operated by others – and also sell through other methods including farm stands, restaurants, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) efforts. As you might imagine, there were as many opinions about what makes a successful marketing strategy as there were voices in the room. These differences in opinion extended beyond how farmers can best market their own farms to how market operators could best market their farmers’ markets.
Reflecting on the conversation later, I realized that there is a fundamental difference between marketing a farm and marketing a farmers’ market. For a farmer, the marketing strategy is focused on a tangible and consumable product. They promote their products on the sweetness of their apricots, the nutritional value of their fresh eggs, or the freshness of their tomatoes. For a farmers’ market, the marketing strategy is one step removed from the products sold by the farmers and is focused instead on a product that is less tangible. At PCFMA we recognize that we are selling an event and an experience. While we work to attract customers, it is up to each farmer within the market to compete for the attention of those customers in order to make the sale.
Another important lesson from this conversation is that we need to do a better job of sharing our marketing efforts with our farmers and the other producers who sell in PCFMA’s farmers’ markets. Farmers who are growing in California’s Central Valley or along its Central Coast are not watching Bay Area television stations, subscribing to our local newspapers or riding public transportation around the Bay Area so they are never exposed to many of our marketing vehicles. We have started a new internal effort to better track not just the marketing we are doing and the number of persons we are reaching, but to consistently share that information with our producers.
In the first two months of 2018, we estimate that our messages were seen more than half a million times. Our biggest impact so far this year has been with social media, with over 240,000 views through Facebook, followed by local print media where articles written by our staff had a reach 202,000 views. Together, these two marketing channels accounted for nearly 80% of our impact. This combination of new and old marketing channels allows us to reach different audiences and to employ different marketing messages. On Facebook we use photos and recipes to inspire and short messages to inform the friends of our farmers’ markets – and hopefully their friends as well – about what they can find in their local farmers’ market on their next visit. In print media, the longer format allows us to go into more depth to educate readers about the seasonal products entering the market, the local farms that grow those products, and the important issues facing those farms and their local food system.
As the year progresses and all of PCFMA’s seasonal farmers’ markets reopen, we expect our marketing activity and our customer reach will continue to increase, with a total impact exceeding 4 million views across all of our marketing channels by the end of 2018. Hopefully this will translate into a year of full markets and successful sales for our farmers.