Advertising Key to Successful Direct Marketing

John Jett
Horticulture Specialist
WVU Extension Service

This article was published in the November 2001 issue of West Virginia Farm Bureau News.


Without advertising, customers will never know you exist. Customers first judge farms and growers by the advertising they see. Ads should represent how you want customers to view your operation.

The farm should have an attractive logo displayed prominently in ads, on signs, and on products. It should be simple enough to be easily recognized. Communicate with drawings rather than words, since people may not read long ads.

Determine target market

Who are your customers? If you do not know who your customers are, you may be advertising to the wrong audience. A customer survey can help you determine the demographics of your customers as well as their personal preferences. This will assist you in designing your advertising campaign.

Types of advertising

Word-of-Mouth. One of the best forms of advertising is the recommendation that a satisfied customer passes on to others. The potential benefit from this type of advertising is immense. It can generate lots of customers.

Roadside Signs. These signs often create customers' first impressions of a farm. Signs should be neat, high quality, attractive, and easy to read. They should represent the farm and its farmers.

Select the color for signs carefully. There should be enough contrast between the background and lettering to make the sign easy to read. They should be large enough to be read easily by passing motorists. At 50 mph, a motorist has only three to five seconds to read a sign. The sign should have only eight words or less to be readable. Symbols are often more effective than words. Posted signs are not the place to display prices. It is more important to let the customers know what is available and how to get it.

Direct Mail. One of the most effective advertising tools is a customer mailing list. A direct mailing sent out at the appropriate time (such as a postcard indicating your opening date, the high quality of your products, and your desire to see the customer at your farm) gets better results than nearly any other method. Postcards are an excellent way to introduce new products, crops, or services and to announce special discounts or farm events.

To establish a mailing list,collect the names and addresses of customers, either when they come to the farm or when they call about farm products. Surveys can be used to collect names for a mailing list, ask customers for feedback, and obtain other information such as what newspaper they read or radio station they like. This information can then be used to help focus future advertising.

The Media. Newspaper, radio, and television advertisements are costly and should be designed to promote benefits, not prices.

Ads that advertise just location and times are ineffective. Emphasize the benefits of visiting the farm and the quality, freshness, flavor, and nutritional value of the farm's products. For pick-your-own operations, emphasize the fun and education that a trip to the farm provides. The ad should also give directions, list the days and hours of operation, include a phone number, and state whether containers are provided. Finally, keep ads simple and attractive. Most customers will give an ad only a few seconds of attention.

Many people read the local paper, which makes it a good way to reach customers. Ads should be placed in the newspaper section where they are most likely to be read by customers, such as the weekly food, marketplace, or recreation section. Ads should be short and simple to prevent losing the customer's attention. Offering coupons in an ad can provide further incentive.

Radio is good at creating awareness but may not be effective if the directions to the farm are complicated. Repetition is the key. It is better to buy 20 spots on one station than one spot on 20 stations. Stations selected should be based on what the customers are most likely to listen to. Growers could sponsor morning weather reports, followed by "picking reports" from their farms.

Television advertising is typically quite expensive. However, advertising during some time slots on local channels may be cost-effective if many potential customers are likely to be watching. Decisions about television advertising should be based on sound market research of your customers' TV-watching habits. This is not a place to play a guessing game.

Offering a quality product marketed through the most effective channels and supported with appropriate advertising is the best way to experience direct marketing success. Remember that you are selling benefits and not just products. It is the only way you can compete with the mass marketers.