Increasing your company’s brand reputation

A well-thought-out brand marketing campaign will help you grow and promote your brand.

By Andrew Joseph, Editor

A company is often only as good as how the customer or consumer perceives it to be.

It doesn’t even matter if the products or services have even been sampled—because, for the consumer, all that matters is whether what they have heard about the company, or that the new product is positive or negative.

Welcome to social media, aka the 21st-century version of word-of-mouth.

But for you, the retailer, word-of-mouth is probably not even close to being enough.

There are ways you can improve upon what the consumer hears—you may even say that you can control it—which you can do to a certain degree.

But it will take a bit of work, and if you aren’t willing to do that, then as you sow...

It’s the concept of brand marketing, which, if you Google it, has multiple opinions on just what it is. Let’s see if we can narrow it down.

For example, Amazon said, “Brand marketing is promoting a brand’s products or services in a way that elevates the brand as a whole.”

It sounds pretty straightforward, but it doesn’t explain anything.

The Amazon definition continues, however, stating that “it involves creating and maintaining brand-consumer relationships and marketing brand attributes—the traits that people think of when they picture a particular brand.”

That’s better. What does the farming community think of when they see you—XYZ Company?

Do they immediately think of a superior seed producer or a tractor dealer? They should, because that’s the ultimate goal of brand marketing. It is what will ensure brand loyalty.

But let’s look at things closely.

For one thing, branding and marketing are two completely different things.

Branding always comes first for a company—it shows consumers who your business is for (the dairy community or organic produce, for example).

It also tells the consumer what your company is about, such as whether you are a precision ag technology specialist.

Marketing? That’s how you build awareness of your brand.

So, marketing has nothing to do with branding, but branding has something to do with marketing.

Now that you know the difference, we can tell you that there are different types of brand marketing, though the end goal is always the same.

Because it’s always good to have the experts involved, cutting-edge AI software company ONPASSIVE (www.onpassive.com) said that the top five most common types of brand marketing are:

  1. Product Branding;
  2. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Branding;
  3. Enterprise Branding;
  4. Public relations (PR) Branding, and;
  5. Social Media Marketing.

As an agricultural retailer or manufacturer, you may focus on any one or all of the above, but plain old brand marketing trumps them all because it focuses on all of them.

But, like we first alluded to, there’s no quick and dirty fix. It will take time and commitment because brand marketing is a long game. And though it takes time to unravel, it works.

How to do brand marketing

Brand marketing involves growing a base of loyal customers by communicating and growing your brand’s identity and values.

That means letting people know all about you, your shop, and, of course, your products—but it also means taking things further to ensure you gain repeat customers and more sales.

For example, regarding tractors, North American farmers know all about Case IH, John Deere, Kubota, Massey Ferguson, and New Holland (and others, of course).

But what about those people who don’t plant fields of corn or soybeans? What about the urbanite? Massey Ferguson may ring a bell among an older crowd, but everyone—in ag or outside of it—knows about John Deere.

This isn’t to put any of those brands down. It’s to point out that John Deere has developed brand recognition even outside the ag industry and into the urban schoolground.

But outside of knowing that “Nothing runs like a Deere”, we would be hard-pressed to find the average person knowing that the company makes anything more than “tractors.”

In other words, while the company is certainly thriving and far-reaching, John Deere’s brand marketing still has a limit to its reach.

But we didn’t mean to demean any of the other companies. We are sure that Deere, Case IH, Kubota, Massey Ferguson, and New Holland et al., are well-known and well-respected by a large swathe of the ag population, who provide each with repeat business purchasing their noteworthy brands.

Number One

The first step a company must take to succeed is to determine what the company is, to whom you wish to serve, and how you wish to serve them.

Let’s suppose you have a grain storage facility or a brick-and-mortar shop in Anytown, Canada, or Smalltown, US. In that case, you need to determine if your goal is to service that area, a larger portion of the province, the entire provincial area (the Maritimes, for example), or all of Canada, which may include international business.

If your business is online only, which of those above-noted areas will you serve? Do you have restrictions—such as not selling fertilizer to such countries? It’s okay. We’ve seen such restrictions placed on the online auction site eBay. It’s the seller’s prerogative, but hopefully that’s as far as it should go.

Or perhaps your Anytown brick-and-mortar shop is the centrepiece of your ag retail empire. That initial building could be your high-end showcase, where people will want to travel to a place to see and test-drive something they might not otherwise get a chance to do elsewhere. While the point here is to create a customer destination that is the place to be, it can also have an online sales presence to widen your customer service area of attention or to service those unable to travel to your destination shop.

Whichever way you choose to do it, it boils down to the services you care to provide—and how you will give them.

The How

Now that you know who you are, what you are selling, and to whom, how do you tell people you exist to serve them?

Word-of-mouth is great.

But for people under the age of 30—and a more tech-savvy person over 30—social media is considered the “how.”

From the www.outbrain.com website, we found some questions the ag retailer needs to ask and answer for itself.

  • What are your core principles and values?
  • What is your mission statement?
  • What inspired you to build your business?
  • Why do you want to offer your products or services to your target audience?
  • What makes you unique?
  • What is your internal company culture?
  • What is your professional sense of style?
  • What are your communication characteristics?
  • What do you want people to consider when they hear your business name?
  • How do you want people to feel when they think of your business?
  • How do you want customers to describe you as a company?

For some ag retailers opting to specialize in a brand, we could include: “Why do you want to offer your products or services to your target audience?”

This is not a CEO/COO/HR exercise, and it isn’t a one-person job. Even if you are the company founder and head mucky-muck and think you have all of the answers to your company’s direction—you may, and may not—how do you know your answers are correct and not just your opinion?

As hopefully everyone knows, everyone’s opinion is always 100 percent correct because it’s their opinion, but that doesn’t mean they are all correct morally or even factually. It’s just an opinion, and one’s opinion is always correct.

While you may run your business with a “my shop, my rules” methodology, when it comes to brand marketing, it’s a good idea to step back and involve as many people as possible—that you trust—to help you answer the questions above, obviously with a bit of rewording to suit your business.

Take a gander at those above questions—uniqueness? What does that mean?

Uniqueness is what separates you from another company that sells seeds and fertilizers. You may specialize in a particular brand and provide free advice from a real agronomist you pay for.

Maybe your shop sells hip clothing rather than only plaid—unless plaid is hip in 2024—and only if “hip” is “hip.”

Do you decorate the front of your shop so it’s colourful, or do your customers prefer your shop to be “less exciting” or “staid” while offering excellent service? Style over substance, or substance over style? What type of company are you when it comes to communication? Do you shun social media in favour of shaking hands with everyone who comes through your door?

What are your communication characteristics? Do you use social media properly, or prefer to print out flyers? Someone must, because there’s certainly a lot of advertising mail delivered weekly to homes.

Like it or not, social media needs to be employed—and not just to see funny cat and dog memes. It would be best to use a few social media apps you are already comfortable with, or, you can try them all because you are daring.

Perhaps you can start a blog about what’s going on in your company.

Your website… Is it just a website, or an up-to-date place that shows off this week’s specials?

Consider how you want to be treated when you visit another company’s website. If you are looking for a new pair of work boots, do you want to see an outdated sale for boots no longer offered? No! You want to utilize an up-to-date website that won’t waste your time.

When a consumer hears your business name, you want them to think that you “are their go-to place for X-widgets, because I get great service and a better price. And the company listens to what I need and suggests options.”

Sometimes, your company has been earmarked for success because it was a pioneer—such as eBay or PayPal. Then again, we’ve also seen many social media sites come and go as people seem to like the hot new thing—Myspace was the most prominent social media site until Facebook came and sent it to the scrap heap of ignominy.

What’s Your Strategy?

In order to do what you want, you must create a business strategy.

And, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it and making lots of money.

There is no one way to do things in a business—even if you sell the same product because you and your competitor do so from different locations. If you are across the street from one another, why?

Regardless, you need to create a strategy that works best for the unique entity that you are.

We need to figure out what your brand story is. Stop the eye-rolling. This is advice on how to take things to the next level, and that means stepping outside of your staid comfort box.

To figure out your brand story, we looked at www.coursera.org and noted that people will respond emotionally to a well-crafted story—and that a good brand story will make your marketing more effective.

Your brand story does not have to be long-winded. It could be something as simple as “Ag Retail Shop X always has what you need” or maybe more esoteric: “Ag Retail Shop X makes magic a reality.”

Whatever. The brand story is something that can be discussed in a few seconds, expanded on a webpage, or used as a tagline on a social media profile.

A great example is from Campbell Soup. When it introduced its new Chicken Soup back in the 1930s, it turned the phrase MMM MMM GOOD! A hit with consumers, the company quickly made it their official slogan. Or, as Coca-Cola did, It’s the Real Thing!

What’s your brand story?

Application Made Easy

Suppose you are a rock-crushing company with a brand story that is copyrighted as “I wanna rock.”

How do you tell people about yourself?

Know your audience.

Sometimes social media isn’t for your crowd. Perhaps your audience prefers to hear from your company through door-to-door mail marketing. Two examples are having either the post office or a willing family member deliver it.

Or your audience may prefer to hear about it as an ad on TV, the radio, or in an excellent magazine like the CAAR Communicator.

You could pick a single method and roll with it, but the best advice we can provide is to market via multiple channels, especially when considering so-called social media.

But which social media platform? There are plenty to choose from, and you may not be familiar with all of them. So, choose the ones you are most comfortable with.

And then, because it’s not supposed to be easy, choose a social media platform where you believe your audience is most active.

Though Facebook/Meta was once the social media site, its audience is older. And if that older audience is whom you wish to market to, have at it. But sometimes younger people have money and farms, too.

Younger consumers—regardless of whether they are involved in ag or not—are more likely to use TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube.

But lest we slag Facebook for being “old,” some 2.9 billion monthly engagements occur on the site—more than any other social media app.

The website www.blog.hootsuite.com noted that in 2022, 18.2 percent of US adults made a purchase via Facebook, and 66 percent of its users visited a local business page at least once a week.

Some other social media apps to consider becoming involved with are: WhatsApp; Facebook Messenger; WeChat; X (Twitter); Snapchat; Pinterest; and LinkedIn—and because it works, one social media site—Hootsuite—to manage all your social media apps. Your writer has used it effectively.

You need to know exactly who your audience is and plan accordingly.

“Farmers” seems to be a straightforward enough of answer. But does your operation sell fertilizer? Does it sell tractors, combines, or both? Does it sell specifically to grain, root, fruit, or pulse farmers? Vineyards? Milk, beef, pork, mutton, or tur-duck-hen? You know what we mean. Do you sell herbicides and pesticides, and for whom?

Do you need to market to an older, more experienced customer, or cater to a younger, more social media-engaged farmer?

With all of those sites mentioned a few paragraphs earlier, you can engage in paid marketing campaigns, or post and host stuff on each of those sites for free.

As part of the ag industry, we know that margins can be razor thin, and while the initial thought may be that you cannot afford to “waste” money on a paid campaign, sometimes you can’t afford not to spend money to make money.

Using eBay as a non-linear example, if you are selling a product on that site, you hope that people will search for and see your product as one they want.

However, eBay also allows sellers the opportunity to promote their product on the site for the entire time it is up for sale. This writer has seen upwards of 40 percent more viewers interested in similar products at least take a look at what he has had up for sale, and sometimes that interest is further piqued into a bid or a purchase.

While there’s a pretty good chance you won’t be using that site for your purchases, we have seen companies try and sell mechanical products this way.

However, the point we are trying to drill home is that even spending a few extra dollars on a promoted product on a social media site will garner additional consumer views on what you are selling. While it may not always lead to a sale, it provides you with a better chance of one.

Now What?

When it comes to brand marketing, sometimes half the battle can be ensuring that the marketing campaign is being “liked’ enough by customers to want to learn more about the product and who will then ultimately purchase the product.

If you as a retailer offer excellent customer service, and by that we mean: website accessibility and ease of use, on-time delivery of the product without damage, having staff instore offering excellent knowledge and expedient help, dressing in attire entirely pleasing to consumers (no one in the Winnipeg or Calgary shop is wearing a hated Leafs jersey, for example), or how the shop is set up (no one needs to step over anything to get down an aisle), and like what products you have to sell and the price you offer them at—well, you can be sure you have become that customer’s only place to shop for ag-related items.

From all of the above, it is highly evident that brand marketing doesn’t end with an ad placed in a magazine, on the radio or TV, or a social media site.

You must consistently meet multiple layers of customer satisfaction. This is done until the customer has the ag product in hand and seeks you out later for return business.

And it doesn’t even end there.

You may have talked to the customer about how they should use the product they are buying, but did you take the time to give them physical instructions or send them a link to some online instructions?

People may say that they understand everything you have told them—but how about you and your company going the extra mile or kilometre and ensuring there’s no misunderstanding?

And here’s a bit of brand marketing that works both ways—for you and the customer. For small, low-level sales items that a customer may have spent a few bucks on—rather than having them pay in money, ask if they would instead save the money or save half-price or whatever percentage makes sense—and write an online review for your business on Yelp, for example.

To ensure it gets done, they should spend five minutes and do so in front of you or your sales staff—and everyone is happy. You get a positive online review, and the customer saves some money and gets the product they want or need.

Reviews are required in today’s retail experience.

For example, would you not take advantage of an appliance store’s online reviews for a particular product if you needed to purchase a new stove for your house? You should! If you aren’t reviewing reviews to get the skinny on the product, you aren’t doing your due diligence.

Other customers do the same at your ag retail shop, so you should, too.

Before the advent of digital social media, a customer would discuss your shop, its staff, and your products via word of mouth or would simply have stopped their patronage.

Word of mouth via social media can easily make or break a company—even for a company that doesn’t use social media.

That one’s easy—even if you and your shop aren’t social media savvy and are not online, your customer base probably is. They might go online and discuss all the positives or all the negatives of your business, and you might never know or understand why your sales have dropped off.

The next step is up to you, the retailer—you must become physically involved.

As a retail shop owner, you can undertake brand marketing yourself, but it still takes a lot of work and requires multiple skill sets, such as being well-versed in multiple social media platforms or being able to create a succinct business message.

It can be a daunting undertaking.

If you aren’t sure how to go about doing anything mentioned here, you should first see if anyone on your staff has the necessary skills. Failing that, seek third-party advice and help. But even then, do your due diligence.

Many companies specialize in brand marketing, and while they might be very good at their job of creating a brand marketing campaign for you, it will cost money.

The companies will also ask many questions to create that brand marketing strategy. Still, aside from rewording, the questions will be similar to what has been presented in this article.

Regardless of which way the wind blows on how your campaign is formulated, it behooves you to look at the questions here and contemplate the answers to them.

Having answers to those questions about your business core will help you create a more profitable agricultural business retail shop in both the short- and long-run.

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