Farmers need to engage their customers too - here are 5 reasons why

Updated: Jan 20

Lets imagine for a second...

You just finished your farm's busiest season of the year. Before it started, you predicted one of your best selling seasons ever - record high produce sales, your products flying off the shelves, retailers and grocery stores turning over your inventory in days rather than weeks, the whole nine yards.

However, things didn't exactly go the way you expected - sales actually decreased, products stayed cozy on their shelf space, and the reason inventory turned not because of high sales but because of quick expirations.

Now I know you're probably looking at your screen & thinking/saying something like this.

And you have every right to think so, being the superstar farmer you are. But let's consider that did happen...what would you do?

Well, if you're anything like the farmers Native supports, you'd ask "What in the world happened, and why?"

Of course, you'll have your theories: maybe it was because consumer grocery shopping habits have changed, or because one of your distribution partners you use had a truck full of produce sitting out too long on a hot day, among many other possibilities.

Or maybe the circumstances are flipped: You just outperformed all your forecasts by 20% and have no clue what happened differently than usual. Could it be people who usually don't grocery shop have to because of COVID-related restaurant closures, increased brand awareness from your website, content, or from less competitors on the shelves, or maybe the new seed supplier helped you produce the gave you the best crop yield you've ever produced and the consumers noticed?

Unfortunately, until the customer tells you why, all these issues are nothing more than educated guesses at best - and you can't solve a problem effectively with guesses alone.

This problem is referred to as the perception gap - the belief you are delivering to customer one experience when in actuality they're receiving an entirely different one. This is an issue apparent even in customer-facing businesses, and it's not different for farmers with an average of 5-7 middlemen/women affecting the end experience for consumers.

So how does one lower this perception gap - and even control the perception consumers have of your brand the moment they engage with you? There are many ways, but the one Native has found the most effective for our consumers is a platform for first-party consumer insights& engagement. Before we get into that, let's answer the question...

1st-party consumer insights... what are those?

We promise it's not as complicated as the collection of words above make it seem. What first-party consumer insight really means is gathering data directly from end consumer. A simple concept to grasp right? Maybe not, but through some research we found from the The Sustainability Consortium's 2019 Data Landscape in Agricultural Supply Chain's report, we've found that 62% reported not using data collection and sharing software during the 2019 season.

And these are just a few metrics we found. In case you don't have the time to read the 39-page report, here are a few more of the relevant metrics we found (* marks statistics found outside of the consortium report):

  1. 86% of consumers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience

  2. 49% of food companies and retailers could not determine the upstream farm-level practices for their ag inputs

  3. The majority of farmers don't believe consumers don't care about the specifics of their grow process and what they stand for, but consumers have moved towards produce brands they have emotional connections to their values over their competitors

  4. 88% of consumers rely on online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends/family

  5. 71% of farmers say their ag advisor never suggested increasing data collection, consumer data sharing, or both

While we can talk about facts on the rewards of consumer data gathering, sharing production data, and creating a distinct brand personality to improve customer experience, the point of the matter is this: the need for becoming a front-facing brand with the ability to engage your consumers and collect direct feedback isn't just encouraged, it's essential, and could be the difference between being a commodity and a stand-out brand!

It's because of this need Native wanted to talk about the 5 biggest we help farms invest in consumer insights & engagement - and the steps you can take to get started yourself!

1. Increase your brand engagement & awareness

You want to know what made Apple the first $2 trillion dollar? Branding, branding, and more branding. That glowing, bite-marked apple icon is the primary reason that shiny device in your pocket, in your ears, or on your office desk can be charged at a ridiculous markup - and why you're willing to pay it.

Now let's compare that to the produce industry. Is there an Apple here? Brands like Cuties have sure tried to become the Apple of the Mandarin space - with stellar results. And while the great name and $20 million ad campaign Cuties has isn't a bad way to do so with your brand, there are subtler and cheaper avenues of accomplishing this.

Every time your consumers engage with your product, whether it be a mother of 4 at Kroger or a chef at a national restaurant chain, an implicit message is sent. The way it looks, the way its packaged, the colors - it all culminated into the implicit brand of your products. And while this has the potential to be great, it has equal potential to harm. Imagine one of those elements doesn't land with the consumer the way you hoped, or over the journey through the value chain it became altered in some way. At this point, the ball is no longer in your court - or does that have to be the case??

Imagine having interactive packaging at that point of engagement, directing consumers to whatever you want them to see or do - the potential uses are limitless. What kind of experience would that create? According to the campaigns of these iconic brands, its a pretty good one.

Maybe your thinking "what makes this different than having the URL for our website on our packaging. How is this more compelling than the information given with the packaging?" That question segues us perfectly to the next big reason...

2. Superior adaptability

The unsteady rollercoaster known as 2020 aside, it's an understatement to say the times are ever-changing. What resonated worked for your brand today might not work tomorrow, or with every product, or with every individual consumer. With those changes, it makes sense to change your digital strategy accordingly - however, this can be quite difficult, especially in the case you have multiple product lines or want to test ideas on a smaller scale before fully investing in it. Look no further than these less-than-stellar branding decisions companies would've liked to test on a smaller scale first in hindsight.

As nice as it would be to know what works without testing or building it first, life isn't so sweet. Rolling out a new brand position comes with many risks - every time you put out new content or stamp a new brand position, the experience consumers get from it is up in the air. Look no further than many consumer's favorite destination for coffee - I imagine they weren't ecstatic about the branding choices for this van. And they're just one of many brands that've felt the pain of a bad customer experience.

Fact is branding can be hard and when you have a major rollout, particularly in this era of social media, one mistake can come back to haunt you far longer than you'd like it to.

So how do you make sure your farm doesn't suffer a similar fate? Time to get your marketer's hats on, because we're gonna be discussing a/b testing. For those unfamiliar, an a/b test is testing multiple versions of a webpage or content to see which one converts better, primarily for digital content. How does this play into our conversation on the adaptability of a consumer engagement & insights platform?

Imagine a platform that creates a customizable landing page for your farm connected to the packaging on your products. It would be more than a link connecting to a uniform website shown for each product; it would be a dynamic page rooted directly for that specific product. This page could have anything you wanted - video content, grow information, a full breakdown of the journey that package went through before it found itself in that shopping cart.

What's more, this doesn't have to be one uniform page. With a website, it's fairly difficult to build out a specific experience for every single product line or package: achieving divisibility, or the ability to segment based on certain areas, product or consumers, and conduct a/b tests for specific content, is difficult & time-consuming at best.

This is where the power of a customizable consumer engagement platform comes in its finest form: it's adaptability. The burden of one definitive consumer experience provided by a website is non-existent here: the power to eaily route consumers to multiple pages to test the experience of each, to quickly change the content of the landing page when something isn't received well, and to control your brand experience beyond making a stellar product, however, is. And the dividends can be tremendous.

3. Growing your digital footprint

What's a digital footprint? A digital footprint is the digital trail that your business leaves behind on social media and the worldwide web - your website, social media, digital media, and overall online reputation. The world becomes more and more digital by the second, and considering 60% of shoppers look up product info while they're in the store shopping, making sure you have something to find is pivotal to every farmer.

How is your digital footprint?

If you're like most farmers, you have a website, maybe some spots on podcasts or articles, and...that's it. And that might not seem too bad when you compare your farm to the hundreds of others who have only done these things as well, but there's only one thing that makes a commodity good "better" than the rest: differentiation.

How does differentiate beyond having a "better" product? Having a better experience. And how can one create a better experience when they aren't they to influence it at the point-of-sale in person: a digital footprint.

Say a consumer is in the fresh produce section deciding between two different brands for the same product. In the competitive commodity produce market, the winner would almost always be the cheaper of the two; however, farmers learned over the years the experience your brand presents and promises has the capability to overcome this. This is usually accomplished through packaging talking about being non-GMO, organic grows, and light earth-shades that signify natural products in consumers' minds.

But this tried-and-true way of creating a brand experience too has become started. Now everyone's taken hold of the health-conscious movement. It no longer a differentiator - it has become the expectation. So now how does one create a differentiated brand? In Native's mind, a digital footprint.

Consider the experience of someone holding two nearly identical packages, but one having an interactive code they could scan to learn more about their product. As mentioned before, it could have all the elements & content you want a consumer to have at the consideration stage and, considering 73% of consumer are willing to pay a premium for great service, it could be the key differentiator in that decision.

We've already touched on that; what we really want to discuss now is how this grows the footprint. Social media is the place where consumers go to express and seek opinions on a variety of topics and is that core of the digital footprint you earn with your great (or poor) consumer experience. Despite the negative stigma consumers sometimes get, they're actually more likely to share positive experiences than negative ones- and the experience your landing page would give is definitely worthy of a tweet or two. Between the earned digital impressions of happy and impressed customers & your own internal digital media and assets, you're in great shape to have the best digital footprint of all your competitors - and the profits that come with the territory!

4. Supply chain quality assurance

Its common knowledge produce touches a lot of hands before it ends up on the plate or part of the end consumers', and one question will come up until the end of time: what effect does this have on end consumer's experience? Perhaps fruit spoiled sooner than expected, or inventory wasn't where it needed to be at the right time because of a hold up in the value chain, the list of potential complications is endless. Each of these complications presents a potential detriment to the product facing your consumer being different from the product that left your farm - and it's safe to say that's not ideal. So how does a consumer engagement & insights platform help reduce these risks? Four words: Supply Chain Quality Assurance.

Each party between your farm and the end consumer has a simple job: deliver products in a timely manner in the best condition possible. But it's within this simple job that complex issues can arise - and in a process revolving around so many stakeholders, it can be difficult to pinpoint where the issues arose. To the end consumer, a bad product is just a bad product - they're not concerned with where mistakes were made that created a bad product, only that they'd rather not eat one. You, on the other hand, need to know where the problem arose to prevent it from happening again.

To solve that problem, you'll need a tool that can close the feedback loop between you and the end consumer. On your own, this is a daunting task - your consumers are all over the country, and getting a hold of them in a quick, cheap fashion is nearly impossible. But with a consumer insights platform, that process is streamlined through a digital exchange of information. For instance, say a consumer buys your product, but the taste wasn't to their liking. This previously untraceable experience now comes full circle to you, giving you the means to get feedback on their experience directly, and allowing you the means to compare that product vs others without such complaints. Was that a new distributor, how long has that food been on the shelf compared to others, or something else entirely? Qualitative data like this is nearly impossible to come by without an insight gathering tool, and farms that find a way to optimize their operations accordingly build greater trust and brand equity with consumers..

5. Consumer insight gathering

They say save the best for last, and we don't want to disappoint. At the base of everything we talked about, the consumer is paramount. How they engage with your brand, the content you create to own that engagement, the digital places that engagement experience, even the engaging of the partners in the supply chain comes down to gathering insights.

Gone are the days of asking consumers in person or having paper consumer feedback forms; like everything else, it's gone digital. And while there are several tools out there like Qualitrcs, SurveyMonkey, and many others, the lack the compelling nature a consumer engagement platform can have in gathering these insights.

While some larger companies can pull together some great contests and giveaways for taking a survey, not all of us have the resources or bandwidth to do so. This means it'll take a bit more resourcefulness on your end to get consumers feeling up to giving feedback.

A great way to get insights? Using their feedback giving as an entry fee to quality content they want to experience. Before giving them access to the compelling content, a quick 3 question survey before may be a great way to gather insights. YouTube has employed a similar strategy, with great results.

But we can be even more creative than surveys. With a page customized with your content, imagine all the insights you'll get from what content has the most scrolls, the most clicks, or any other engagement stats you'd like. Compared to a survey where someone may say whatever gets them to the content quicker, these insights are organically driven from the unscripted actions of the consumer.

These insights are the lifeblood of any thriving, agile brand. They empower the decisions you'll make with your branding, the experiences you create, and ultimately the product you provide, and that's worth its weight in gold!

Let's get started!

Everything was a long winded way of us saying consumer engagement is important, and the time to start is now! There's no time to waste, so let's talk about the next steps.

Here at Native, we're working with farms across the country on how they can leverage each of the 5 previously mentioned benefits to growing their farm's brand and customer experience. Let's talk about how we can go about doing this for your farm & the bottom-line results we've helped drive for farms of different markets, sizes, and budgets!

Reach out to us or leave a comment, so we can help grow your farms ability to engage your customers and gather insights together!

335 Madison Ave

New York, NY 10017

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