Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Washington State University shares marketing strategies with Alaska farmers

For the first time, one of the sites for Washington State University’s Women in Agriculture Conference was in Alaska. Over 600 participants gathered at 26 sites in four states Feb. 21.

The event at the University of Alaska Fairbanks drew 29 women and one man for an all-day focus on  making sense of marketing.
Conference attendees at UAF's Women in Agriculture Conference discuss marketing techniques.

In between presentations from WSU by a farmer and a marketing consulting, participants worked in groups to tackle the basics of creating a marketing plan for their own farm or products. At the end of the day, the women reported they had learned to: identify target markets, understand branding and business planning strategies that incorporate marketing, condense their message, write a concise, clear, compelling and repeatable message, deciding what to be known for. Many left with a renewed enthusiasm for updating their farm or business websites.

SNRE Professor Jenifer McBeath, one of the conference organizers, said, “Marketing is a very important issue in agriculture, especially for women.”

Carolyn Chapin, co-owner of Polar Peonies and a doctoral student with SNRE, said, “People are excited about what they are growing and making and they want to get it out there. There’s always something to learn. When I started farming you put a sign at the end of the field that said ‘rhubarb for sale,’ now so much is web-based.”

Margaret Viebrock of WSU said farmers need to learn to tell their stories and include how they care for the land and soil. “It’s a great day for women in agriculture,” she said, encouraging the women to put into action what they learned.

Quoting the 2013 USDA Census of Agriculture, Viebrock said 1 million women in the U.S. are farmers. She urged the women to refer to themselves as farmers, not producers, to use the word farm, not operation and customer not consumer. “Marketing is a way to express our passion for what we do. It’s a lifetime process,” she said.

Emily Asmus of Welcome Table Farm in Walla Walla, Washington, told the gathering to build a business they enjoy that matches their lifestyle. “Take pride in what you are producing and share what you do with confidence,” she said. “And take more pictures.”

Erica Mills of Claxon Marketing in Seattle led the group through exercises to help them figure out marketing methods that will work for their farms. “Our goal is to have farmers who think like marketers,” she said. “The magic is being intrinsically who you are and infusing marketing into it.”
There is more to marketing than Facebook, she cautioned. “It’s about connection, engagement and authenticity.”

She asked, “What does marketing success look like? Who do you want to reach for your marketing to be successful? How can you most effectively reach your ideal supporters?” Mills had the participants come up with concise and memorable messaging to represent their farms. “What do you want your farm to be known for?”

In an exit interview, many women mentioned how much they enjoyed the networking opportunities. One said she was inspired that there are so many women who are successful in different areas of agriculture. “I learned a lot about what other people are doing and how they are succeeding,” she wrote.” I met a very diverse group of people in many fields within agriculture.”

The UAF School of Natural Resources and Extension hosted the conference.

From left Beth Cender, Jenifer McBeath and Roxie Rodgers Dinstel network during the Women in Agriculture conference.

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