Daniel Burstein

Content Marketing: How a farm justifies premium pricing

“We often feel like we have a sales force of thousands of loyal customers looking out for our best interest.”

We’ll get to how content marketing enabled the example in that quote in just a minute, but first, let’s start with the incredible, edible egg market.

The egg market is a perfect example of how value, and marketing’s role in the communication of that value, can be added to what was previously a commodity in order to produce higher margins.

Take a look at the market for eggs. There’s white. Brown. Hormone free. Antibiotic fee. Vegetarian fed. Grass fed. USDA organic. Free range. The list goes on.

Of course, there is a range of prices for these different attributes, ranging from $2.78 per dozen to $5.49 per dozen in a recent Consumer Reports article, for example.

This creates a dilemma for the consumer and a challenge (and opportunity) for the marketer.

 

The Marketer’s Challenge and Opportunity: Communicating value when markets are filled with choice

This is, after all, the heart of marketing: enabling choice and communicating the value of those choices.

So let’s look back at the egg market. Remember, not too long ago, eggs were just a commodity. Then, all of these product claims came along. One could argue that all of those claims create more value for customers, and thus, justify the higher price. That may in fact be true, but they would miss the point.

The real ability to charge a premium price for having any of those words on an egg carton is the customer’s perception of that value. After all, how many customers really understand what goes into raising an organic egg?

 

It was beauty (the content) that killed the beast (the commodity)

Commodity products are very dangerous for companies. It means their only lever of survival is to focus on operational excellence and cost-cutting to constantly stay one step ahead of expenses and the competition.

This is where content can be so powerful. Companies that really are producing something of greater value (e.g., the organic egg) can use content to show the story of how their products are made so the customer can see for themselves what the value is (e.g., justifying the higher cost for an organic egg).

Effective content marketing isn’t only happening online. Let’s take a look at an example of how one egg company is using content marketing to show this distinguishing value.

 

In-package newsletter

If you buy Country Hen eggs off your grocer’s shelf, when you open the carton, you will see “The Country Hen Farm News.”

country-hen-newsletter

 

Content marketing = show your work

At first glance, it’s easy to miss how profound this in-package newsletter is. After all, the company basically bought a truck. So what?

Surely, customers must assume that their eggs make it from point A to point B to eventually their grocery store shelves in a truck of some sort. How does that add value?

“We like to see people working on our behalf,” Michael Norton, Associate Professor, Harvard Business School, explained at Web Optimization Summit 2014. (You can read a 15-second synopsis of his research in Takeaway #2 of Web Optimization Summit 2014 Wrap-up: Top 5 takeaways to improve your testing and optimization).

 

The difference between showing and telling

It’s not simply the fact that The Country Hen bought a truck that adds value, but rather, how it uses the newsletter to show product value. The magic is in the writing. This newsletter shows the value in three subtle, but brilliant, ways:

    1. Shows the work – As mentioned above, it shows how these farmers are working hard to get your eggs to you.
    1. Shows the passion – This isn’t some mega-corporation with commodity eggs. These people really care. For example, “Our girls will not have their vital nutrients in the care of a less than reliable vehicle.”
    1. Establishes its place in the market – Again, this isn’t a mega-corporation. They’re the underdog, the little guy. By spending more to buy Country Hen eggs, you are supporting the small farmer. After all, it’s quite charming how proud they are of a used truck: “The truck has only 188,000 miles and is capable of transporting 24,000 pounds of our certified organic cuisine.”

This company could have ran a TV ad campaign with stock farm footage of dewy mornings and hay bales being loaded into trucks and a ruddy-voiced announcer reading lines like, “We’re working a little harder for you.”

That would be telling. It would be hype. I would argue, it wouldn’t have been as effective because it wouldn’t be real. It wouldn’t win over today’s skeptical customer.

Pamela Jesseau, Senior Director of Marketing, MECLABS, is the person who gave me this newsletter and suggested this blog post. She described it like this: “I spend twice as much money on these eggs because they tell me about their truck. I’m never going to buy another egg ever again as long as The Country Hen is on the shelf. I want to find out what is next. I feel like they are my hens, too.”

After reading the newsletter, I wanted to share some insights from The Country Hen with you to help improve your own content marketing. So I reached out to Kathy Moran, the signatory of the newsletter, to get some background and tips for you.

As with any marketing department we write about, they aren’t perfect by any means. They still have work to do on their digital side. But I thought it would be helpful to hear how they create content with a small team and limited budget. Her responses were so good and real, I didn’t even pick up my editing pen.

You are doing something right if your customers are talking to you — worry when they are not

MarketingSherpa: Why do you have in-carton newsletters? How did you get the idea to create them? How does the newsletter support your product’s value proposition?

 

Kathy Moran: The Country Hen is the original, organic omega-3 egg. Our founder, George Bass, started the company in 1988. The very first carton of eggs he sold contained a newsletter as did every carton after that. We do a lot of things a little different to produce what, we believe, is the world’s best egg.

Our hens roam freely through sunlit barns with windows down the entire length of both sides of the barns. They have outdoor access onto specially designed porches. They have 24-hour access to feed and water and have the ability to nest, perch, socialize, sunbathe, dustbathe, spread their wings, etc.

We mill our own feed at our farm in Hubbardston, Mass. We have a proprietary feed formula that gives our eggs their higher counts of omega-3s (DHA, EPA, ALA), lutein and zeaxanthin, choline and vitamin D.

We were also the first egg producer to insert a newsletter into the cartons. No doubt, this is a costly program: the cost of the inserts, the inserter machines are custom made, maintaining these machines, etc.

However, the benefits to our company greatly diminish any cost to run this program. The Country Hen receives almost as much feedback from customers regarding the newsletter as we do regarding our eggs.

 

MS: The one I saw was dated 2014. Do you have a regular newsletter? If so, how often do you publish and how do you decide what to write about?

 

KM: Our newsletter changes every four to six weeks. Any topic is fair game as long as it pertains to The Country Hen and will be of interest to our customers. Popular subjects include: egg nutrition, organic farming, humane farming practices, team members, customer letters, new buildings and/or farm equipment, organic legislation, changes to our carton, funny farm stories, etc.

 

MS: With content marketing, the challenge many companies and marketers face is resources. You seem like a small company from looking at your website. How do you have the resources to produce these? What process do you go through to write them?

 

KM: For many years, our founder, George Bass, wrote every newsletter. That job has been relinquished to another team member. However, topics and input are a team effort and part of the creative fun of the office staff.

Ultimately, the newsletter is signed off on by two members of the management team before going to print. We also have had the great fortune of working with a local printer, who is very talented and accommodating. He has produced the newsletter for us from the beginning.

 

MS: It looks like you do not have a blog or other digital content marketing and your Facebook page hasn’t been updated since 2013. Why have you focused on print for your content marketing?

 

KM: As you mentioned above, we are a very small business with limited staff. That being said, one of our short-term goals is to have a daily presence in various social media platforms.

 

MS: What results have you seen from the newsletters? How do you know you’re getting an ROI on them?

 

KM: The number-crunchers out there would like a hard number to quantify the success of a newsletter program. The Country Hen (TCH) only produces a premium organic egg from hens which are fed organic feed. We have to charge a premium price to offset the costs of producing eggs of this quality. We ship our product to many parts of the U.S. The price of organic feed, freight, etc., has skyrocketed over the past several years. We are constantly looking to reduce our costs to simply maintain our pricing structure or to minimize any and all price increases.

Probably the best way I can explain it is that we have NEVER contemplated changing (I am not even able to type the word eliminate) this program in order to save costs.

The only substantial marketing or advertising TCH has ever done has been this newsletter. The rest has been word of mouth from loyal consumers. We believe the newsletter gives our customers a connection to the farm. Whether a customer buys TCH in Hubbardston, Mass., or in California, they think of TCH as their local egg producer.

They are more knowledgeable about TCH and our eggs and feel confident recommending our eggs to their friends and family. They are also comfortable enough to contact us to tell us when they have a story to share, when they are concerned about quality, when they can no longer find our eggs at their favorite store, when they want to comment on the newsletter, etc.

We get A LOT of feedback and greatly appreciate all of it. We often feel like we have a sales force of thousands of loyal customers looking out for our best interest.

How can you go wrong with that? The hard number that the crunchers are looking for is simply: PRICELESS! You are doing something right if your customers are talking to you — worry when they are not.

 

MS: What other advice would you give marketers and companies that I’ve overlooked?

 

KM:

  1.  Use whatever means you can to get your customers talking to you and about you; social media, newsletters, etc.
  1. Please remember it does not help to do all of this if you don’t do the basics like answering the phone. Customers want someone to pick up the phone when they take the time to call. And yes, many still call.

TCH gets the majority of correspondence through emails, next is phone calls, and we still get a significant amount of mailed letters.

I think many companies and people would be surprised at the amount of  point of sale phone calls we take. Customers that are standing in the grocery store and have a question regarding our eggs or farming practices before they feel comfortable purchasing.  If we did not answer the phone, we would not have made these sales.

 

You might also like

Content Marketing: How Copyblogger used content and a free paywall to grow its email list by 400% [Full session from Email Summit 2014]

Ecommerce Research Chart: Customer feedback and ecommerce success [MarketingSherpa Research Chart of the Week]

Content Marketing: User-generated content tips from Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia [More from the blogs]

Copywriting: Do you take your prospects on a journey? [More from the blogs]

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Marketing



  1. August 25th, 2014 at 15:13 | #1

    Daniel,

    While this story was simple in comparison to others I’ve read here, it is so very profound. I serve clients who are very often commoditized in their business as well. In fact, many use that as the excuse not to engage in content marketing.

    I’m going to share this story and your article with them along with some a few continuations of my own on this theme in an upcoming article on my site as well.

    I would like to read more stories like this one. Thanks for bringing it to light!

  1. August 31st, 2014 at 15:47 | #1