When Kiama dairy farmer Kel Grey gets up at the crack of dawn to milk his herd of cows, what he’ll post on Instagram that day isn’t always on his mind. But because he’s decided to make a big move from bottling milk to making cheese to sell directly to consumers, he knows it needs to be.
“The admin and social media has been a struggle. Up until last year, my wife did almost all of it, and then she fell pregnant so the responsibility is on my shoulders again for a little while,” he says with a grin that suggests he’s feeling the weight.
“Can’t say I’ve been very good with it lately. It is important to our business, so I think I’ll have to be putting in a little more effort.”
But putting that effort in isn’t always easy. It means Kel needs to embrace a new set of skills, and has one more thing on his mind as he’s going through the day-to-day on 150 acres of Kiama countryside.
According to a 2018 report by Sensis*, almost eight in 10 Australians now use social media. It’s a number that’s growing year on year. And almost a quarter of Australians use social media to follow brands or businesses online. That’s a market share Kel can’t afford to ignore.
This is one of the big reasons he entered RedZed’s Meet the Master competition. He wanted to learn from a mentor who’s embraced branding, marketing, social media and new ways of selling produce. Someone who has seen the success getting out of the dairy can bring.
“Your storytelling of what you do is a really important part of your product, your brand. And you’ve got to find the things that are exciting about what you do differently,” his chosen master Jonny Crickmore says.
“The power of social media for us was on Instagram, I think. We posted a picture of some heart-shaped Valentine’s Day cheeses, and we sold all of them just through putting that picture on Instagram. We made 800. Probably could have sold two or three thousand in the end.”
But Jonny’s expertise didn’t just crop up overnight. The boy from Beccles in the UK was lucky enough to get a crash course in marketing his business, early on in the piece.
“I think it probably goes back to when we first started looking into cheese making. We’ve got a friend who’s big into marketing in London, and he heard on the grapevine that we were looking into making cheese,” Jonny explains
“We sat down together and he said ‘this is the kind of thing you need to be looking at’. And we just got a feel of other successful dairy products, what was out there in the UK and abroad.”
Fen Farm’s branding has proved successful, but Johnny has a massive role to play. He’s the one who takes centre stage when it comes to the farm’s broader public image – and he’s been profiled by podcasts, newspapers and TV in the UK and abroad.
When you see him speak, it’s obvious he’s pretty comfortable in the spotlight. But he’s upfront that this is by necessity, rather than design.
“I don’t particularly want to have my picture on a bloody cheese box. But people are buying a product which has come from a family farm, and they want to support the family,” he says.
“They want to see the person behind that product. Your passion comes through and people want to support that.”
Seeing how Jonny does things has got Kel thinking about how he pushes his product back home.
“I didn’t have any idea about how emotionally-attached the consumer would become to our produce. I thought we’d just be making a nice product, putting it on a shelf and hoping that people will buy it,” he muses.
During their time together, Jonny made sure Kel knew just how important it is to research what sort of packaging is available in Australia, to explore the sales avenues he’ll use to sell the product, and to find out who can help him create a brand. Kel’s very aware his customers need to get a feel of who he is when they pick up his product.
“I know I can do it, but I need to be more aware of the sales pitch. I’m going to have to think about the packaging and the customer’s experience,” he reflects.
“I don’t like being the centre of attention, I never have. But for the sake of the business, for the whole operation, it’s just something I have to do. And you only get better at something if you keep practicing.”
*2018 Yellow Digital Report (https://www.sensis.com.au/about/our-reports/sensis-social-media-report)
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