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Get your customers talking.

Farmers talk to each other--and they're probably talking about your business. Results from Purdue University's 2008 Large Commercial Producer Survey showed that farmers rate other farmers as their second most important source of information. This means that your most productive farmers can be a very important marketing tool.

Your customers are already talking about your business. By making sure that what they're saying is positive, you can leverage these conversations to your advantage. In Word-of-Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking, Andy Sernovitz presents "the five Ts," a framework for putting Word-of-Mouth Marketing into action. Let's take a look at the five Ts.

TALKERS

The "talkers" are your customers who are the most likely to talk about your business. In identifying the talkers, look for leaders of community groups as well as your most productive farmer customers. Focus on those leaders who are known as your customers. You want to get these "talkers" to participate in discussions about the business climate, like current economic conditions and what actions are appropriate for farmers as a result.

TOPICS

Once you have identified the talkers, you need to give them something to talk about. Topics can be short-term in nature, like a promotion, or they can represent a long-term marketing strategy, such as offering insightful advice or knowledge. Your topics can focus on market reports and analysis of economic conditions and their implications on farm operations.

Choose information that is relevant to your customers. The internet presents today's customers with a wealth of information, but the vast majority of it isn't relevant. If you can present relevant information, along with analysis and interpretation, like what it means to your customers and their farm operations, then your customers will begin to think of your business as a place where they can find solid and useful answers to questions they might have.

TOOLS

Word-of-Mouth Marketing is about getting your customers talking about your business and facilitating those conversations. Identify tools that will make it easier for your customers to talk. Some businesses effectively use blogs and online discussion groups. Select some market services that you find particularly helpful for your customers. Keep key links to these sources updated on your web site. The "tool" you are providing is a screening and conduit to effective market information and analysis.

TAKING PART

By taking part in these discussions, you'll find yourself in the middle of conversations (either in person or via blogs) with your customers. Be upfront with respect to your presence--your customers will appreciate that honesty. Before long, they'll be talking as openly and freely as if you were not there.

TRACKING

Any good marketing program requires constant monitoring. Develop a mechanism for keeping track of all activity related to your Word-of-Mouth Marketing initiative and monitor the information regularly. If you have a Facebook page, assign someone in your organization the job of monitoring the comments. Regularly monitor the number of "hits" to your web site, and keep track of how new customers come to you. Take time to ask the question "How did you hear about us?" This information is vital in understanding how your Word-of-Mouth Marketing program is working.

You don't have to be big to make effective use of Word-of-Mouth Marketing. Small organizations can have an advantage because management is closer to the customers. When it is effectively used, word-of-mouth marketing can help to level the playing field in this business environment of big-box retail stores, multi-national banking organizations, and larger and larger conglomerate corporations.

The important thing to keep in mind with respect to word-of-mouth marketing is that your customers will "tell it like it is." If your business is solid and you have a well-positioned product/service mix, Word-of-Mouth Marketing can be your most effective marketing tool.

Dr. Joan Fulton (fultonj@purdue.edu) is a professor in Purdue University's Department of Agricultural Economics.

Dr. John Foltz (jfoltz@uidaho.edu) is the associate dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Idaho.

Dr. Corinne Alexander (cealexan@purdue.edu) is an associate professor in Purdue University's Department of Agricultural Economics.

Dr. Pei Xu (xup@morrisville.edu) is assistant professor, Morrisville State College, New York

Kristyn Kapetanovic (kkapetan@purdue.edu) is the marketing assistant at the Center for Food and Agricultural Business at Purdue University.

by Dr. Joan Fulton, Dr. John Foltz, Dr. Corinne Alexander, Dr. Pei Xu, and Kristyn kapetanovic
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Title Annotation:Insights from Purdue University
Author:Fulton, Joan; Foltz, John; Alexander, Corinne; Xu, Pei; Kapetanovic, Kristyn
Publication:Agri Marketing
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2011
Words:733
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