Editor’s Note: Guest posts do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of National Farmers Union.

By Charlotte Smith, President of Northwest Farmers Union

If you had told me 15 years ago that I’d have a thriving raw milk dairy and diversified farm, I’d have laughed in your face!

I grew up working on my family’s conventional farm moving irrigation pipe, hoeing, spot-spraying in massive fields and driving tractor for hours on end. That was right up until my dad lost the farm in bankruptcy and we had everything sold out from under us. So when I left home to go to college, I vowed to never work on a farm again.

But when my two oldest children developed severe, chronic eczema, I started on a path that eventually led me back to farming. As a mother desperate to heal my kids, I tried everything the doctors told me. And after six years of the doctor prescribing meds, nothing helped. Eventually, I got my hands on raw milk (at the time I had to get it illegally; the raw milk laws in Oregon are strict) and their eczema subsided.

But after a few years of losing my raw milk source because farmers kept going out of business, I decided to start my own raw milk dairy!

This is my “why” for farming. Raw milk is my family’s medicine, and now I serve hundreds of families in my community with our milk, eggs and pastured poultry.

Stories Make Us Feel Connected

From the very beginning, my story connected with people. My first customers were moms with young children (who also suffered from eczema) that heard my story and raced out to the farm to buy raw milk.

Because they heard my story, customers consider our milk priceless and never balk at the cost.

Humans Crave Connection

In today’s online world, where everyone is plugged in and charged up, it’s easy to forget that at the end of the day, we are all humans who crave connection with other humans.

Telling your story is an effective way to do this.

People buy from you based on the relationship and level of trust. Storytelling is a powerful way for you to build that relationship of trust.

The mistake I see most farmers making is they tell their story of the farm and their farming practices, the history, and how they ended up there.

People won’t relate to your farm’s history. People do business with people, not farms.

1. Share Your Story Strategically

Practice writing your story in a way that relates to your customer. This approach will set you apart from your competition too.

Pull out a piece of paper and jot down some notes — ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why did I start a farm when I could have bought these products anywhere else?
  • What has changed in my life since I started farming?
  • How are my farm products helping other people live a better life and reach their goals?

These questions are going to help you think of your story in terms that will help serve your customers.

Then, instead of trying to convince people to buy your products, when you share your story in person and online, people will naturally be attracted to you because your story and the solution is the answer to their problems and goals.

2. Use Your Story to Connect With New Customers

When you shift away from your story of your farming practices or your farm’s history to that of stories involving solving your customer’s problems, you now have a powerful marketing tool.   Your customer needs to see herself in your story so she trusts you and wants to connect with you.

She will look to you as an authority and tell her friends about your farm, too, forwarding your marketing communications or sharing your social media posts.

3. Identify the Problem

As farmers, we think that having a family farm that dates back five generations is what sells your eggs and dairy, but it’s not. And it’s not the fact that you’re GMO-free and move your chickens to a fresh pasture every day, or that you raise heritage livestock. Those things don’t really matter to the customer.

These are just the features of our products and they don’t connect with people in the same way that our story involving how our products help us does, and you’ll go broke marketing this way.

Most customers and prospective customers want to know how your product can help them feel better, or build muscle, or save time, maybe de-stress their life, prevent or improve health issues. That’s what they’re staying up late worrying about, or concerned with throughout their days.

Find out what your customers are struggling with so you can identify their problems and how your product is the solution then share your story with this weaved in.

For example:

  1. Do your customers struggle to feed their children healthy meals while juggling mountains of laundry and running errands?
  2. Do they want to brighten up their home for friends that are coming over on Saturday night?
  3. Do they want to maintain their health as they age?

4. Present the Solution

Your product is the solution to your customers’ problem. The feelings they desire are the benefits you want to hone in on.  When you share your story showing this, they can’t help but trust you and want to buy from you.

To help identify the benefits, pose your product as the solution to their problem.

For example:

  1. If you sell meat: “5 beef recipes that are fast, simple to prepare and the entire family will enjoy.”
  2. If you sell fresh flowers: “A bouquet of fresh flowers will brighten up any room and makes the clutter disappear.”

State your struggle in a way your customers can identify with.

Common Struggle on my Farm: 40 something mother of 2 wants to look and feel great and has more time for self-care as her kids get older. She’s starting a new workout to reach her new goal  – whether it’s Crossfit or running a half-marathon.

Solution: After googling how to get in better shape, she landed on our website telling the stories of my farm and she sees herself in my About page, blog posts, and Facebook & Instagram posts.  She realizes our farm-fresh meat, milk and eggs will help her reach her goals and solve her problem!  .She doesn’t even bring up price, as she will do anything for a solution to her problem!

If my “About” page had just had our farm’s history and farming practices, she would have clicked away immediately, eyes glazed over. Instead, she was drawn in by the other stories of women just like her, with the same struggles and goals.

5. Have a Conversation With Your Customers

I’ve had customers burst into tears when I ask them what their struggle is around feeding their family. They’re so touched that someone cared enough to ask! THAT is how you gain a customer for life — through conversation and active listening and then sharing those stories in your communications.

Let them open up, share their struggles and interests, and as a business owner, it’s your job to hear them and to make them feel heard. Spend at least one hour per week having conversations with your customers (listening, not talking :), whether that’s in-person, via email, or over the phone.

When you’re ready to take your story online, be sure to download our free guide for farmers.

Charlotte Smith is President of Northwest Farmers Union. She farms in Oregon and is the founder of 3CowMarketing.com, an online marketing training company helping farmers across the nation learn relationship based online marketing techniques to grow a successful, profitable farm business.

Like what you’ve read? Join the conversation in the NFU Women in Agriculture Facebook group.

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