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"I want the family farm - the backbone of our country's heritage - to thrive and survive for future generations."

Articles/Press Releases

Take Control of Your Brand Before It Takes Control of You

By Jane Eckert

As published in the Fruit Grower News & Vegetable Grower News, September 2007

This past spring, I attended a state tourism conference and heard a powerful keynote address by Scott Deming. His view of the retail world seems very close to what I believe, so I purchased his book, The Brand Who Cried Wolf, to know more of his thoughts.

But let’s back up. Some of my readers raise cattle, so I want to make it clear that we are not talking about that kind of branding. Branding, in marketing terms, is the development of a positive identity that is unique to your business. Branding is about how you develop and nurture the best relationships with your customers in order to keep them loyal for life. Your name becomes associated with those favorable relationships, products, and even emotions that come to mind whenever your name is mentioned.

Want examples? How about: John Deere, Microsoft, Levi, Starbucks, or Best Buy. Each of these names has built a brand that we associate with their name. In the same way, you can begin to recognize that, as farm markets, we really don’t compete with each other because we all create our own business brand. Frankly, we create a brand whether it is intentional or not. So what we want to talk about is making that brand a positive one.

Scott’s book clearly tells us what branding is not. It’s not about paid advertising or how much you spend to promote your business. It’s not about marketing, promotions, a unique logo or publicity. Branding is your own personal style for creating unique experiences through your family and employees.

We often talk about our “unique farm experiences” in terms of the activities, the products and the special events that we offer. However, in reality, creating a talked about business brand, and one that builds loyal customers, comes down to how we build unique and positive relationships with them one customer at a time. This can only truly be done through every point of contact we have with our customers.

Please understand branding is not just for big companies. While the book gives some great examples of how large, recognizable businesses built their brands, you need to know that your farm is building brand recognition with you customers every single day.

The point is, you need to be aware of your brand, and mold it so that your customers talk about you in a positive way and tell others. You can either take an active role in building your brand, or just let it happen; either way, customers will talk about you and share their experiences.

Company’s coming—your customers—so don’t you want to put on your best manners, try to look your best, and make everybody feel at home? Branding has to do with you, your family members and your staff. Every person who comes in contact with your vendors and customers guides their thinking and desire to do business with you. This contact begins with the person who answers the phone, the accounts payable person, the folks parking cars, those taking admissions, and literally every person in your farm market. A happy, friendly tractor driver can make all the difference in the world to every customer on the wagon.

If you want to take a pro-active stance to build a farm brand that you are proud of, you need to look at every point of contact. You need to actively look at your business from your customer’s point of view. How can you make each customer interaction special and memorable? What can you say? How can you build such great connections with customers that they want to tell others how great it is to visit your farm and to do business with you?

Good brand recognition doesn’t come by happenstance. It occurs because management and staff have developed a code of sincere behavior for the different transactions that occur daily at your business, and all employees are coached to follow this method of service.

Start with a meeting with just one department – get the bakery staff together. Ask each of your staff, “What can we do to make our bakery different than everyone else’s?” “What can we do to enhance our relationships with our customers?” “How can we make this a fun place to shop?”

By getting all of your team onboard with an effort to build the best service possible, you will have gotten them hooked into the process and eager to perform. It’s certainly not by chance that the Southwest flight attendants like to have fun during their introductions and in-flight conversations. If you fly this airline, you will hear and see a difference in attitude. This approach came from the top, through their training, and has created a visible brand unique to Southwest airlines delivered personally by their employees. After all—an airplane is an airplane—and peanuts are peanuts. Southwest wanted to differentiate themselves from their competitors, and in the airline field, they clearly have done so.

I’m trying to learn more about branding, particularly as it relates to how we develop positive brands among our employees—so, in addition to reading, I’m also conducting a survey of farms to learn more about how you recruit, train and motivate your employees. Everyone who participates in the survey will be among the first to review the results with me. To participate, please go to my website, www.eckertagrimarketing.com, and in the right hand column, find “Click here for the Employee Survey.”

You might want to include The Brand Who Cried Wolf for your winter reading. I think it will help you can better understand how to make the process of creating a unique farm brand for your business. Your brand is going to happen. Why not make it a good one!

Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. She is also CEO of www.RuralBounty.com, a search directory for agritourism farms and ranches in North America. Jane can be reached at 314-862-6288 or you may email her directly.