The Farm Stand Model

What if we throw out the word “marketing” and instead thought in terms of “going to market”, like farmers have been doing for thousands of years? Could we then better understand the process and principles of selling a good or service? 

Once upon a time, people grew or made things for a living. Every day, or at the end of a week or season, they would travel to the local market to sell them. Thousands of years later, not much has changed.

Those small stalls in the town square have evolved into e-commerce stores, strip malls, Main Street shops and still, the small stalls of our local farmer’s market. Farmer’s markets are a beautiful and effective example of going to market.

If we throw out the word marketing for a moment (or, as I would prefer, forever) and examine the centuries-old lifecycle of farmers taking their products to market, we can get down to the principles of going to market that are still powerful today.

1. Product-Market Fit
Simply put, farmers need to start with the end in mind: What can they grow that customers need? This is the simplest form of product-market fit, drawing a direct line between the product they plan to create and the end consumer need. From the beginning of the process straight through to the end, this strategy informs what to make, when to make it and how to deliver it.

2. Product Creation
With a go-to-market strategy in place, the farmer knows what to plant and when to plant it. They turn their focus to growing the right amount of the right product at the right time.

3. Message Creation
What do you say when someone walks up to the stall? “The peaches are perfectly ripe.” and “Can I help you find the perfect potato for your recipe?”  Or “Everything is grown on our certified organic and bio dynamic, 5th generation family farm less than hour from here.”

Messages are the literal words we say or print; but messages are also the configuration of the stall, how the produce is displayed, how people dress and who is working the booth. Is it a rustic or sophisticated experience, neatly organized or an adventure of the senses? These are all messages about what the farmer values and how they see the world, which is what we are trying to share when we create go-to-market messaging.

4. Message Distribution
Free samples to show the sweetness of the peaches is some of the best message distribution I’ve seen at a farmer’s market. I’ve also been moved by the farmer’s incredibly informed kid helping me to pick out the best ones. Sign placement matters; how the names of apples are displayed matters; and if the seller is standing out in front or behind the table matters. If too forward, some people shy away. Too reserved and some people lose interest.

Message distribution is anthropology; it’s behavior science; it’s testing and analyzing to figure out what works or doesn’t and why –not just for one sale today but for building long-term loyalty over time. 

5. Audit
How much was sold? How much is left? What did people ask for that we didn’t have? What was priced too low or too high? When the day is done, there is an accounting of what occurred in order to better plan for the next day, week or season. For farmers, margins can be thin, so quantitative and qualitative data is compiled and analyzed to minimize waste and maximize profit for reinvestment into the next yield. 

This is the foundation for going to market. The product will vary; the situation will vary; but the fundamental principles and processes are the same. 

Also published on Medium.

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