From Grain to Green: Marketing A Once-Conventional Farm

For most of his career, fifth-generation farmer John Wood did things the way his family had done for years: He used pesticides and fertilizers on his farm, fed his cattle grain and shipped them off to factory-like slaughterhouses, where they were "harvested" and packaged with whatever else had gone through the slaughterhouse that day.

Then he saw the light.

In the mid-1990s, Wood attended a holistic land management seminar and learned that grass-fed and pesticide- and antibiotic-free (you know, "green") was not only better for the land, the animals and consumers, but for his bottom line. He raised his first all-grass-fed cow in 1997 with astounding results. The meat was tastier, healthier and safer than any beef he'd ever encountered. Wood was sold, but now he had to sell it to consumers.

By 2008, Wood's initial experiment had become a thriving family-owned business, but his marketing plan needed a green-friendly makeover that would reflect the values of the business. His website was not up to par, his messaging needed tightening and his overall strategy needed reworking. The nature of John's business -- sustainable, healthy and safe -- made it an easy sell, but implementation was the key to his success.

Here's what we did:

A content makeover. The earlier incarnation of the company's website emphasized product listings and a shopping cart. Brief bios of the farmers and some links to grass-fed beef resources hinted at a more interesting story, but only the most dedicated consumer was likely to wade through the details. The average consumer didn't make it past the landing page or was shopping because they were already sold on the brand. Consumers had no reason to return to the site unless they were 100% sure they wanted to make a purchase.

The new site includes information on the history on the farms, the health and environmental benefits of grass-fed meat, recipes and information on meat in general (like "Learn Your Cuts"). Coupled with a new color scheme, the easy-to-read content has made the site a destination for a variety of visitors, from those looking to learn about of the environmental benefits of forage-feeding animals to the health advantages of grass-fed meats.

Lesson: If companies want to sell products on their websites, they need to offer a whole lot more than just products. Today's consumers actively seek out an engaging site experience and information on what they're buying, especially if they're purchasing online. By consolidating educational and engaging information on a brand site, companies build a rapport with customers, cement their expertise in their field, and encourage visitors to stay put and shop with them.

Social media. The "green" audience is a very engaged group, and we wanted to tap into it. We established a company Twitter handle (to date, nearly 1,000 followers), a blog, and reached out to likeminded bloggers (mom bloggers, foodie bloggers, green bloggers). The company also set up YouTube channel and posted a video. In just one month, the video garnered nearly 2,000 views.

Lesson: Apart from "mom bloggers," the green group may be the most active users of social media. Green brands should make contacts in the online green community by offering worthwhile content that is informative and useful. Avoid being too salesy. Once the brand is established as an expert in the community, products will sell themselves.

Samples. Let's face it. Writers, bloggers and reporters like free stuff, especially if it tastes good. It's one thing to tell people how tasty, healthy, organic or sustainable your green product is, but it's another thing entirely to show them. Bloggers now have to disclose that they received their goods gratis, but that shouldn't make a difference in your strategy -- good coverage from someone with a loyal audience can have a profound effect on perception and reach.

Lesson: You should be ready to send out samples at a moment's notice. Be generous with samples and be sure that they are representative of the company's offerings. And remember: Don't judge a blog or community by its numbers -- some of the smallest sites have the most devoted followers.

And as always, don't forget the value in some good old-fashioned pitching.

2 comments about "From Grain to Green: Marketing A Once-Conventional Farm ".
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  1. Sacha Cohen, February 3, 2010 at 12:47 p.m.

    Your point about a content makeover is critical. Recently, a client asked us for help with marketing his green energy firm, but his website needed a complete overhaul, along with new messaging, branding, design--the works. Some companies want to jump right to marketing before they have their brand and web presence clearly defined and executed professionally. That is definitely putting the cart before the horse, and will ultimately lead to wasted time and energy.

  2. Dan Zukowski from GolinHarris Public Relations, February 3, 2010 at 4:57 p.m.

    Great story, and good for farmer John. These are basic elements that cost little and can be implemented by any small or mid-size business to grow their market.

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