Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What Are Consumers Buying? - Guest Blogger, John Berry

Participating in a recent workshop on communicating with customers, I was reminded of the significance attached to meeting the needs of our customers. After all, they do have the money! Concepts around customer buying behavior are not necessarily new, but they do evolve over time. Jolene Brown was the catalyst for my latest ah-ha when she spoke of the 5 attributes people seek when shopping. She reminds us that people are not buying the goods we sell directly. What they actually seek to buy is: 1) time, 2) youth, 3) health, 4) safety, and 5) experience. It may benefit our businesses to give these concepts consideration as we finalize the 2011 work and start into planning and implementing for 2012.

Convenience is another way to think of this retail shopper expectation. Many people are time stressed. Between family, community and work, there is often multiple demands on our limited available time. Getting the message to our customers on the ease with which our products can be purchased, prepared and consumed can be a challenge worthy of a solution. As an example – the average American male spends 8 minutes on shopping and 15 minutes per day on food preparation and cleanup. The average American female spends 14 and 47 minutes accomplishing these tasks. If our typical shopper is near to these averages – how do our products/services fit? Are we time worthy?

During a private conversation, a major grocery chain manager described the basics of their decision making process for locating a new store. The gist of this process is “we seek a demographic with relatively high cosmetics transactions.” Having not yet found the secret of immortality we do strive to stay vibrant and active as we age.

Continuing research into our health status leads scientists to project that in a few more years, 70% of American adults will be overweight. As we consider the health needs of our customers, are we providing solutions focused on their demand or our interpretations of what they should demand?

Between food safety concerns with conventional food sources and food safety concerns with trendy food sources, it’s no wonder the safety of the food we feed ourselves and our families is a primary consideration when shopping. Also, agri-tourism opportunities are evolving as farm marketers develop a more sophisticated and fuller compliment of venues. As farmers step into these non-production roles the risk they accumulate and mitigate can be significant.

More consumers are also seeking the farm experience as a way to build family quality time and assure themselves of the safety of their food. Not only do consumers expect a delightful experience each and every time they purchase an item, more significant for us, the further removed from farm life consumers get the more they crave a real farm/food experience. The experiences we make available to our customers begin as we initiate promotions and awareness efforts and follow through final product use. It may be worth remembering – our customers’ last impression of us is the one most likely to stay in their head.

I am wildly optimistic when I think about agricultural opportunities. We may only be limited by our imaginations. However, challenges are also many. As we seek new farm ventures, develop and implement plans – let’s also remember to focus on what potential customers actually want. Growing and marketing great farm products is not the point. Successful farm marketers are those businesses that are growing and marketing great farm products that customers want. We may serve ourselves, our communities and our industry best when we focus on customer needs more often.

About John Berry.... Following twenty years of milking cows, raising pigs and making maple syrup  John received an MBA and has been working for Penn State Extension ever since. His adult education work with Extension centers primarily on agricultural marketing issues. Roughly half his time is devoted to commodity marketing concerns with the remainder focused on retail farm market and agri-tourism topics. An annual retail farm market bus tour, in-season farm market employee twilight workshops and a Retail Farm Market School are some examples of the educational outreach programs John is involved with that benefit direct-to-consumer farm families.

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