New program helps market agritourism

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How are you going to get them back on the farm?

The North Dakota State University Extension Service and University of Nebraska- Lincoln Extension Service have teamed up to answer that question. They've released a new program, "Marketing Agritourism Online," to help agritourism enterprises attract business. The program is available at http://go.unl.edu/agritourism.

Agritourism is defined as any agriculture-based operation or activity that brings visitors to a farm or ranch. Examples are U-pick fruit farms, farm stands or shops, farm stays, tours, on-farm classes, fairs, festivals, pumpkin patches and Christmas tree farms.

"Many individuals today are looking to experience some part of the rural life," says Glenn Muske, the NDSU Extension Service's rural and agribusiness enterprise development specialist. "Whether going out to pick berries, getting lost in a corn maze, taking a trail ride, going hunting or just experiencing what one's parents or grandparents did, consumers are turning to rural attractions as tourist destinations."

Marketing Agritourism Online offers agritourism businesses a tool to reach a targeted audience with a focused message about what they have to offer.

"Finding the potential agritourism customer has always been difficult," says Connie Hancock, UNL Extension educator. "And being able to tell prospective clients your story and what they will experience has also been a challenge."

Marketing Agritourism Online helps meet those challenges. This self-directed course and resource guide focuses on helping the agribusiness owner understand and plan for:

* Being online - Agritourism business owners will gain an understanding of direct online marketing, the associated technology and the "experience" economy (that's when the business owner and his or her activities become part of the actual event).

* Getting found - Just being online does little to create awareness that a business exists. The program shows agritourism businesses how to develop and communicate their brand and get found when someone does a search.

* Being customer focused - Agritourism businesses get help in determining their marketing effectiveness, understanding what information they need to include on their website and developing online marketing tools.

* Telling others - Agritourism business owners learn how to encourage customers to help spread their story, along with how to remain engaged with people as a returning customer, a brand advocate or an ongoing buyer/user of the products and services offered. Business owners also receive information on using customer testimonials and tips on making short video clips of customers talking about their experiences.

Learning from others who have promoted their business online successfully makes this program especially helpful to the business owner, according to Muske. The program includes several video clips of agritourism owners providing examples of effective online marketing.

"The goal of the program is to help the business owners effectively use this tool, online marketing, to reach, engage and eventually bring in new customers while encouraging previous customers to return," Muske says. "Today an effective marketing strategy must be integrated using all possible tools, including social media."

Three North Dakota businesses - Papa's Pumpkin Patch, Bismarck; Red Trail Vineyard, Buffalo; and Rolling Plains Adventures, McKenzie - are highlighted in the program.

Agritourism businesses and other small-business owners also can keep up with changes in online marketing tools and trends by subscribing to a free weekly newsletter, Direct Marketing, at http://paper.li/UNLeShip/1319999929.

"Agritourism is all about experience," Muske says. "The customers' experience begins long before they ever come to your business. It begins with their contact with you and will continue long after they leave.

"You want to help shape the customer's expectations, ensure those expectations are met and, finally, have the customer become an ambassador for your agritourism business," he adds. "Marketing Agritourism Online is designed to help these three things happen."

The program was made possible through the support of NDSU and UNL Extension, and funding from the Southern Rural Development Center's National eCommerce Initiative.

For more ideas and assistance on marketing for your small business, contact your local Extension Service office or go to NDSU's Small Business Support website at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/smallbusiness or UNL Extension's website at http://eship.unl.edu.


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