Consumers are buying, cooking and eating differently than they were before the pandemic.

More people, especially younger consumers, are buying food online. They are eating more meals at home and looking for ways to add variety to their home-cooked dishes.

Those trends make a specialty grower’s brand vital to aim for markets, draw in customers and raise recognition of products and services.

Natalie Kenny Marquez, president of the Illinois Farmers Market Association and owner of Grow Marketing and Communications, recommended growers “audit” their business’ brand to determine how it is performing in the market and against competitors.

To focus on key components, Marquez used the acronym SWOT, which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. “Think of this from a marketing perspective,” she said.

Start by considering how each component applies to your business and then jot it down. Examples of strength could include an innovative product or service, a location that’s convenient for customers, or a reputation as a trusted business known for high quality.

Marquez advised growers to consider each component and write down their business’ weaknesses, opportunities and threats. She encouraged growers to share their assessments with their business team and get their input.

Through surveys, customers can provide another perspective on the business. Surveys may be traditional questions on paper or as simple as asking customers at the market a couple of questions or posting a question on Twitter.

Marquez offered several examples of questions: How did you hear about us? How would you describe our products to a friend? When you think of our business, what comes to mind?

“As you get feedback, I hope it helps you get information you can use,” she added.

Given consumers’ increased use of and reliance on online information, Marquez recommended paying particular attention to business websites and social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. She advised using different strategies on a business website and different social media platforms that are frequented by diverse age groups.

“Make sure you have an image on each platform,” Marquez said. A cover photo should reflect the current season or products, not several months ago.

One way to assess a business’ online presence is to learn what someone would find by searching for your brand on search engines. Evaluate if your website is easy to navigate. Check to see if posted links are being opened.

Ensure your business is well represented online through your information. Marquez recommended writing a short business description of three sentences or less or reviewing the current one. That information may help a customer find your business or product by using a search engine.

Mission statements are another avenue to inform customers and potential ones about your business and values. Marquez pointed out responses from customer surveys may provide information that could be incorporated.

Using a tagline is another option to include information with a business name. “If a business name is not very descriptive, you need a tagline to explain what it is,” she noted.

Marquez reminded growers that they need to carefully consider a business logo. The design, color and typography should accurately reflect the business. While a logo needs to be consistent, Marquez said it is important to develop both horizontal and vertical versions for different uses and needs. For example, a vertical logo used in a horizontal space on an advertising signature page would leave a lot of unused space.

Marquez encouraged growers to pinpoint their goals for auditing their business brand. “Be specific about what you want to accomplish, set goals and set deadlines,” she said.

“The pandemic has changed the ways customers shop,” Marquez continued. “It certainly has changed our business planning. This is a great time for a brand audit.”

The March 23-24 Live Local Conference will offer workshops on marketing and communication about local food. The conference is organized by Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Farmers Market Association and will be in the Embassy Suites in East Peoria. For information, visit ilfb.org/get-involved/events/live-local-conference.