My wife and I have been attempting to hit the local farmer’s market every Sunday. Our intention is to eat healthier and support some local businesses. This last Sunday marked our second trip and being quite the “people watcher” I had a few observations that struck me as having similarities to how marketing on the web works. For instance, compare the throngs of people browsing the stands of fresh produce to the eb and flow of the world wide web. Many of the stands sold the same items as their competitors who were only feet (read: clicks) away. Vendors with more easily accessible product layouts, a wider variety of items and better prices were seconds away from any of the patrons.

I saw some interesting parallels to the world of online marketing. Here my tips based on my observations during my visit to the farmer’s market:

Show your wares & give them a taste
It was surprising to see just how many vendors at the market did not have samples to share with customers. Those who did had sliced up fruit and samples of their best baked goods on hand and within reach. Customers who might have been reluctant to snag a bag of peaches two stands down seemed persuaded to finally shell out some dough after tasting a succulent sample available at a more generous vendor.

Circle Back:
How could you do the same to attract potential customers who are riding the thin line between consideration and purchase? Do your competitors display their “wares” or do they hide them behind sign up forms other other “hoops”? Try listing out some of your products that your customers might be able to “taste” and lower (or remove) the barrier to do so.

Display your credentials
While there were quite a few vendors that had big banners hanging from their stands displaying which farm they were from and where it was located seized the opportunity to take it a step further. I’m not sure what it takes to be “certified organic“, but those who had earned the title had their certificates visibly mounted where customers could see it. Same for those who received an award for their cupcakes or fresh flowers. Either printed next to their name or displayed on a sign nearby and in view. It added an extra level of confidence in these folks and I had a feeling that they were serious about their work.

Circle Back:
Does your business have any awards, certifications, or industry recognitions it could put front and center on the homepage of your website? How much added confidence would this give your customers? Try finding a spot on your homepage, above the fold, where you can proudly display at least 3 of your credentials. Social proof is a powerful influencer. Do you have testimonials from customers or trusted experts in your industry that you can add to your website or social media profiles?

Engage with your customers and be remembered
There was one produce stand in particular that stuck in my mind. My wife was nabbing some plums and one of the guys working the stand walked up and asked me “How’s it going there sir?.” I replied “Good. Just grabbing some plums here.” He proceeded to chat with me while he helped other customers bag their items. Although our encounter was very brief, I will remember that friendly vendor each time I revisit the market (and probably grab more plums). Moments later his co-worker approached me and asked about the zombie themed design on my t-shirt. He recommended a movie that he thought I might like based on the Bruce Campbell like motif of  it. I think I might check that movie out and report back to him what I thought next time I’m there.

Circle Back:
Social media provides a variety of ways for businesses to reach out and connect with their customers. Do you engage with your customers before, after, and during the sales process? Do your conversations revolve only around your product/service or do you take the time to discuss things other than “YOU”? How can showing a genuine interest in your customer create an opportunity to be remembered when they are ready to spend money? Besides yourself, do you encourage your staff to be themselves and engage with customers whenever possible? Try to be less reactive and more proactive using your social media channels. When an opportunity arises to be helpful, friendly, and conversational … take it!

Being social takes dedication
Interestingly enough, this experience was directly related to a vendor who was using social media to market their product at the farmer’s market. One of the first things you notice when you get out of your car near my local farmer’s market is the aroma of freshly popped kettle corn. Upon arrival I checked in using the popular location base service Foursquare. I noticed that someone had left a tip at the location. “Look for the Gold Rush Popcorn stand. They sell deliciousssss kettle corn. Also, if you follow @goldrushpopcorn on Twitter, they post a password daily that will get you a free bag of popcorn!” said someone named Lee (read on to learn who Lee is).

I quickly jumped onto Twitter, found @GoldRushPopcorn and followed them only to find that not only had they not posted any secret password that day, but they also did not tweet anything since July 18th. I shot a message their way and still have not heard back from them. Since then I also discovered their somewhat inactive Facebook page and another recommendation by Lee on Yelp regarding the free popcorn password tip.

With a little investigation I was able to find out that the helpful Lee happened to be a tech savvy teen living in the area who happened to have a penchant for Gold Rush popcorn. So much so that he wanted to share it. Unfortunately the crew at Gold Rush Popcorn seemed to have given up updating their social profiles shortly after the word seemed to really start spreading about their insider offer. Even if they didn’t have the offer for free popcorn available it would be nice to see a little engagement spring up with people (like me) who had reached out and asked about the offer.

Circle Back:
Leaving your social media channels dormant for extended periods of time is akin to not being present at all on the social web. Don’t spread yourself thin by engaging in more social channels than your staff can handle at once. Better to be active in one place than to have dormant profiles in 3. Identify and reach out to people like Lee who are helping you spread the word without compensation. Especially those who seem to understand the medium. One or two of these folks might be willing to dedicate a little time posting and engaging with others on your behalf as community managers. Have you shown your special channels and company advocates some love lately?

That about wraps it up. Which tip resonated most with you? Anything you might go try today? I’d like to hear what you think.

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About Adam Helweh

Adam Helweh

Adam is CEO of Secret Sushi Creative Inc, a strategic design, digital and social media marketing agency. He specializes in the convergence of design and technology to provide businesses with more intelligent and interactive ways to connect with customers and grow. His clients have included Edelman, Broadcom, Stanford Federal Credit Union, the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, Bunchball and others. He's also the co-host of the "SoLoMo Show", a weekly digital marketing podcast, and he has shared the stage with professionals from companies including Facebook, Virgin Airlines, Paypal, Dell and 24 Hour Fitness.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://footprint2pointo.com Fran

    thanks for the business ideas that I can bring to my local farmers market. I appreciate your insight, and very abservant.

  • http://www.lauraclick.com Laura Click

    Good stuff! I love the parallels you drew here. Certainly, a lot can be learned from your experience. I think the last point really struck me – I have an upcoming blog post about that very topic. All too often businesses get started with social media and then let the site go dormant, whether for lack of time or, as in this case, an overwhelming response to the offer. It certainly begs the question – if you don't have time to dedicate to your social media efforts, should you really engage at all? I think many folks tend to bite off more than they can chew. Then, folks like you and me are disappointed when we find that their Twitter page or Facebook profile has gone cold. In my opinion, it would be better to not be on it at all. Thoughts?

    • http://www.secretsushi.com/ Adam Helweh

      Laura, not participating at all would really be a shame wouldn't it? The fact that a lot of social media services are free is too attractive for marketers. The cost barrier is gone, but sometimes it's easy to forget about the time commitment needed to initially learn how to use the system and then apply it on a regular basis. My suggestion for folks is to take on one social channel at a time so that you can assess what your time and human investment will need to be to get the most out of it. Of course this all goes back to setting a strategy from the start. Make sense?

  • http://insightsandingenuity.com Heather Rast

    Adam, this post has lots of great messages. Lessons for building a truly customer-centric business can be learned anywhere, if only you have the eyes and receptors for them. This kind of focused field work (to borrow a term) can demonstrate some very valuable do's and dont's when viewed and tested through the eyes of the consumer. And sometimes, simple extra steps really can make a difference, demonstrating that as a business you're in tune with their needs and wants…and looking to make things easier for them. Thanks for a good read!

    • http://www.secretsushi.com/ Adam Helweh

      Thanks for the kind words. Your reminded me that I wore two hats during this experience. One of a marketer and the other of a customer. Glad you liked the post.

  • http://www.inkcartridges-discounted.com Stan Thow

    We have a Local Farmers Market that is open about 4 Months. Only on Saturdays. People love to wander around looking and buying Fresh Vegetables, Jams, baked goods, and very cheaply made trinkets of all kinds. Also all kinds of things to eat, Particularly Barbequed.

    I just buy locally grown Vegetables that are really have no better TASTE and are more expensive than available at a Supermarket. But somehow I enjoy it more.

    It's the same feeling as going to a Fair.

  • http://twitter.com/bagarner bagarner

    Nice post. I love the “circle back” observations. My fav is the lesson on not letting your profiles go dormant and not spreading yourself too thin.

    • http://www.secretsushi.com/ Adam Helweh

      Awesome! Do you know somebody who has a dormant account? You might call them out on it. I am hoping GoldRush Popcorn gets wind of what I discovered. Maybe all SocialMediaExplorer readers can get some free kettle corn?!

  • http://thoughtwrestling.com/blog Mark Dykeman

    I like the farmer's market analogy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Holden/1433746871 Dan Holden

    Nice post! Good analogy and it works well. Sometimes the simplest marketing techniques still are the best…

    • http://www.secretsushi.com/ Adam Helweh

      Thanks Dan. Yes, simple is good. Techniques like this work in multiple environments as you can see.

  • Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

    The tip that resonates most with me is that you really can't have dormant social presences. That's why most companies should think and plan before diving in – if they try it and back out, they could be left with empty presences and wondering customers. I'm curious, if they just didn't have the bandwidth to manage their presence, would you advise this company to delete their Twitter and Facebook accounts? Or post that they're no longer active?

    • http://www.secretsushi.com/ Adam Helweh

      Stephanie,
      That last question is one I thought about quite a bit. I think deleting your account would be the last resort. There are a few options before you get that far. The primary reason this happens is due to the available humans you have to tackle it. Here are a couple alternatives to deleting your account:

      - Set a schedule so that you can prioritize a little time each day or two to check up on your social channels, post and engage.

      - Find passionate folks from the community who might be willing ambassadors of your brand and give them the opportunity to help.

      - If your able to pay attention to one social channel and not another (IE: You can blog, but don't tweet often) find ways to connect the services so you can publish once and share it in many places. This obviously is not a very engaging way to stay active, but it might tide you over while gather your bearings and get a real human back in the game.

      • Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

        I agree with you, Adam, deleting should be the last resort. I love the idea of getting community ambassadors to take over.

  • http://outsourcing-services.net/ Outsourcing Philippines

    Great postl, it gives us ideas. Well, simple techniques in marketing still the best.

  • http://twitter.com/Bremmel Brian Remmel

    Great post, Adam! Solid advice for any marketer.

    Your first tip resonated the most with me. As a consumer, I need to get a taste of the product/service before making a decision. And those peaches look delicious.

  • Connie

    Thanks Adam, I love the parallels you drew between the produce, showing & tasting, & really any product or service we business people want to provide. We do want people to identify with us on a personal level, communicate with us, & ultimately provide inbound marketing to our company. “They” really had you looking for that popcorn, didn't they? Many of these ideas could be modified to fit in any business' inbound marketing budget.

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  • http://BMSMarketing.ws Ronnie Mitchell

    Awesome post.I visit farmers markets almost every weekend with my wife and kids and when I point out how a vendor is a good marketer my kids say “dads talking about marketing again” LOL but I definitely can see the how it would relate to internet marketers like us.Thanks for the sharing your insight.-Ronnie

  • Rosedosse

    These tips are massively interesting and helpful. These article given me some basic ideas regarding some my personal marketing issues.

    • http://www.secretsushi.com/ Adam Helweh

      Great Rosedosse. Glad to help.

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  • http://kimberlys-cup.blogspot.com/ Kimberlyscup

    I am gearing up this week to start selling at a Farmers Market next week.  I want to stand out from the rest!  I love reading new ideas and look forward to implementing them. Being able to GROW great produce doesn’t mean much if you can’t SELL it.

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