Hello folks, thanks for joining us for this rural entrepreneurship video series. My name is Andy Larsen. I’m a farm finance consultant with the Food Finance Institute. We’re part of the Institute for Business and Entrepreneurship within the University of Wisconsin System. Thanks very much to my collaborators at University of Wisconsin Division of Extension for making this video series possible.
In this video, we’re going to talk about building a brand for a rural food or farm business. Branding is one of those things that is simple it’s just not easy. We’re going to scratch the surface of a whole lot of branding concepts today. So strap on your brand new boots and come along for the ride.
When I think of branding, logos and slogans are usually the first things to pop to mind like golden arches and mouse ears and stags leaping on green tractors. But a brand is so much more than a neat logo, and a company name and a particular typeface. Don’t get me wrong, those visuals are certainly essential. But a brand is made by the sum total of experiences that a person has with your business. It’s how they think, and feel and communicate about your business. It’s an identity. And there’s a lot more thought and work that goes into it than we may realize. So what I’m hoping to do with this video is help rural Food and Farm entrepreneurs recognize the full scope and importance of a brand. And also be able to use brand strategy to construct their brand identity, their value proposition and their market positioning.
Although there are whole academic and corporate schools of thought on how to go about building a brand, I’m going to try and distill it down to its most fundamental elements in order to fit it into a short video. And also the time that you probably have to devote to this.
Building a brand forces you to ask who am I? What do I do? Who are my customers? And what’s in it for them? And who are my competitors? How am I different? The big thing is how do I communicate all of these possible benefits to my chosen cross section of customers in order to positively shape their brand experience. So no matter how much branding jargon we dive into over the course of this video, recall that it’s these three simple questions that are forming the foundation of your brand.
The first big component of brand building is being able to carefully articulate your brand identity. The first and easiest part of articulating this is what am I selling since most people have started producing and selling before they’ve really gone into the depths of branding. When I talk about what you’re selling, I’m talking about the full suite of benefits that can be associated with whatever product or service you’re making available. Those benefits can be functional benefits that come along with a food like you know, nutrition or an article of clothing like fashion, or these can be emotional benefits like belonging or respect or status.
In addition to being a farm finance guy at a university, I’m also a poultry farmer with my family on the side. We’re going to use my poultry farm as an example for some of these branding exercises that we bring up in this video. So being a poultry farmer, the commodity that I produce is eggs, right? brown eggs. But it’s not just eggs.
What are the benefits associated with this? I produce free range brown eggs and a grass based production system. With happy hens and all the animal welfare standards. I am personally washing, grading, packing and delivering these eggs with my wife, to my restaurant and to my retail customers. We’re selling a relationship. Restaurants and retail stores want to be able to demonstrate that they have a commitment to local, and they have a commitment to sustainable farming and things like that. It’s really above and beyond just the commodity and all of those benefits that come along with it.
One of the things that we all bring to our entrepreneurial lives or business building lives or brand building lives is a value system sort of a center that we build the rest of our business in our lives upon. Not only are these values coming from our upbringing, or whatever other source that we have. It’s also a really important touch point for our customers to be able to relate to us and to relate to our business.
Values are one of those things that we’ve all gotten, but we don’t all have an easy time articulating them. For those of you like me who have a, you know, a little bit of fear of blank page syndrome, you can easily go online and look up lists of words about values. I went in, I found a list of 216, new values words, and I chose the top nine that appealed to me on first blush as I was going through the list, honesty, kindness, authenticity, warmth, dedication, balance, credibility, stewardship, and sustainability.
Now, in order to be an important part of our brand, things also have to be concise, and memorable. Narrowing these down to some of the most important ones is going to be an essential next step. When I went back through this list, I tried to think about the ones that would resonate the best with myself, my business partners and my customers in order to describe my brand. I landed on authenticity, credibility, and stewardship. I’m going to use those three words as sort of the center of the values description of my brand building for this exercise.
For those of you who have been students of entrepreneurship and business strategy for any period of time, you’ve run across these terms vision and mission before, even in this video series. Vision and mission may have felt squishy, but they’re really foundational things upon which to build a brand. You have to ask yourself in the future, how will the world be different or changed because of your business? And how does your business sort of become the vehicle to help you create that desired future?
For example, with my poultry business, there’s a few things that I would like the world to be changed by. I would like the folks in my region to have an appreciation for what great eggs tastes like either from memory of Grandma’s farm, or whatever, or from a first experience from ours. I’d like to be able to have more local chefs and store proprietors create relationships with local farmers. I’d like to have my kids go forth into the world looking back fondly upon their farm upbringing.
You’ve got your foundational values, and you’ve got your guiding image of success for the future. Now it’s time to start creating some of those very customer facing elements of your brand. The visual identity is usually something that, you know, gets brought up right away when thinking about brand building. We think about names, what is a name that is unique, what is representative of us, what can grow with our brand, but what’s also protectable and original, and not copying something else that’s already out there.
If you go out and do a web search for Larsen family farm, for example, you get approximately 1.1 million hits. You probably need to have something a little bit more specific. If you go to something down to like a ham and cheese farm, for example, then you kind of typecast yourself a little bit into having hogs and dairy and what if you want to diversify into poultry or beef or whatever. You’ve got to come up with that name that’s meaningful to you, you’ve got to come up with how you want to represent that name as far as typefaces and fonts. Usually you want to choose like three typefaces and what hierarchy they should be used in as part of your overall branding guide. If you hire a branding specialist, a branding guru, they’ll help you build your brand book, which will lay out some of these elements.
On the sort of non-word side, you’ve also got this logo that you want to create that’s associated with the wordmark of your brand. And logos can create sort of visceral emotional responses as well. If they’re sort of a geometric hard edged pattern that’s more of an indication of sort of, like respect and power. Whereas if they’re more curvilinear and organic, it’s more caring and fun and soft. So what kind of a logo shape do you want to have?
What colors do you want to have the colors create emotions as well? If you want to have colors that go well with your brand ID Identity, you can hop online and take a quiz about which color is your best fit for your brand. I did it, and I’ve chosen a couple of colors that felt like they would be a good fit sort of this bluish for the credibility component that won the credibility value that I chose earlier, green for the storage ship element for the natural world, and white for the pureness, simplicity, and authenticity that I like to convey with my brand.
The other thing that you gotta develop for your brand identity is sort of the voice and the tone and the personality that you use to communicate with your customers and potential customers. An easy exercise to use to sort of develop this voice and tone and personality is to sort of imagine your perfect spokesperson and how it is that they would look and how it is that they would speak. What it is that they would be talking about a spokesperson and whether you know real or created pretty immediately creates some emotional responses. For example, if I show a picture of this guy, versus a picture of this guy, you’re going to have a different conception of what that brand is trying to convey. If the guy on the left in the cowboy hat is my perfect spokesperson, you might think of my brand as a little bit more folksy or down to earth or an everyman, or you know, something like that, the guy on the right might be a little bit more urban might be a little bit more educated might be a little more classy or refined.
The perfect spokesperson, or at least the persona of the perfect spokesperson is going to create a lot of the elements you need around your voice, your tone and your personality, when you’re creating marketing messages and putting them out in the world.
We’ve spent some time thinking inwardly about who we are, who our brand is, what we’re all about, it’s time to start thinking more outwardly about our customers and how we create value for them. The first thing that people often do, pertaining to their customers is figuring out the sort of typical archetypes called customer segments that they’re usually selling to. These segments are usually described by three different terms: demographic, geographic, and psychographic.
Demographic is simply Who are they? age, race, ethnicity, gender, education, employment, family, makeup, socioeconomic status, all of those things are descriptors of demography. Geographic is pretty straightforward. It’s where are your customer segments? Is it within walking distance of a city center? Is it in rural villages and towns have populations of you know 10,000 or less? Many of my customers tend to be within about a 40 minute drive of a particular mid-sized Midwestern city.
Psychographic is one of those funny words that’s kind of trying to encapsulate what folks believe and what they value and how they act upon these beliefs and values. As an example, in our early days selling at the farmers market, we had two kinds of customer segments that we thought about when we’re preparing our market messages and our branding materials. One was sort of the young mom with the young family who’s into health wants to prepare healthy food for the family tends to be a little bit more urban, a little bit more socioeconomically advantaged. We would have this other slightly older, potentially retired woman who was more also a second socio economically advantaged, Earth focused, environment focused, wanted to eat well for our own health and longevity and for her families.
Now, both of these customers despite having different demographics, they all had some similar psychographics. They had the health of the people, the health of the animals and the health of the planet at the forefront of their mind. They really believe that naturally produced food from local farms tastes better, and is potentially better for me. They thought better ingredients make better meals and great meals tend to be worth the effort. This kind of defines two different customer segments that our farm would typically sell to.
When I asked my farm clients about their value proposition, many of them will talk about their origin story, how they’re a fifth generation family farm. They’ll tell me about their farming practices and how they’re good for the land and how they’re good for the livestock. I tried to shift this thinking just a little bit to make it more customer oriented. The “what’s in it for me” question is very important. We, as rural entrepreneurs, have to think about what’s in it for our customers, and what are the values that win the benefits that we’re creating for them.
One of the easy ways or at least organized ways to kind of describe your value proposition that is customer facing is to use the value proposition canvas. You may have heard of the lean business canvas, this is sort of a follow on to that, that uses the value proposition square in the customer segmentation square to kind of really lay out the jobs that your customer does. And jobs is a word that’s broadly construed.
Jobs could be, you know, nourishing myself and my family, it could be celebrating a special occasion at a restaurant, it could be, you know, creating a memory or creating a relationship, all those things are jobs broadly construed. You also got to think about the gains and the pains that those customers experience when trying to do those jobs. For example, using the egg farm, once again, one of the pains might be that they’ve only ever had, you know, conventional commodity eggs, and the eating experience hasn’t been noteworthy, it’s been bland, it’s been questionable.
And so one of the things that is our job to do is figure out how the products and services that we offer, as rural entrepreneurs can be gain creators and pain relievers. So if we’re able to provide a product or a service that eliminates a pain, or improves a gain, you know, if somebody wants to be able to celebrate better with a breakfast party, and you can be the egg purveyor of choice for really deviled eggs, or poached eggs or scrambled eggs that really sing. That’s a gain creator.
Aligning your products and services with the customers jobs, alleviating their pains, creating additional gains, that is one of the tools that you can use to more carefully articulate your value proposition as a business.
It’s time to shift our sights to that third question from the beginning of the video, and to move away from customers and to think more about competitors who’re out there in business with us and against us out there in the marketplace. Additionally, the competitors, I like to put substitutes out there as well. There are some business clients that I’ve encountered that say, oh, there’s no other product like me on the marketplace, I don’t have any competitors. Well, okay, what is your next best substitute, if you’re the only lamb producer in a particular township, and there’s nobody that’s close by your substitutes might be for other red meats, for example.
What I want you to do is think about the other competitors or substitutes that are out there in the market with you and reverse engineer this exact same exercise that we’ve been doing regarding our own brand. Think about these other organizations and businesses out there and think about their products and services. Think about the key marketing messages that they’re using in their advertising, promotions and other public awareness materials, describe their visual identity, their brand personality, the customers that they’re aiming for, and the value proposition, the benefits that they’re creating for those customers. By doing so, what you’re doing is articulating the niches that are already filled in the marketplace, and hopefully making apparent some of the niches that are available for your business to be able to occupy.
After going through this exercise, you should be able to articulate the key components of your competitors, value proposition and then how it is that you can differentiate your business to make you stand out in the crowd.
If you’re having trouble getting this idea down on paper of where you stand versus your competitors on the marketplace, one of the tools that you can use to more concisely articulate that is this differentiation matrix. Over there. On the left axis, you’ve got the different businesses that are out there on the marketplace. In this example, you will use my local egg farm. We’ll use another local egg farm, our regional good egg brand and a national commodity egg brand. And then along the top axis, we’ll talk about some of the different characteristics of our products and services that might create differences in the marketplace. Price point, quality volume available, whether they’re free range, whether they’re on grass, whether the feed is non-GMO, whether the animals are certified organic, and whether or not the customer actually gets to know their farmer.
What I encourage you to do is take some of these differentiating characteristics and figure out how you stack up to some of your competition, you can use a numerical scale, you can use a thumbs up, thumbs down, thumbs, middle kind of thing. I like to use arrows, the same thing as thumbs up, thumbs down, down, thumbs middle, or a 44 point Likert scale works well, too. What I’m thinking about my farm, I’m thinking about, okay, price, we’re about medium price, the other local egg farm, pretty high price, et cetera, quality, are we high, are we lower, are we middle. Volume, high, low middle, and so going ahead and filling out that matrix for each of these competitive characteristics for the other folks out there on the marketplace. What we make apparent is that we have good quality, we have that differentiator of being free range on grass, we have that differentiator of being able to have a relationship with your farmer.
We’re not certified organic, we’re not non-GMO. Hmm, maybe that’s a negative for the perception of the marketplace. However, we do have medium volume and can supply wholesale types of customers, we do have a medium price point. We’re not the most expensive on the marketplace. All of those things rolled together, go to us to show where you stand with the other businesses in your overall marketplace.
We know what we’re all about. We know who our customers are, we know who our competitors are. We’re ready to be able to articulate that market positioning. This is really the key intersection of values and value proposition that differentiates your brand on the overall marketplace. Basically, what you’re doing is distilling essential marketing messages that really hammer home the unique functional and emotional benefits that you can provide to your target customers. Eventually you’ll try to distill this into something short. Begin with a medium sized sentence or paragraph that really lays out all of those functional and emotional benefits that you can create.
Again, using the egg farmers as an example truly free range eggs from pastured poultry raised by local family farmers, uncommon quality, and sustainable price delivered from farm to table. Now, that’s not necessarily something that you use as a slogan during an ad campaign. It is something that is a centering statement, it would be easy for a team of folks who are coming up with marketing materials, social media posts, magazine, advertisements, whatever, to use that as a North Star when they’re trying to create the messages that they’re trying to drive home.
All of these big branding concepts have really still been to answer those three simple questions that we posed at the beginning of this video. Who am I and what am I all about? Who are my customers? What’s in it for them? Who are my competitors? How am I different? The takeaway points I want you to walk away with include remembering that values, vision, voice and visual identity, a bunch of V’s there, all shape the customer experience with your brand.
Value Proposition is really all about the functional and emotional wins that you can create for your customer by knowing who they are and knowing how the benefits that you provide match up to their desires. And last but not least, your marketing messages should consistently communicate your differentiation, your uniqueness from the competition and hammer those home at all times.
I hope you recognize now that a brand is much more than just a logo or a word mark. It’s a full on identity and customer facing experience that they have from interacting with your brand and your business. Spend a little time thinking about your brand and flushing it out in order to be able to consistently deliver the marketing messages that you would like to create.
If you want more information on developing a rural food or farm business, please do drop by the Extension Farm Management page. In addition to all the financial tools and templates, you can click on the business development link and peruse a whole section on beginning farm and enterprise development. Please do swing by Edible Alpha, which is where the Food Finance Institute keeps all of its archives of articles, podcasts and webinars on a whole slew of food and entrepreneurship topics.
Once again, thanks for joining us for this rural entrepreneurship video series. I’m Andy Larsen with the Food Finance Institute and the University of Wisconsin System. I look forward to seeing you again soon.