LONDON, Ohio – “Are you a Chevy or Ford or Dodge guy?” Eric Barrett asked.
Case or John Deere? Pioneer or Seed Consultants? Bounty or Brawny?
Handfuls of people perched on bales of straw last week at the Farm Science Review’s Small Farm Center started to chatter, knowing their answers to those simple questions made one giant point: Branding works.
“Each of those [brands] means something to each of you. Brand does mean something,” said Barrett, an Extension educator from Washington County, Ohio.
From the farm. Branding also plays a major role in selling meats and produce off the farm, Barrett said.
“Meat goats, shrimp, honey or sweet corn – I don’t care what your product is. If you build a brand, customers will come back all the time to buy your product.”
Part of building a brand is providing a consistent product, so consumers can predict what they’re getting. Barrett compared it to McDonald’s french fries or cheeseburgers – they’re always the same, no matter whether you buy them in Ohio or California.
That same mindset should carry over to farm produce, he said: As much as it can be controlled, sweet corn should always be worm-free and the taste should be the same. Pints of berries should always be mold-free, and every berry should be at perfect ripeness.
That’s the part of building a brand that creates your own identity, and tells consumers how your product is different from the one beside it, Barrett said.
Without knowing how your product is better – taste, the way it’s grown, your family story – a consumer will almost always reach for the less expensive product.
“Branding is about high quality and never apologizing for high prices,” Barrett said. “There’s nothing wrong with making a little bit of money for good work.”
Agri-tainment. Branding is also popular in the world of agri-tainment, Barrett said, noting the consumer’s purchasing decisions are often all about the experience. And that experience is worth a premium, whether it’s due to the sweetness of your berries or the way you display them at your farm market.
Consumers are fickle, he said. Research shows produce peddled from the back of the truck in town at the farmers’ market sells better from $5 wood apple crates than from $1 plastic ones. If nothing else, it’s attributed to the idea that the more rustic crates look ‘farm-y’ and give you an added boost of authenticity.
Image. Surprisingly, consumers also care what your farm looks like, too, Barrett said.
Do farm buildings match? Is the grass trimmed neatly? Or is there junk farm equipment in full view and weeds taking over the flower beds?
“It really matters what your place looks like. It’s part of your brand,” Barrett said, noting his own family farm in Washington County keeps red barns with white roofs and cupolas as part of its brand.
“It’s all about the image.” he said.
Logo. Another part of branding is creating a logo, and making sure it’s used consistently and correctly, Barrett said.
He said community colleges and technical schools are great places to start in creating a logo, since students there are often willing to help out for a low cost, and can bring fresh ideas to the table.
A logo should help consumers figure out your farm’s identity and values, but should be simple enough to be memorable and recognizable, he said.
And, in every case, be sure your logo is used correctly every time: the correct typesize and font, colors and wording, he said.
Nailing it down. One of the biggest steps a farm should take in creating a brand is asking owners, operators and current customers about their views of the operation.
“What are [consumers] really buying, corn or the locally-grown idea?” Barrett asks.
“They’re tough questions for you. What’s wow about your farm? That’s what your brand should say.”
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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