Ask stable owners or managers how they market their business, and their answers usually include word of mouth, flyers, website, print advertising and other marketing tools. Ask them how they brand their business and you may get a puzzled look.
So, what is branding and why is it important? David Ogilvy, a famous ad agency founder, defines “brand” as “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.” Another great definition is that your brand is your promise to your customer.
Since the definitions may still leave the idea of branding somewhat nebulous, consider equine businesses, depending on your discipline, that are well branded, such as Claiborne Farm, Parelli Natural Horsemanship, Iron Spring Farm, Old Salem Farm and King Ranch Quarter Horses. Each has a definite image—a brand.
Let’s take a closer look at how you can build your brand, no matter the size of your business.
Branding highlights qualities and characteristics about your stable that make you unique or special. Building your brand will follow a path of business evaluation and discovery. It is an intentional process that requires time, thought and research. This is well worth it in the long run, because you’ll be prepared to implement your marketing in a cohesive way that will have meaning to your prospects and clients.
Your current clients have already discovered what is special about you, and your branding continues to reinforce that. Your prospects, however, may be moved to become your clients because of brand awareness and recognition. If your competition offers similar services and products but has not branded themselves, you have an advantage.
Key questions to articulate are:
• What is your stable’s mission, or your purpose for existing?
• What services and products do you offer, and what are their benefits and features?
• What does the marketplace think of your stable now?
• How do you want clients and prospects to perceive your stable?
• What qualities do you want them to associate with your stable?
DEVELOP YOUR BRAND
Once this homework has been done, you can focus on communicating your brand. Let’s start with a logo, which provides the visual expression that symbolizes your presence in the market. Your logo is the cornerstone on which to build your stable’s brand. It offers easy recognition within the industry as well as with your clients.
When designing your logo, it’s smart to develop one that looks great in your chosen brand colors as well as black and white. This way you can stretch your marketing budget further.
It’s best to hire a graphic designer to work with you to design your logo. The personal computer has made it easy and tempting to think that you might want to do it yourself to save a few bucks. But designing an effective logo is an art. A bad logo will not imprint itself on your prospects and clients the same way that a well-designed one does.
If your budget is really tight, you may be able to find a graphic design student at a local college that needs a project for her portfolio.
COMMUNICATE YOUR BRAND
Once you’ve got your logo, it should be used on all your marketing, advertising, and public relations materials—paired with your contact information. Incorporate it into your equine facility signage, and vehicle signage if applicable.
Next, the personal computer has made it easy for businesses of all sizes to include these elements on business cards, letterhead, and billing statements. Your business brochures, client newsletters, or other client education pieces should include this information prominently. Include your contact information and logo in all advertising that you run in equine trade publications, local newspapers, shopper’s guides, and other print media. Do you have a presence on the web via your own website, or perhaps other advertising? Make sure your logo appears on every web page, in all web advertising, and as an identifier in all social media.
Don’t forget clothing—yours, your employees, and the horses’. Barn apparel, polo shirts, t-shirts, ball caps and other clothing can be screen-printed or embroidered. Your horse’s sheets, blankets, saddle pads, saddle and bridle bags, tack trunks, and stall drapes are other good places.
Do you host horse shows? Put your logo on the ribbon rosette or streamers and on the trophies. Other “take-alongs” like pens, calendars, note pads, back packs, tote bags, fanny packs, cups, mugs—you get the idea—should also carry your stable name, logo and website.
Wherever possible, your logo and website should appear whenever your business name does.
FROM THE TRENCHES
Nanette Levin, owner of Halcyon Acres (www.HalcyonAcres.com) and founder of BookConductors, LLC (www.BookConductors.com), the book publishing house that created the Horse Sense and Cents series, shares her insight into branding. “Branding is long-term and critical in subtle ways, so it’s important to create a business name that helps reveal what you do.”
But branding is also about reputation, she notes. “Word of mouth in the horse industry is huge. Most people get their information from other trusted sources in the equine community—including not only vets, farriers, instructors, tack shops and friends, but also those who they have learned to trust remotely, such as equine publications, online communities and industry leaders. That means that customer service is a critical component of branding. How you treat people and horses serves as the foundation of your reputation—good or bad.”
Beyond that, make a point of drawing attention to your key attributes. “Lots of businesses fail to consciously brand themselves, so they become known for how the market chooses to label them—or languish in anonymity,” Levin says. “Successful equine enterprises have focused on a tight niche or market segment; mature riders are a current example of a growing market that some smart equine enterprises are reaching out to.”
And remember, what you say can travel fast and far. “With the explosion of social media, be careful what you put out there when you are in the middle of an impassioned thread. Your sharp words or knee-jerk response can be broadcast to have a long term effect on your brand.”
Your brand is your essence. It encompasses who you are, who you want to be, and what others observe you to be. While you might be bored with your look, remember that your audience may well like the security and familiarity of your brand. And remember—the audience won’t be fooled if you don’t walk your talk and deliver on your brand promise.
Lisa Derby Oden is author of "Growing Your Horse Business" and "Bang for Your Buck: Making $ense of Marketing for Your Horse Business." Contact her at (603) 878-1694; Lisa@horseconsulting.com; or visit www.horseconsulting.com.