STURBRIDGE, MA -- Out with the old ways of thinking and in with the new ways. That is, if you want to survive and thrive in your business.
John Stanley, an internationally known retail consultant, told an audience of New England growers, marketers and service providers that consumers' buying habits have changed dramatically in the past three years. Ignore the changing trends at your own peril, Mr. Stanley warned.
Agricultural industry members from across New England gathered March 1-3, here, at the third-annual Harvest New England Ag Marketing Conference and Trade Show, to hear and share ways to improve their marketing efforts.
The conference drew 821 attendees who participated in two days of workshops and heard guest speakers talk about "reaping more from what we sow," the theme of the conference.
The New England state departments of agriculture, in cooperation with agricultural organizations across the region, provided input to the conference.
Mr. Stanley, the March 2 keynote speaker, who is based in Australia, entertained the audience with advice and anecdotes mostly from the front lines of retail marketing. He contends that consumer habits have changed dramatically within the past three years and understanding trends is critical to success in selling.
Although Mr. Stanley's talk was aimed largely at retailing products, his advice extended to growers and how to present their wares at venues such as farmers' markets.
"Shopping habits have changed and communication has changed," Mr. Stanley said, adding that "now it's a "buyers' journey."
Keys to marketing one's business include building trust with the consumer, placing priority on promoting and selling your company before your product, selling your product, providing extra value and creating urgency with the consumer.
Part of the value-added equation is making sure the customer feels appreciated.
While much of Mr. Stanley's comments were aimed at retailing, understanding the changing consumer buying habits applies to growers, as well. Marketing the farmer makes it personal and conveys trust with consumers, he said.
He told the audience that farmers' markets "are growing at 20 percent per year in Australia, and that's similar here in the United States."
Mr. Stanley pointed to the power of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as valuable marketing tools.
He encouraged attendees to utilize Foursquare, a location-based social networking web site that features software available to users with global positioning system-enabled mobile devices in identifying markets.
Mr. Stanley gave an example of poor customer service and how social media can magnify everything. He told of a shopper's dissatisfying experience at a hardware store in Massachusetts. Mr. Stanley read the account on Facebook and shared it during a speaking engagement in Australia the same day. Meanwhile, the store in question is unaware they're being held up for ridicule, he said.
With regard to social media, companies need to create policies on what company employees can say and whom they can talk to, Mr. Stanley said.
Harvest New England is a cooperative marketing program created by New England's state departments of agriculture in 1992. The initial purpose of the program was to support the sale of New England-grown produce through supermarket channels. The program has since opened to all New England food and agricultural products.