If you own a nursery, garden center or landscape business, you are in the branding business. The real question is “Are you creating a valuable brand and are your leveraging its value?”
Brands have been in existence for a long as people have put up store signs. The word “brand” was derived from “brandr,” an ancient Norse word meaning “to burn” or more specifically it referred to a burning a piece of wood or torch. Eventually the word “brand” came to mean a piece of burning piece of wood used as a tool, specifically a torch. And still later a brand came to mean a mark of ownership burned into cattle or to a box of wine or other goods.
Today, we often think of brands as logo or maker’s mark. The American Marketing Association defines a brand or branding like this, “A brand is a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.” But branding has evolved to mean so much more than a logo or trademark, and it is a mistake to think that putting a logo on a company or product is branding. This is just one part of the process. Just like a torch gives light, a good brand sheds light on who you are and what your business stands for in a dark, crowded marketplace. Branding is not advertising. It is not marketing. Rather, it is the strategy that underlies your marketing. It is not a push, but rather a pull. It is the truth or value of a company, product, or service as it exists in the mind of the consumer.
To get customers: Choosing and buying plants is not easy for consumers or for professionals. It confusing to know what is a good plant or a not so good of a plant. Good brands, that stand for something, make it easier for people to choose. It gives the customer confidence they are making a good buying decision. Each day people make choices about products and companies and they often have very little information to go on. Why should I do business with your nursery? Why should I buy one plant over another? Branding answers these questions.
To get repeat business: If a customer has good results with your brand they are very likely to buy it a second time. The branding and packaging makes it easy to remember your business or product, and they will buy again unless you give them a reason to go elsewhere. Good brands create loyalty and some even create
To maintain high prices, good margins: Good brands have value. They are a perceived as emotional monopoly. Think about the value of Coca-Cola or Levi’s, it is the name and the reputation that goes with the name that people value. This is why people sell knock offs of famous brands, the trademark signals value and allows an increase in price. If and when you ever sell your company, the goodwill of the company name can have more value than your inventory or customer list. Take care of your brand because good brands create value.
To fend off competition: Generally speaking, people do not like change. We are loyal if served well, so an established, valuable brand keeps your customers in your camp. If people have a clear idea what you stand for, and if they value what you stand for, they are less likely to leave you for another company or product, even if those companies or products are better. A strong brand is like a wedding ring that reminds us that we are married, it helps us to stay faithful even while being seduced by another business.
You need to differentiate your brand in a way that makes it different, in a lasting way, from other brands. As a grower, retailer or landscaper, we need to help people make the best buying decision. Ask yourself, “Why should someone choose to do business with my company as opposed to another?” What is it that sets your company apart from the competition? Have you ever asked these questions? The answers given most often include lower prices, better location, better quality and/or a broader product line. Unfortunately, these are most often the worst answers.
Let’s start with price. If your strategy is to be known for low prices, it might work for a while, but you are going to find that there is always someone else that has lower prices than you. Or if you continue to lower your prices to maintain this position, there is a good chance that your prices are so low, you will soon be out of business. The location of your business can have a very positive impact on your business and should be taken seriously, but it is easy for your competition to set up a location as good as, if not better, than yours. As far as quality and wide product line, these can be important factors when starting a business, but with time can be matched by other companies. You need to be unique.
With so many choices, you must to give people a clear reason to choose your business that is different from your competition. This is differentiation. Differentiation of your company must be based on the consistent real-life features of your products and services, but ultimately differentiation takes place in the minds of your customers. It is your products and services, and the consistency of each offering and how they are categorized in the mind of the consumer that give you real, lasting differentiation.
Ideas that differentiate
Heritage is a way to differentiate. Ford Motor Company relies on heritage and so does Bailey Nurseries. They tout how long they have been in business or how many generations have been involved. Heritage tells people that you must be doing something right to have lasted so long.
Leadership is a way to differentiate. Apple is known for being a leader in technology. Spring Meadow is known for being a leader in new and better products. A company that claims leadership must actually lead. That takes effort and investment.
Narrow, defined product lines are a way to differentiate. Sony is known for electronics. J. Frank Schmidt & Son is known for tree liners. Iseli Nursery is known for sculpted conifers. David Austin Roses is known for English style roses. Narrow product lines also speak of expertise. If you need brain surgery, you want to do business with a brain surgeon and not a general practitioner. It is tempting for Spring Meadow to get into the perennial market, we sell to companies that buy perennial liners, but we have chosen to stay focused on flowering shrubs. The headline on our catalog says “Flowering Shrubs.” We sell a smattering of small trees and vines, but we focus on shrubs. That is what we are known for. That is what differentiates us from the competition.
Fast (or just in time) is a way to differentiate. McDonalds is known for fast food. Prides Corner Farms, a Connecticut-based nursery, is known for delivering to garden centers on a weekly or daily basis. Their trucks visit garden centers every Wednesday-Friday to make sure they are stocked up for the weekends. Their products are not the cheapest, but they are there when you need them.
Innovation. Apple, Sony, BMW, Nike, Bell Laboratories, Tesla, and Amazon are all known for their culture of unique innovation.
Lego is one of the leading toy makers in the world and they essentially sell only Lego plastic blocks. They don’t dabble in baby dolls and they don’t get diverted into video games, that is unless they are video games about Lego plastic block characters. They don’t cheapen their products by using lower-priced plastics or thinner materials. You know a Lego block when you feel it. Garden centers crave consistency and uniformity. Many greenhouse growers have mastered consistency, but it is hard to find in the nursery business.
The easiest way to achieve differentiation of a company brand is to develop a unique selling proposition (USP), which is the one word or statement that sets your company apart from others. For example, the unique selling proposition for Volvo cars is “Safety”; for Subaru cars it’s “All Wheel Drive”; for Ferrari it’s “The Fastest”; for Mercedes it’s “Engineering”; for Rolls Royce it’s “Luxury”; for BMW it’s “The Ultimate Driving Machine”; and for Jeep it’s “Adventure.”
A USP is not a mission statement or a sales pitch. “We are the biggest,” or “We the best” does not cut it. A good USP makes you stand out from the competition, and it raises the bar to a level your completion cannot reach. A good USP answers the question, “Why should someone choose to do business with you, over all other choices?”
It is my hope that this article helps you to understand branding and its value. Most of us are plants people. We love plants and that is why we got into the plant business. But we if want to make a good living in the plant business, we need to start by asking ourselves these questions: Why should someone want to do business with my nursery instead of another nursery? What is it that makes my company unique? What is it that I do better than anyone else? From here you can begin to develop your unique brand.