“It is the People who estab­lish trust in a brand”

Carolin Schäfer founded the agency Agrar­mar­keting Detail­reich (Agri­cul­tural Marketing in Rich Detail) and works with, among others, farmers who enter into short supply chains or direct sales. The Furrow speaks with her about brands, branding and commu­ni­ca­tion using social media.

Carolin Schäfer, effec­tive branding is essen­tial for large food manu­fac­turers. But what about direct sales or short supply chains – is a brand even neces­sary to market effec­tively?

Yes. As soon as you enter a market as a seller you are a repre­sen­ta­tive of the brand you are marketing. How we engage with the market, consciously and uncon­sciously, is going to have an impact. Going into a market as a conscious repre­sen­ta­tive will generate success through intended impact, and for this, a targeted, active devel­op­ment of the brand, known as branding, is a prereq­ui­site.

A brand is more than a logo and the name of the farm. But what else is part of the defi­n­i­tion?

The name and logo are indeed among the first things that the customer perceives – a reflec­tion of the company, so to speak. But the brand is much more; it includes every­thing that contributes to its appear­ance. What are the brand values, what does the company stand for, what is the passion behind the product and the manu­fac­turing process? Of course, the customer cannot see this, but it is impor­tant. That’s because this self-image creates the basis for the branding and so, the external image.

The name and logo reflect the company.

Carolin Schäfer

Do your customers know from the begin­ning what their brand is about?

My first ques­tion is always: Who are you and what do you actu­ally do? In response, I often see blank faces. It sounds simple, but most people have never asked them­selves this ques­tion. Then it’s a ques­tion of finding out: What makes us and our prod­ucts different? Where do we go our own way? The goal is to high­light the posi­tive qual­i­ties. You don’t have to hide every­thing else, but you don’t have to focus on it either. Once you have answered all these ques­tions, there is usually enough meat on the bones to develop a good story.

How do you tell a “good story”?

Farmers bring every­thing to the table for a good story. We usually start with the history of the farm. And I don’t mean the exact history, but rather what makes the farm tick. Showing who is behind it, what happens on the farm and why – these are the stories that are worth telling. Because in the end it is all about one thing: Posi­tive emotions – you must evoke that in customers. Then you can market success­fully.

Few busi­nesses can tell such multi-faceted, lively stories as agri­cul­ture.

Carolin Schäfer

Few busi­nesses can tell such multi-faceted, lively stories as agri­cul­ture, which is full of new impres­sions and expe­ri­ences every day. Ideally you share this exciting everyday life with your customers – on your own website or social media. It should not be too long-winded, but always targeted and in easy-to-under­stand language. Complex agri­cul­tural termi­nology has no place in customer commu­ni­ca­tion!

How does an agency like yours help farm busi­nesses tell their stories?

At the customer’s request we help wher­ever possible. However, some customers prefer to take story­telling into their own hands because they enjoy it. An agency can certainly take on a lot of the work, but the mate­rial for the stories must come from the farm and the farmers. After all, it is the people on the farm who are involved in it every day and it’s their voices that makes the story­telling personal and authentic.

Ing. agr. Carolin Schäfer, Managing Director and owner of Agrar­mar­keting Detail­reich

If you seek inter­ac­tion with customers on social media, you might get nega­tive feed­back. How do you deal with this?

It is impor­tant to stay on the ball: Check in regu­larly and react if required. You can’t delete nega­tive reviews, but if you react to them in a profes­sional and friendly manner without being imme­di­ately offended, you take the wind right out of everyone’s sails. And customers reading along also perceive this as posi­tive. In any case, no one should be afraid of this.

The ulti­mate goal of the brand is to build trust; how do you do this?

Clearly, with trans­parency and person­ality. It is impor­tant to be honest about what, why and how you do it. All of this should be as personal as possible because the people behind the brand are some­times the greatest marketing capital of agri­cul­tural enter­prises. Many try to hide behind their brand, perhaps to protect their person­ality, but that is not effec­tive – people trust people. If customers feel that they are in good hands, then a long-term customer rela­tion­ship can develop.

Have you expe­ri­enced a company adapting what it offers to meet brand strategy objec­tives and capi­talise on market oppor­tu­ni­ties?

I have noticed a trend where more and more farms are strate­gi­cally selling directly to customers, and consid­ering how they can expand and market their product range in a mean­ingful way. For most farms, the expan­sion of the busi­ness’ offer­ings is often influ­enced by oper­a­tional changes. However, I frequently advo­cate for busi­nesses to explore expan­sion into different branches of produc­tion like egg or berry produc­tion, and to take into account how new prod­ucts will be worked into the branding. This is one of the most impor­tant reasons why the company itself often becomes a brand.

How do you see the trend towards direct marketing and sales in Germany? What has changed since the pandemic?

I believe that the pandemic has accel­er­ated a devel­op­ment in direct sales – ee are seeing that more and more farms getting involved. The insta­bility of food supply combined with the growing consumer desire for regional prod­ucts during the pandemic was certainly a driving force.

Food doesn’t market itself. Sales, logis­tics and marketing all require an effort.

Carolin Schäfer

We are also seeing a gener­a­tional shift. Many young succes­sors have taken over their parents’ farms in recent years and they now want to take different busi­ness paths. They see the economic poten­tial in direct marketing. Never­the­less, it must be clear that food doesn’t market itself. In the end, sales, logis­tics and marketing all require an effort that should not be under­es­ti­mated. Direct marketing and selling sales create completely different costs and tasks. But it also offers the oppor­tu­nity to realise entre­pre­neurial poten­tial – and to be more than ‘just a supplier’.