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Marketing made simple

Agriculture.com Staff 01/27/2006 @ 12:33pm

About a year and a half ago, a Web site called MarketMaker (www.marketmaker.uiuc.edu) was launched. It's been providing a one-stop shop for strategic marketing information for producers and food retailers ever since.

The Web site is a collaborative effort of the University of Illinois Extension, the Initiative for the Development of Entrepreneurship in Agriculture, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research.

MarketMaker allows users to query demographic and business data. Then, it summarizes the details on a map to show concentrations of consumer markets and strategic business partners. In short, the site will literally draw you a map to consumers and the processors and retailers you need to reach them.

"Our ultimate goal is to make the formation of marketing enterprises more efficient," says Darlene Knipe, project manager of MarketMaker. The site is doing just that by working with seven different states to develop or expand upon existing programs to make this marketing concept available to more producers, retailers, and other users.

Partners in this development process envision the cultivation of a regional or even a nationwide database. This would enable MarketMaker users to break through geographic barriers to find marketing connections.

There is no charge for producers or retailers to enroll. The program is currently developing a more targeted consumer and retailer outreach by raising awareness of retailers to source farms or locally grown products directly.

The site has proven to be successful for many producer-users, including Ed and Allison McEwen, who raise cattle and sheep near Peoria, Illinois. Although Ed is concentrating on local customers, including a grocery store and several restaurants, he was able to use MarketMaker to identify ethnic restaurants in the Chicago area.

Allison hopes to continue pursuing the Chicago market to make it a viable part of their enterprise. "It's a good program," says Ed. "It definitely helps facilitate developing a direct marketing program."

Another satisfied user of MarketMaker is Illinois Crown Beef, an organization of eight Illinois growers who produce high-quality corn-fed beef. Their targets are area grocers and supermarkets that serve more upscale, affluent consumers.

"When we attend a food retailer association's trade show, we want to make the most efficient use of our time and money," says Jeanne Harland, a representative of the organization. "We've used the MarketMaker program to identify potential buyers before we go to the show."

"MarketMaker will actually list the supermarkets and grocery stores in a specific area, including address and contact information. We'll use that list for preshow mailings to those potential buyers, asking them to stop by our booth for samples," says Harland. "We already know who we're talking to when they show up with that letter."

Although MarketMaker has the hallmark of an excellent tool, it is not a panacea for direct marketers. In fact, both Ed McEwen and Harland emphasize that this program definitely makes identifying markets and contacts much easier, but relationships must still be developed and maintained.

You must be willing to spend the time and money to develop and secure any markets you may find. "There's definitely a benefit down the road," says Ed. "It just takes time."

About a year and a half ago, a Web site called MarketMaker (www.marketmaker.uiuc.edu) was launched. It's been providing a one-stop shop for strategic marketing information for producers and food retailers ever since.

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