By CINDY LADAGE
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — When shooting the marketing arrow, producers venturing into the agritourism market hope it will hit the bull’s eye.
Heather Wilkins of the Central Illinois Tourism Development Office and Stephanie Rhodes of Bloomin’ Communications presented a workshop at the Illinois Specialty Conference earlier this month on “Understanding the Agritourism Traveler.” It was based on trends from JWT Intelligence, a worldwide marketing office, and the first point they pushed home was that adults, like children, “want to play.”
They asked farm entrepreneurs, “Are you offering fun? Playing can be a component,” Wilkins said. “Kids balance life by playing. Think about travel as a playground.”
“What can you do to engage adults?” Rhodes added.
They were pushing producers to think of how they can add elements of play to their own ventures. The added benefit is, those engaged in play spend more time and perhaps more money.
“When people are playing, they forget about time. They get thirsty and hungry,” Rhodes pointed out, adding producers shouldn’t worry about looking foolish. “Do not underestimate that we all need time to laugh at ourselves.”
During the presentation, the term “de-teching” was thrown out – as in, agritourism can offer a chance to de-stress and de-tech. The presenters said agritourism travelers like what they call “the Old World charm” of the business, when a visitor can meet and talk with the owners. There is something “Old World” about talking to the same person they spoke to on the phone.
Travelers like the one-on-one and the family and generational aspect many agritourism sites have to offer. Each trip to an agritourism site has to be about the destination, the whole experience, rather than just the product.
“Experience is more important than things,” Rhodes said. Visitors want to experience with their senses. “Engaging the senses sells.”
She explained Garrett Popcorn in Chicago wafts the popcorn smell out onto the sidewalk, causing pedestrians to line up all the way around the block just to get in and sample the smell that drew them in.
“Are you engaging in sound and taste? How can you add a memory trigger?” she prompted producers.
Besides selling at their retail businesses, they were impressing upon the audience that “everything is retail and you are selling everywhere.
“Are there partners that could offer your product?” Wilkins asked. She said in today’s world consumers expect the “piggyback sell,” where for instance, a bed-and-breakfast is offering muffins and fruit from the local producer.
The two women prodded producers to take advantage of the partners around them and get on the “Buy Local” and “Healthy and Happy” bandwagons.
With today’s social media, they added sites are being reviewed online whether the producer realizes it or not. Whether a producer has a webpage or a Facebook page – or not – comments are being made about them, videos are being taken at their businesses and visitors are commenting and making judgments.
When the comments are good, this is a great thing because more consumers are relying on peer trust as much as paid advertising. “How can you leverage that? Are you providing an authenticity to the experience? Social media is word-of-mouth on steroids,” Wilkins explained. Going beyond the visit, Rhodes asked: “What kind of follow-up do you see? What are they doing after they left your site?”
Comments such as “I visited XXX and bought apples, then I went home and made an apple pie” are the kinds of examples they were talking about. Posts like these linked to a business’ site can be invaluable because consumers trust endorsements from their friends and family.
“If my friend said it was great, I will believe it,” Rhodes said.
They recommended producers and owners of agritourism sites check what comments and blog sites are saying to see if there is misinformation. One example they offered was to check listings: “Are the hours right? What about the phone number?”
All of these are pieces of information can be corrected and generate more traffic to their places of business. A wrong address or no address can make a traveler who is depending on Yelp or Google, for example, go elsewhere.
Another point they made was to ensure everything on a producer’s site is crisp and clean, since everything is now public. With phones that take pictures and videos, producers can have great advertising while the visitor is still onsite, when little Janie gets her picture taken with Grandma – and Grandma posts where she is and what she is doing before ever leaving.