What Working at a Local Farmers Market Taught Me About Marketing

There I was, a first-year college student working at my local farmers market. The school I went to hosted this event every Saturday morning at 7 am, so I got up most Saturdays at 5:45 am to catch the bus to campus at 6:30 am.

One of the first things I would do when getting there would be to help set up the booth. We would put up all the signs and pour the freshly brewed samples of tea into cups. We were one booth among many others selling things ranging from hot fried green tomatoes to fresh produce. You might be thinking, “what does this have to do with marketing?” Well, let me give some more backstory.

At this time, I had been living in Hawaii, a place well known for their tourist traffic. The majority of the tourists came from Japan. This was partly due to the proximity and history between these two places.

One of the main reasons for the amount of Japanese tourists is the perception they have of Hawaii. Along with most people, people in Japan see Hawaii as an opportunity for a tropical getaway, and they just so happen to be neighbors with this place.

The impact of the Japanese tourist population could be seen everywhere on the island, from store signs being written in Japanese, to the various Japanese dishes most restaurants offered.

Among the many different tourist attractions, one of them happened to be the very farmers market I worked at. I’m sure you can imagine how big a crowd this meant. Most days you couldn’t even see past the sea of people trying to get a taste of local and authentic Hawaii.

The farmers market was seen as a way to experience the local culture. With everything being advertised as “made in Hawaii,” tourists came in from every direction to be a part of this. My bosses that owned the booth knew how to use this to their advantage. And that is where my eyes were opened up to the world of marketing.

Our booth was at the very front of the entrance, which meant instant visibility. My bosses knew this wasn’t enough, so along with handing out samples, we would also announce our products in English and Japanese. They knew this tactic meant we would reach a larger portion of the audience..

My bosses took into account that a huge part of their target audience probably didn’t speak English. So they hired me! I speak Japanese, and this made our products more accessible and approachable for the customers.

Part of the onboarding process was to learn about the different teas we sold and the benefits of each, in both English and Japanese. A few of our teas were also native to Hawaii, which we made sure to advertise to customers.

This meant that every time a potential customer came and grabbed a sample, we could start a conversation and explain our products. Whether or not they spoke English, we were able to reach them because of our knowledge in Japanese.

The owners of the booth knew exactly what they were selling: a piece of paradise that the customers could take home, and they advertised it as such.

When you come home from a vacation, you need a souvenir or trinket to remind you of that tropical getaway. That’s what every pouch of tea we sold did for the customers. They were able to take this home, and every time they took a sip, they were reminded of all the great memories they made while in paradise.

Christopher Lochhead paraphrased it perfectly in one of his Follow Your Different podcasts by saying: “The product is actually the perception of the product, and the actual product is part of creating the perceptions.”

In summary, it wasn’t enough for us to just say what our products were in English. We had to be able to tell a story of how those products benefitted their lives and in a language our customers could understand! We painted a picture of how our products improved their lives and sold them not just our products but this story.