This has been a week of a deep dive into farmers, farming and the food supply — I spent Monday-Friday in Baltimore at the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association convention, then Saturday watching the live stream of TEDxManhattan, an all-day seminar called “Changing the Way We Eat.”
This is all education in support of launching my new marketing communications business, learning more about what farms and farmers markets need to better communicate with their customers.
Among the great insights I gathered in Baltimore:
- Keynote speaker Richard George urged farmers to think and act differently about their customers, including understanding current food trends and how they apply to their customers’ needs. Trends he cited include:
- Boston Consulting Group’s trend list, which lists obesity and dieting, organic products and technology and communications
- National Restaurant Association 2011’s trends, among them locally sourced meat, seafood and produce, sustainability, and farm-branded ingredients.
- Technomic trends, which look for farmers to become the new foodie celebrities and getting back to our roots with homestyle dining.
- Danene Beedle led two sessions on how to use social media to market a farm, farm market or agritourism destination. Danene gave an overview of major services — Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, YouTube — then encouraged attendees to just pick one to start with, figure that out, then move on to another. She echoed what I’ve heard other experts saying, that video is the future of online communication, so I know I need to use my Flip camera and get better at video. I loved her perspective that business people should not think of social media as free because that diminishes their power. Instead, treat with respect the ability to communicate with your current and potential customers. And she taught me about Locavore, an iPhone app showing farmers markets and what’s in season.
- Kerry Engel gave a presentation called “Listening Loudly: Tracking Trends That Influence Our Customers.” How could that not appeal to a market researcher? Kerry pointed to several trends, including:
- urban beekeeping and chicken coops
- mommy bloggers
- the Hartman Group‘s observations on our changing view of food, health and obesity
- the concerns raised by movies like Food Inc., Fast Food Nation and Supersize Me
- Jamie Oliver’s TED talk about the perils of childhood obesity.
- Jones Family Farms in Connecticut won the best website award at NAFDMA. They really seem to understand what their customers want — lots of beautiful photos balance essential information like directions and hours. They’re on Facebook and YouTube and offer a great example of what’s possible.
It all gets me very excited to dive in — as did the closing session of NAFDMA, where attendees participated in a live survey about their businesses and their concerns. These questions showed me that if I can help farmers with social media communications, that might serve a real need.