AUGUSTA — Marketing a farm is really no different than marketing any other business. The trick is filling a need.

“The first thing you want to do is sell things your customers want. Sometimes that’s not going to match what you think you want to do initially,” Tori Jackson of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension said Thursday during a session on online marketing at the 74th Maine Agricultural Trades Show at the Augusta Civic Center.

The presentation targeted start-up farmers or those seeking to change or grow their business. Jackson stressed the importance of building a brand and tying it to an online presence, such as a Web page and Facebook, to build interest and trust in potential consumers.

“Your brand is what people know about you,” Jackson said.

Learning what the public wants means hard work and probably money. Jackson suggested using surveys or advertising to gather as much information as possible on community demographics. That information not only will guide how you operate your business, but how you advertise. For instance, a farm in an area where few people use Facebook would be unlikely to use the social media site as an advertising tool. Knowing the habits of a community also will drive how the businesses is run, Jackson said. A farm stand on a commuter road, for instance, obviously would do best if it were open during the hours the road is most heavily traveled. Jackson said lenders probably will require results of that market research, so it is important to document the information.

“I want to see you have data to back up what you think your market is,” Jackson said. “Identify the customers you’re going to attract.”

Jackson’s presentation to about a dozen farmers at the trades show Thursday was one of many offered throughout the three-day event. In addition to exhibits by goat breeders, maple producers and organic farmers, the show offered tips on licensing a home kitchen, candy making, farm safety and solar technology. More than 5,000 people were expected to attend the event, which ended Thursday.

During the presentation, Jackson said farmers should share inside information about their business, what they are selling and even themselves.

“It creates more trust in your brand,” Jackson said.

Jackson said it is important to offer training for employees so they can speak intelligently about the products being sold and know how to interact with customers.

“Emphasize the key unique features of your products,” she said.

Farmers, like all businesses, must develop a Web presence, even if it is just a Web page. The main Web page must be well-designed and crisp and translate well to other applications, such as smartphones and tablets.

Regardless of how farmers choose to market their businesses online, Jackson said, it is vital that they keep the information up to date. Keeping pages updated — particularly Facebook pages, which require frequent and regular interactions with customers — can be time-consuming, so Jackson suggested the farmers start small. Information on the Web pages should tap into the conscience of the target community. An organic farmer seeking to attract environmentalists, for example, would want to stress that their products are chemical-free or that the farm exhibits care for the planet in the farming process.

“People do business with people who believe what they believe,” Jackson said. “Your business should somehow fit in with the values that your customers share.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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