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4 steps for direct-to-consumer marketing

Progressive Cattle Editor Carrie Veselka Published on 02 November 2020

The more you think you don’t like marketing, the more you need a plan. 

The beef industry has seen a marked increase in interest surrounding direct-to-consumer marketing in recent months. This can partly be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent slowdowns in the packing plants that had a lot of feeders and cow-calf producers worried. Another factor spurring the increasing interest is the growth of consumer demand for a story to go with the products they’re buying. A growing segment of beef consumers are more interested in buying locally sourced products, with some restaurants and retailers also pursuing this trend. 

For beef producers interested in selling beef directly to their customers, a sound and well thought out marketing plan is critical. Beef marketing consultant Matt LeRoux told attendees of Penn State’s virtual Beef Cattle Short Course, “The more you think you don't like marketing, the more you need a plan.” Having a marketing plan helps to focus energy and effort where it will be the most effective. “We don't want [marketing] taking up too much of our time, so actually planning and having strategy will make the time that we spend pay off better and ultimately reduce the amount of labor we have to put into marketing.”

Those who plan on directly marketing beef need to pay attention to what the consumer really wants. Even though beef remains the same, there are numerous ways to market it to consumers. Determining the best way to market beef in your area for your operation is key to carving out a solid customer base. 

LeRoux outlined four steps for developing a direct to consumer marketing plan. “What I'm talking about is this idea of sitting down at your kitchen table with your marketing team, which is probably you and your spouse, or maybe your kids, and just spending some time talking through these components of the plan,” he said. “It would be nice if it was a written plan, but it doesn't have to be. The idea is to invest some energy.”

Step 1: Develop a strategy

Think about each purchasing choice that consumers make when they have to buy food and why they would be making that choice. Asking those questions can help improve your understanding of the consumer and help pick a target customer, like one who values things like shopping locally or how their beef is raised. “Think about a customer's needs, motivations, desires and buying habits,” he said. “These are the motivations that are driving their purchase; in this case, even driving why they would go to the farmers market or call a local farm.” After a target customer is chosen, focus your marketing and production activities on meeting the needs of that type of customer. 

Also, formulate a target sentence to clearly define your purpose. Fill in the italic portions to reflect your operation’s business strategy: “Our farm claims/product(s) for target customers who activity/demographic/behavior.” A strategy sentence like this will help you and your team create a caricature of your target customers and why they would buy your product, which will help inform your marketing decisions.

Step 2: Conduct market research

Use market research to determine the feasibility of some strategies and figure out sales projections, demand, trends and competition. “Market research helps us market our products to those who already value them,” LeRoux explained. Market research techniques don’t necessarily have to include diving into databases of survey data; it can be as simple as reading online articles about current market trends and being tuned into social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to see what consumers are saying about local food and about meals they’re preparing at home. 

Also, once you find out where these consumers are, where they shop and how to reach them with your message, you can craft a description of your product that will most resonate with them. “If we identify that our target customer really wants to support the local economy or local agriculture, then we're going to have a message about how we raise our own animals and that they're born on the farm and that we use a local processor,” he said, explaining that a product description like that tells the consumer, “When you buy from us, it means that your money stays within the community.”

Step 3: Determine objectives

Carry out your marketing plan with specific and measurable objectives. Some should be sales-based, like, “Market X pounds or X dollars per month or per week through a certain channel (i.e., farmers market or roadside stand).” Other objectives should be focused on reaching consumers. Some examples include goals to reach a certain number of likes for your Facebook page, or if your target consumer would respond to direct mail, set an objective to send out a certain number of postcards by a certain date. Set a marketing budget to help focus your marketing efforts where they will be most effective.

Also, remember to make sure these objectives work with your production schedule. If you know when animals will be ready to process and you can figure out how many animals you need to market each month, it makes good business sense to build objectives around moving animals through the different channels that you want to use in the right time frame.

Step 4: Communicate with your team

Whether you have a team of employees or if it’s simply you and your family at the kitchen table developing a marketing plan, constant communication among your marketing team is key to ensuring your beef sells well. Working toward a shared end goal and brainstorming together throughout the marketing process can result in the most innovative and efficient solutions to marketing challenges and help create the most effective marketing plan for your operation.  end mark

Carrie Veselka
  • Carrie Veselka

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