With many people working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we increasingly display the backdrop of our lives during business meetings on Zoom. No matter how we try to put our best faces forward, it is inevitable that your home life will now slip into your work, like your kid coming over to discuss their bodily functions while you are in the middle of an important meeting. Whether we try to hide it or not, life is messy! Everyone can relate as we adapt to our new COVID-19 reality.
Transparent marketing is a relatively new concept that aligns well with our current moment where the lines between home and work have blurred. It is a way of communicating business values, as well as sharing honest information about internal business processes.
- Expresses authenticity
- Shows both what is working for your business, as well as what isn’t working
- Shares progress—how you started, how you are growing
- Admits when you are wrong, or something went wrong
- Highlights the team that makes your business run
- Gives credit to the people making or promoting your product
- Posts videos/live streams of behind the scenes action
- Answers questions people post on social media even if the answers are tough or uncomfortable
- Shows your human side, expresses your personality, and makes people laugh or feel
Transparent Marketing is Good for Business
It turns out, customers are interested more than ever in supporting fully-transparent brands. A study conducted in 2016 found that more than half of the people interviewed said they would support a brand they liked for life if the brand had full transparency. Three-quarters said they would pay more for a product that was completely transparent.
Marketing that plays it safe is actually quite boring. It lacks connection and depth as it does not provide insight or show human connection to the product being sold. The who, what, why, and where along with the trials and tribulations of launching a successful businessare the things that lead customers to invest in the success of the brand.
Transparent Marketing Can Be Liberating
Showing that farming is a messy and hard business can be quite freeing. Our tumultuous times call for the liberating honesty that comes with showing what really happens on farm when Mother Nature is in charge. Or, what happens if we run out of time or energy to keep our row crops neatly weeded.
A few years ago, I started sharing both the good times and the tough times with customers at our farm stand and on social media. Doing so helped my customers understand that farming isn’t just a bucolic business where farmers are zen’d out in their gorgeous fields, but a profession that requires grit, determination, and more skills than only growing plants. When customers appreciate the work that goes into growing a carrot, for example, they are willing to pay a fair price to the farmer for growing that carrot.
One day at the farmers’ market, I had a woman balk at the price of $2.50 for a bunch for carrots. Trying not to be annoyed, and instead educate, I explained how the carrots are planted by seed, later thinned by hand so that they have space to grow. I continued by explaining that carrots take long time to grow and are in the ground for 75 days. They are then are dug up, bunched, and washed many times for them to look clean and presentable on the table.
She didn’t seem convinced. So, I said, “Believe me, farmers don’t make a lot of money compared to the work involved.”
She then stated, “Well, I am a teacher and we don’t either!”
I let her know I agreed, teachers should be paid more than they do.
Both of our acts of transparency ended with us understanding and agreeing with each other. We both should be making more for our efforts. She ended up buying the carrots and coming back each week to shop at my stand. By being real with each other we made a connection.
Failure Leads to Growth and Humility Leads to Connection
Remember, without failure there is no growth. Only by failing can you learn the lessons necessary to move into success. Sometimes the screw-ups in the field can be turned into a new crop if marketed properly.
For example, years ago when our leeks were not blanched out enough to be sellable (our failure to hill them up to keep them from turning green). I found a market for the leek flowers and made three times more than than if I’d sold the leeks as a vegetable, with a lot less work! And it is a great story to tell!
Being genuine and coming from a place of humility when sharing your farming experience will illuminate the hard work that goes into farming. In being transparent, customers will form a connection with your farm, feel good about supporting you, and invested in your farm’s success.
Some Questions to Get You Started with Transparent Marketing
Here are some questions to get you started thinking about how to integrate transparent marketing into your farm’s branding, communications, and social media posts.
How does this growing season compare to other seasons? How has that impacted production?
- Has the weather made a particular crop tastier or produced a bumper crop?
- Did an early rain cause blight in your tomatoes?
- Did the ground squirrels chew up your irrigation system looking for water during a drought?
What history or values guided the production of your product?
- If you are a woman farmer or a minority farmer, let people know. Increasingly, more people want to put their money towards supporting businesses run by people who have not been well represented.
- Has your family been farming for generations? Tell your story and all the business ups and downs that made your business what it is today.
- Do you make value added products from your crops to reduce food waste or create a closed loop system? If so, that is important to relay to people to help sell your product.
- What other values does your farm hold that influence what you produce and why?
What images can assist you in sharing farming successes and challenges with your consumers?
Here are some images I might include:
- Farmers with their hands in the soil and toiling in the field
- The first tomato of the season held in a farmer’s hands with the excitement on the farmer’s face
- Photos to help explain growing practices and the hard work that goes into them
- Crop challenges, such as weedy row crops or potatoes struggling with late blight
Remember, being genuine and coming from a place of humility also connects us to others. I believe humans want to see others succeed in their endeavor, and if they can be a part of that success, then it is a win for everyone involved!
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About the Author: Jamie Collins, owner of CCOF certified Serendipity Farms near Monterey, California, has farmed organically for two decades. She sells produce via farmers’ markets, CSA, and other direct-to-consumer outlets. On the side, she works as an organic inspector, farm and marketing consultant and writes about food and farming for various publications.
Funding Acknowledgement: Funding for this blog post was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM180100XXXXG055.