Now that you have a farm full of deer and elk, what are you going to do with them? You need to sell them to obtain revenues to pay for the expenses related to your farm, and hopefully make a profit.
We will cover some of the basic concepts and steps related to “marketing” your deer and elk products and services.
What is marketing
Marketing is more than selling – it consists of four components:
- Product or range of products (and services)
- Promotion (advertising)
- Distribution (direct, wholesale, brokers)
The four components constitute your “marketing mix.” Effective marketing is the result of getting a right mix.
In addition, successful marketing depends on knowing the answers to the following questions:
- Who are my potential buyers?
- How do I get to them?
- What are their needs/wants that I can satisfy?
There are several good reasons why you should be constantly marketing:
- Number of farmed animals growing – possible excess supply over demand
- Need to be competitive in existing markets
- Need to develop new markets and products
- Generate revenues to pay expenses
- Most deer and elk producers not comfortable with marketing and selling; those that do market have a competitive advantage.
What industries are you in?
Effective marketing depending on knowing what industry you are in. Deer and elk products fall into several different industries:
- Deer and elk farming and production – agriculture and food industry
- Hunting preserves – sports, recreation and tourism industries
- Velvet antler – health and nutraceutical industries.
What deer and elk farmers market
It is surprising just how many products and services are generated by our industry. Here is a list.
- Primary products:
- Breeding stock
- Trophy animals for hunting preserves
- Animals for meat/venison
- Calves and fawns
- Venison and processed meat products
- Antlers (hard and velvet)
- Skins, hides and leathers
- Bones and meat by-products
- Secondary products:
- Fence and related supplies
- Feeders and feeding equipment
- Feed and supplements
- Milk replacer and bottle feeding supplies
- Handling equipment
- Urine collection equipment/supplies
- Tranquillizer darts and guns
- Transportation equipment
- Veterinary supplies
- Scales and weighing equipment
- Cameras and recording equipment
- Tags, micro-chips and ID equipment
- Record keeping books and software
- Books, manuals and videos
- Hunting on preserves
- Guiding services
- Farm tours
- Animals for parades, shows and advertising
- Bottle raising
- Boarding facilities
- AI services
- Semen collection, storage and handling
- Auction, broker and sales services
- Feed development and manufacturing
- Hauling and transportation services
- Farm design and construction
- Handling facilities design and construction
- Fencing construction
- Meat processing and packaging
- Velvet processing and packaging
- Urine processing and packaging
- Veterinary and animal health services
- Workshops, seminars and educational services
- Investment opportunities
Challenges and downsides to marketing
Be aware that marketing is not all “sunshine and roses.” There are some major challenges to marketing, especially in the deer and elk industry. These include:
- Regulations and obstacles. Provinces and states regulate movement of live animals and they all have different requirements. The sale of deer and elk outside the local jurisdiction requires knowledge and abidance of all the rules. This may also be true of deer and elk products being sold in another country.
- Competition. Not only are there other deer and elk farmers selling their products, but every time you set up a new farmer, you are creating more competition for yourself.
- Media noise. Consumers are becoming increasingly resistant to advertising, and companies are increasing their marketing to compensate. It is very difficult for a small business to have the resources to do advertising that will be noticed and stand out from other advertising.
- Loss of privacy. Once you start advertising, you will be placed on various mailing lists and contacted by companies and individuals trying to sell you something. Also, posting a sign on your farm may potentially invite other problems.
- Wasted money. It is inevitable that you are going to waste a lot of money in marketing. The problem is, you often don’t know where you are wasting it. Common mistakes are:
- Advertising to the wrong people
- Using the wrong messages
- Advertising at the wrong time
- Neglecting to remember that have of the people are logical and half are emotional
- Other controllable or uncontrollable factors
- Buying advertising you don’t need or doesn’t work
- Consumes time and effort. Marketing will take up a lot of your time and effort. This takes you away from the production aspects, probably the main reason you went into deer and farming in the first place. You can hire people to do your advertising but, to be effective, you need to be in charge. This is especially necessary for:
- Preparing effective promotional and advertising materials
- Implementing your marketing campaign, e.g., mailing
- Handling inquiries and dealing with “tire-kickers”
Options to self marketing
If you don’t want to, or don’t know how to, do your own marketing, there are alternatives. Here are four possible options to sell your deer and elk products to generate revenues.
- Sales and auctions. These are common in the livestock industry. This is one way to sell your deer and elk.
- Brokers. These are not very common in our industry. However, they can do an effective job selling products and services for clients. Be sure you select one you can trust.
- Marketing co-op. Rather than deer and elk farmers all individually selling their animals, one option is to set up a marketing co-op, a very common model in the agricultural sector. A co-op provides more money and expertise to tackle the marketing.
- Wholesalers and distributors. If your primary product is velvet, venison or hides, then it may be simpler to set up contracts with companies that purchase your entire supply and redistribute it to retailers or consumers.
Secrets to successful marketing
Here are six very important things to keep in mind when planning and doing your marketing.
- Be consumer, not producer oriented. Always keep the consumer’s needs/wants in mind and focus on them. Avoid focusing primarily on product features or your own interests first.
- Make it easy for people to do business with you. Make it easy for them to:
- find you (contact information and physical location)
- contact you (24 hours a day, 7 days a week by mail, phone, fax and e-mail)
- get information from you (print and electronic)
- order goods and services
- pay you (cash, cheque, credit cards, barter and air miles)
- get follow-up support and service
- Constantly ask yourself whether are you putting obstacles in the way of people wanting to do business with you
- The number one reason people will do business with you is because they trust you. It is important to earn that trust and keep it. Some ways to promote your trustworthiness are:
- Offer quality products and services
- Keep your promises
- Be professional and honest at all times
- Reduce risks to buyers (e.g., use guarantees)
- Let people know how long you have been in business, the longer the better
- Join and announce your memberships in organizations e.g., NAEBA, Better Business Bureau and Chamber of Commerce
- Constantly do market research and gather market intelligence. The simplest way is by asking your customers and potential customers lots of questions regarding their needs and satisfaction with your services. If time or resources permit, consider doing a random survey from time to time or running a focus group session. The more you know about your customers, the more successful your marketing will be.
- Select a market position and stick with it – whether it’s high, middle or low end. Positioning refers to what image you want to project – a supplier of high quality products or a provider of bargains. All aspects of your marketing must reinforce your positioning. For example, if you positioning is at the high end, then your prices should be above average, your promotional materials will be of high quality, and so on.
- Repetition and persistence are key to marketing success. Research has shown that you need to advertise 7 to 12 times to a particular audience before you have any impact. Therefore one-shot marketing should be avoided. If you have a limited budget, pick a few strategies and stick with them.
Here are some tips regarding the product component of marketing.
- Develop and sell high quality products. Marketing is easier if you have a reputation for the best deer and elk products and services. Constantly strive to improve your stock, and get rid of inferior animals.
- Sell a range of products including complementary products. “Bundling” or one-stop shopping, is currently a hot marketing trend. If you can provide a prospective deer or elk farmer with everything he needs, then he/she is more likely to buy from you.
- Know your product and business. People are more likely to buy from you if you can give them answers rather then them having to find it out themselves. This means current knowledge about such things as regulations, licensing and transportation, as well as how to raise and take care of deer and elk.
Because the deer and elk industry relatively new, setting a price is often a challenge. Here are some considerations:
- Your prices should reflect your marketing positioning. Resist the temptation to drastically reduce your prices just to make a sale. It is easy to reduce your prices but much harder to bring them up again once word gets out.
- Set your prices relative to how the industry is doing. It is unwise to undercut other producers just to make a sale. Remember that price is not the main factor in buying, and that getting a reasonable price implies that there is value in what you are selling.
- Build in a 10-20% cushion into your pricing plan. This will offer you flexibility in offering discounts for large volume buyers. It will also allow you a margin of safety to cover any unexpected costs or expenses.
- Be up-front about any additional costs such as delivery, testing or boarding. Most consumers prefer one fee that is all inclusive.
- Offer a variety of payment options (i.e., make it easy to pay). Accept cash, cheques, barter and credit cards (they may want to earn Air Miles or points towards their next truck or car).
- For larger sales, you may want to develop and use a sales contract that informs and protects both parties.
- Consider offering a money back satisfaction or faulty product guarantee.
- Payment problems are a fact of business. Avoid the temptation to protect yourself to the extent that you lose customers. Get insurance or increase your margins to cover any potential losses.
There are many ways to advertise your products and services. The more methods you use, the more successful you will be. Remember it is often attention to detail that makes a difference. Here are some promotional methods that are suitable for the deer and elk industry:
- Name – Select a good one. Also think about registering a brand name for your products. Select a name that is also available as a domain name on the Internet.
- Logo – A good logo can be an asset to your marketing. Design one that reflects your farm and that stands out from the rest.
- Theme – Pick a unique, memorable theme and stick with it. Use it in all your marketing.
- Business cards – cards must contain all relevant information, i.e., name, address, phone, cell phone, fax, e-mail and web address. Use both sides and hand them out to everyone.
- Brochures – These should be well done and reflect the desired image of your business. They should provide information about your farm, deer/elk and distinctive competencies, i.e., what makes you better than the competition from a consumer’s point view. Be sure to include complete contact information. Don’t include any information (prices) that may change or become outdated. Give your brochures out to everyone that visits or requests information.
- Flyers – These are usually one page throw-aways produced for special events or announcing special deals. Flyers may be used to let people know that you have new fawns/calves for sale. Flyers may be mailed out with a brochure.
- Packaging – Packaging includes your boxes, your truck, your deer/elk trailer, your sales people and you. Packaging will attract or repel customers and prospects.
- Classified ads – These can be effective but you need to advertise repeatedly. Ads can be found on the Internet or in newsletters, and local newspapers depending upon where your target audience is.
- Print advertising – This would include advertising in such publications as the NAEBA publications or hunting magazines. The advantage of these publications is that they have a very targeted readership. The disadvantage is their limited circulation and restricted availability to a broader potential target audience.
- Toll-free numbers – These are really cheap and make it easy for people from anywhere in North America to call/fax you. Studies also show that toll-free numbers are associated with larger, reputable companies. Toll-free numbers work particularly well with direct mail campaigns.
- Attire – You and your employees represent your business. People will develop attitudes about your business based on what you and your employees are wearing. Dress appropriately for your clientele and customers. Consider shirts with your farm name/logo that you can wear at conventions and other events.
- Decor – Prospective customers will form opinions about your products based on the decor of your store, office or farm. It should reflect your honest identity.
- Stationery – The look and feel of personalized stationary make it a powerful marketing tool. Consider using the back side of envelopes to tell people about your farm and what you have to offer.
- Order forms/invoices/cheques – These are an excellent opportunity to gain more business, increase referrals, and solidify relationships with customers. Again, make sure to include all information such as 800 numbers, e-mail and web site addresses.
- Hours/days of operation – These can provide you an advantage over your competitors. Provide alternatives for people to buy from you, e.g., taking telephone orders, providing catalogues, accepting orders by e-mail and having an Internet web site with your products and an order form. Make some of these alternatives available 24 hours a day.
- Phone manners – This is the first contact many customers have with your company. It can be positive or negative. Get an answering machine or voice mail to take messages. Return these promptly.
- Neatness – Messiness causes lost sales because people believe the sloppiness will carry over to other parts of your business. Keep your farm neat and tidy – grass cut, buildings painted, fences fixed, etc.
- Customer follow-up – Follow-up is the key to a loyal customer base. It is very important to establish a database of your customers so you can use it for follow-up and repeated marketing. When you sell them deer or elk, follow up to see whether they need advice or help. This will turn them into repeat customers.
- Customer recourse – Know what you’ll do if the customer is not satisfied. Have a clear policy and be sure all your staff know and follow it. Remember, the customer is always right!
- Guarantees/warranties – Help the customer feel safer in doing business with you. Make guarantees generous and be flexible. Satisfied customers are one of the best marketing tools you have.
- Community involvement – The more you’re involved with your community, the higher your profits will be. This involves more time and energy than money. It could include involvement with community associations.
- Tie-in with others – Display signs or brochures of other businesses if they will do the same for you.
- Reprints of ads or articles – Make inexpensive reprints for mailings and signs.
- Special events – Staging unique events around your business is a good way to attract free publicity. Have a contest and award a trophy, throw a party for prospects, have an open house at your farm, arrange for school visits or take a fawn/calf to schools.
- Testimonials – These are free, easy to obtain, and very impressive to new prospects. Use them as signs, in your brochures, ads, and in direct mailings.
- Smiles/greetings – They make customers feel special. Employees should smile in person and on the phone.
- Sales training – Customers like dealing with people who know the products and business. Be sure your sales people know the way you do business and reflect your identity. Consider taking a sales training course yourself.
- Audio-visual aids – These can be very effective tools.
- Videotapes and CD-ROMS – These can be used as electronic brochures. They are not that expensive and can have a significant impact.
- Refreshments – Little things such as offering coffee and doughnuts in the morning can have a dramatic impact in sales.
- Credit cards – The easier you make it for someone to buy, the more they will buy. The discounts and paperwork are worth the effort. Belonging to some organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce may entitle you to lower discount rates.
- Financing – Many customers will want what you are selling, but won’t have the money now. Financing can win sales.
- Club and association memberships – Join these to become part of the community and gain credibility. The Better Business Bureau and the Chamber of Commerce are a good place to start. Also be a member of the major state and federal deer/elk associations.
- Team sponsorships – A good way to get involved in the community.
- Samples – Good quality free samples are one of the most effective marketing tools ever devised, e.g., elk velvet antler capsules, venison, etc.
- Consultations – These are like free samples and work very well for the service business, e.g., farm design and layout, handling facilities, etc.
- Demonstrations – These let customers see what it would be like to own what you sell. Hold a field day on your farm for new elk farmers and others considering entering the industry.
- Column in publications – Many local and business publications will publish a column on your field of expertise. Don’t ask for money, only for the mention of your farm name, e-mail and/or web site. National and regional deer/elk publications (including the Deer and Elk Farmers’ Digest) are always looking for good articles.
- Books and articles – Publishing will establish your credibility. Even self-publishing will help.
- Contests and sweepstakes – These will call attention to your business and obtain precious names for your customer mailing list. If possible, have entrants come to your place of business. Offer one of your products as a prize to better target your audience.
- Phone-hold marketing – When customers are on-hold, impart useful information about your company.
- Roadside stands – Suitable for certain products. However, check your state or county regulations first.
- Co-op funds – Many manufacturers make funds available if you mention them in your ads. Perhaps other businesses will do so too.
- Research studies – The more you know, the better you will be able to market.
- Posters – These can be anything you want but should add pizzazz and visibility to your identity. They can be used everywhere.
- Take-one boxes – Place one of these in any location frequented by your prospects and fill it with your brochures. The brochures can be informational or promotional.
- Gift certificates – Consider offering them if your product can be given as a gift.
- Reputation – One of the most important components to marketing. Be sure to establish and maintain a good reputation.
- Personal selling – Take advantage of all opportunities when on the telephone or visiting to promote and market your farm. Always have business cards and brochures handy.
- Information gatekeepers – Be sure that your local agriculture office knows that you are a deer or elk farmer (send them some cards and brochures). It might also be useful to place materials in the Chamber of Commerce office, your local town hall and the tourism centre (if you want visitors).
- Direct mail – This is an effective marketing strategy since it can be very targeted and can produce excellent results. However, you must have the right mailing list (start with your customer and inquiry list), and prepare an effective direct marketing package. One mailing is often not enough.
- Trade shows – Elk and deer conventions are the best place to be, followed by general agricultural shows. Prepare a professional looking display and have plenty of hand-out materials on hand. Trade shows are a good place to build up your mailing list. Be sure to promptly follow up on any inquiries or requests you get.
- Internet – The Internet is a must tool for any serious marketer. An e-mail address will make it easier for people to reach you. A web site can provide information about your farm and deer/elk 24 hours a day. Collecting the e-mail addresses of potential customers will enable you to undertake effective opt-in e-mail marketing campaigns.
- Public relations – The media, especially in smaller communities, are always looking for local stories. Cultivate a relationship with the local reporters, and when something newsworthy happens, send out a news release or hold a news conference. Keep the clippings and use them as part of your mailings.
- Customer mailing list – Start putting one together now. The list should include all people that have purchased from you, people that have phoned or written in for information, and information gatekeepers. Use this list for direct marketing as described above.
- Signs – It’s a personal choice as to whether you should have a sign on your farm or not. However, if you do, it should include contact information such as phone and web address, especially if there is a lot of traffic. Signs with the same information should be put on vehicles.
- Special events – Host a special event once or twice a year. This could be having school children visit your farm, a barbecue (venison, of course) for your customers and so on. Be sure to invite the local media and politicians.
- Seminars and workshops – If you are comfortable providing training, this is an excellent way to bring prospective customers to your farm, and to impress them with your knowledge, integrity and professionalism. Be sure they all have your brochures and business cards. However, a bad workshop could have negative consequences.
- Word-of-mouth – If you want people to recommend you to their friends and neighbors, your need to have an outstanding product and provide outstanding service. Nobody talks about average products or service.
- Directories – Be sure your farm is listed in the appropriate directories. Many communities have a business directory; get your farm listed. There are also a number of on-line directories where you can post for free, e.g., deerfarmer.com. These Internet directories will give you international exposure.
- Enthusiasm – It gets passed on by you to your employees, from them to customers, and from customers to potential customers.
- Satisfied customers – These can single-handedly create your word-of-mouth campaign whereas unhappy customers can put you out of business!
- Farmers’ markets – Some elk and deer farmers have had success in selling velvet antler capsules and meat at local farmers’ markets. This activity provides an opportunity to increase awareness and knowledge regarding game farming as well as being a great source of income.
- Inquiry postcards – These are self addressed postcard that you mail out or hand out at trade/consumer shows and other events. It makes it easy for potential customers to request more information. Be sure to “code” the cards so that you can measure the success of your various advertising strategies.
- Animal advertising – An enterprising entrepreneur in Britain started a company to sell advertising on special apparel worn by cows in the pastures beside major highways. If you can get your deer or elk to wear a blanket with advertising on it, it might be worth a try.
- Postcards – Research shows that postcards are an effective media because everyone who handles them usually reads them. Mail postcards to your regular and potential customers and to announce special events.
- Giveaways – These are items that you give or sell to your customers to constantly keep your company name in front of them. Good items could be a calendar with elk pictures, a key chain made from elk leather with your farm name on it, a computer mouse pad with your logo or any other similar products.
- Talk shows – Several elk farmers have seen sales increase dramatically after they appeared on a local radio or television talk show. Ask to be on – don’t do a hard sell, but rather talk about the benefits of game farming, velvet antler and ranched meat products.
The Internet has become such a significant component of our society that every serious marketing program should incorporate the various aspects of this technology.
Here is a brief overview of the various Internet applications that are available for marketing and promotion.
- Email – More business communications now take place using e-mail than any other communications technology. Therefore, having an e-mail address for your business this day and age is pretty well a must.
- Domain name – Even though there are 35 million domain names registered, there are still good ones to be found. Register and manage your own domain name using services to set up an email using your domain name without having a web site. Domain names are the highest priority of search engines in finding relevant websites.
- Email marketing – E-mail allows you a very cost-effective way to keep in touch with your customers. However, do NOT spam! E-mail should only be sent to existing customers or to people who have “opted-in” to your mailing list. Use your e-mail mailings to provide useful information, not just high-pressure sales pitches.
- Classified ads – For direct selling of animals, products and services, there are free classified ads. The two better ones are at deerfarmer.com and wapiti.net. Deerfarmer.com allows photos and longer ads. Provide lots of information and book ads for only a month. Submit new ones rather than renew as this will keep you near the top of the list.
- Directory listings – Sites such as Deerfarmer.com have a self-administered farm directory. Be sure that you are registered and keep your listing up to date. If you are a member of NAEBA or your local state association, you may be eligible to have you farm listed on their web sites as well.
- Electronic Newsletters – These are electronic newsletters and offer a number of marketing opportunities:
- You can write and publish one yourself. However, this requires a lot of time and commitment.
- You can buy ads at very reasonable costs in existing electronic magazines.
- You can write articles for magazines such as the Deer and Elk Farmers’ Digest. This gives you and your farm exposure and credibility.
- Discussion Forums – These are great places to hang out and contribute. You can become known and establish a reputation. Two relevant ones are hosted by Deerfarmer.com and Wapiti.net.
- Banner ads – These can be purchased to sell products or attract visitors to your web site. However, the general feeling is that these no longer work very well.
- Autoresponders – These can save much work and provide a convenient service to your customers. Set up as many as you need to provide immediate automated information via email.
- Website – If you are selling products and services on a regular basis, you probably should have one. A simple “brochure” site will do for most farms, but some may want to incorporate on-line selling as well. Here are some tips for an effective website:
- Have a website with your own domain name rather than part of another one or a free service.
- Provide adequate and comprehensive information about your farm, products and services. The more information the better.
- Use lots of quality photographs along with text. People like to see your farm and animals.
- Have a guest book to collect names, and ask people whether they want to be put on your confidential mailing list. Use this list as per conditions stated above.
- Keep your site current; the more often you add or change it, the more frequently will people feel a need to visit it.
- A website is no good if no one knows about it. Promote it aggressively both on-line and off-line by:
- registering with search engines
- posting a notice of your website in the classifieds and discussion forums
- sending out a notice to your e-mail list
- asking for links on relevant related websites
- including the website address in as many of the other promotions discussed above as possible.
Measuring your marketing effectiveness
You should develop and implement systems to provide data on which promotion strategies work and which do not. That way, over time, a very cost-effective marketing program will be put into place.
The following can be used to measure marketing success.
- Asking. Everyone who makes an inquiry is asked how he/she found out about the service. The various order and inquiry forms can collect this data that will be periodically analyzed and then used in marketing planning.
- Coding. Print advertising and brochures distributed through various channels should be uniquely coded. These can then be used to track inquiries and registrations. For example, brochures distributed at a particular conference or trade show would be uniquely coded. By checking the code, it will be possible to measure the response rates from that event.
- Surveys. A random sample of members should be surveyed to provide feedback to improve your operations, and to respond to changing customer requirements. These surveys should ask participants where they first heard of your services, and their preferred methods of receiving information about upcoming services and events. The surveys will also gather information about satisfaction with the services and features.
- Internet. On your website, counters can keep track of the number of “hits” or visits to your site. Because extensive cross-marketing can be used, these hits will be correlated to other advertising activities. A guest book is also included on the website to get more information and leads on potential customers. E-mail and telephone inquiries will also be tracked.
Using these strategies, you can decide where to focus your marketing dollars and energies. You will be able to allocate your resources to marketing channels that will have the biggest returns.