It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that marketing is all about your organization. But branding and sharing what you stand for has to go beyond just telling customers what to think about you. It’s about making a meaningful connection with your target audience.

The goal of branding and sharing your organization’s story, at its most basic, is expressing how you want your company as a whole to be viewed by the people in your target markets. And if you’re going to communicate with those markets, you have to know a little something about them—who they are and what makes them tick.

For many food and agricultural businesses, the challenge is shifting what customers already believe about your company to what you want them to believe. Making that shift requires an in-depth understanding of how they already view the organization.

According to Scott Downey, associate director of Purdue’s Center for Food and Agricultural Business, it starts with analysis.

There are endless ways to analyze a brand, but a starting place Downey recommended is an exercise known as brand personification. If your brand were a person, what would he or she be like?

For this exercise to be beneficial, you have to be as detailed as possible. Start by asking yourself a variety of questions, including:

– Is your organization male or female?
– Tall, short or average?
– What does he or she wear?
– How does he or she act?
– What does she drive?
– What are his hobbies?

Keep in mind that brand characteristics can move from practical to emotional.

Emotional connection

Sometimes, brands are identified by products or products by a brand. An example would be a brand built on quality. Downey said that while it is helpful for customers to see your products and services as high quality, it’s more important from a branding standpoint to connect with them emotionally.

“What if your customers saw your products as responsible for their success?” he said. “Emotional connections to your brand are the strongest connections. It’s about your customers being able to say, ‘That brand gets me.'”

As an example, Downey cited Dodge’s Ram trucks 2013 Super Bowl commercial featuring Paul Harvey’s iconic address, “So God Made a Farmer.”

Consistent messaging

A vitally important part of shaping perceptions is being consistent. According to Downey, a customer’s experience with your brand has to match what you are saying about the brand.

“If your company claims quality, but your salespeople only talk about deals, or if you are selling lower quality items, that isn’t consistent,” he said. “If you claim quality, but your employees don’t act like they care about the customers, that’s also not consistent.”

Remember that ever brand has implied promises associated with it. If you claim to be a partner in business, for example, how do you respond to customer complaints?

You have to be very careful to know how customers do and should interpret your organization’s claims. Say a seed company brands itself on quality. What exactly does that mean? Is it related to yields? Germination rates? Something else?

Each and every branding decision has to be evaluated on the basis of organizational goals and target audience perception, Downey said. What is your goal? Are you trying to inform, persuade or remind the audience?

Your goal should be to inform if your target market doesn’t know you. If they know you, but don’t know what differentiates you from the competition, your goal has to be to persuade them. For a target market that knows you and knows how you are different, your goal is to inform them.

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