When done well, email campaigns can help generate awareness about your farm and drive real-world traffic to your market booth, too. Of course, no one likes an inbox full of spam. To avoid alienating customers, follow relevant laws and provide content your recipients will truly value.
Not sure if it’s worth your time and trouble? “Email marketing is a great opportunity for small farmers,” says Daniel Burstein, senior director for content and marketing at MarketingSherpa, a marketing research institute. “Agribusiness and the grocery store [have] become so dehumanized. By providing regular updates from the local farm — in addition to sharing their farming practices [such as being] organic, taking better care of animals and soil, etc. — they communicate a value proposition as being a product that is worth paying more for.”
Those regular updates also help to set you apart from the competition. After all, when you develop relationships with your customers, they’re less likely to view your product as interchangeable with someone else’s. Burstein holds up The Country Hen as a strong example. Operating since 1988, the company carved out a niche — and a loyal customer following — by including printed newsletters with its eggs. Topics covered range from egg nutrition and farm equipment updates to humane farming practices and news about organic legislation.
“Companies that really are producing something of greater value ... can use content to show the story of how their products are made so the customer can see for themselves what the value is,” he says.
Provide Strong Content
The most successful e-newsletters offer information that customers can actually use in daily life. “People subscribe to your list for a reason,” says John Kuhlman, a content strategist with Ronin Creative Group in Las Vegas, Nevada. “They want to hear from you. All you have to do is provide value.”
E-newsletters that provide the most value typically contain a mix of editorial and advertorial content.
For example, a small organic farm planning to bring an assortment of heirloom peppers and tomatoes to market, might include some unusual salsa recipes, a quick note about the Scoville spiciness scale, or the history of one of the heirloom varieties they grew.
Aside from that editorial content, the organic farm’s e-newsletter would also include advertorial. Specific to the business itself, some advertorial items might include lists of produce and prices available at the next market, information about community-supported agriculture (CSA) sign-ups, or an invitation to an upcoming farm event.
But what if you’re strapped for time or simply don’t want to write your own content? “You could curate a bunch of content or find other people to guest write for you,” Kuhlman says.
Once you do begin sending out regular email updates, keep your content quality and distribution schedule consistent. Not sure how often your customers might want to hear from you? “The surefire answer is to ask the subscribers,” Kuhlman says. “Most of my clients are surprised at how often people want to get emails.”
Build Your List
Offering special incentives is one of the simplest ways to build your customer list. “To capture email contacts [online], make sure you have plenty of newsletter opt-in boxes and maybe even a pop-up asking visitors to subscribe to your free mailing list, so they can stay up-to-date on your latest deals, special events, content, and other goodies,” says Naresh Vissa, founder and CEO of Krish Media & Marketing in Tampa, Florida.
Those goodies could include a one-time product discount or, perhaps, a PDF of cooking tips and recipes delivered to new subscribers when they sign up for your e-newsletter online. “You can easily fulfill the ‘giveaway’ through an auto-responder email within your email service provider,” Vissa says. “Just search for the ‘Auto-responder’ section … to set it up.”
Having a few sample newsletters available online can also help seal the deal for potential subscribers. But, no matter how you attract them, Vissa notes, “When someone opts into your list, he or she is giving you permission to contact him or her with more information. That trust is a golden key to a marketer.”
Keep It Legal
To maintain that trust — and avoid running afoul of the law — your e-newsletters must adhere to specific United States Federal Trade Commission standards. Originally enacted in 2003, the CAN-SPAM Act regulates commercial email marketing activities, and, according to
the FTC, “Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $42,530.”
Fortunately, the CAN-SPAM Act’s dos and dont’s are fairly straightforward. Any marketing emails you send must include your physical address. They must also include obvious opt-out information, so that recipients who no longer wish to hear from you can easily remove themselves from your list. Finally, your sender information must be accurate and the subject lines you use must clearly reflect the content of your message.
Tools to Try
Online email clients such as MailChimp, Campaign Monitor and Constant Contact, among others, can make following the federal regulations easier. They also can help you to manage your mailing list and plug into attractive e-newsletter templates. Depending on the size of your mailing list, some email clients’ services are free.
Just keep in mind that, as your mailing list grows, you may be assessed a monthly fee based on your total number of subscribers.
To help manage these costs, Kuhlman recommends periodically purging recipients who haven’t opened any of your recent emails. “Don’t pay to keep dead wood around,” he says. “You only want to communicate with people who want to hear from you.”
Still, paying a little for access to predesigned templates and list management services can be well worth it. “The return on investment on a mailing list is higher than any social media,” Vissa says.
Meanwhile, cutting through the noise on Facebook and Twitter can be tough. “But an email list is yours; you own it,” Vissa says. “It is the best way to reach your audience and make your voice heard.”