Communicate with your retailer about price tag positioning so that your branding efforts don't go unnoticed.
Photo: Leslie F. Halleck

Branding: It’s fundamental to both your business and any in-house products you’ve developed. Building a good brand is essential if you want to both grow and communicate your value to your target customer and potential investors. Having a great product or the coolest new plant on the market isn’t enough these days. You must fine tune your optics and communications strategy through solid branding.

Cohesive branding helps your customer pick your business right out of the pack and understand clearly the features and benefits you offer. Strong branding also helps you build and defend your market share. Ultimately, your branding helps customers decide if and why they’re going to buy from you. Branding is your virtual handshake and promise to your customer.

Now, I’m not going to make the case that overblown POP displays and store-in-store setups are the magic branding answer or what’s going to set you apart and make you profitable. There’s a lot more to good branding than having a fancy tag or pot design, but each can be part of an effective branding strategy, depending on your goals and target customer.

Optics

When I coach young entrepreneurs or individuals in the greenhouse industry, one of the first concepts I focus on is managing one’s personal brand. Managing your own individual brand, before you ever land your first job or start your business, is crucial to future success. So, what contributes to a personal brand when no business has yet been created or job yet to be had? Optics.

How are you dressed? How do you speak? Do you pay attention to others when you’re having conversations? Are you organized? Do you follow up promptly on correspondence? Do you have a business or calling card, and are they well designed? Every item on this list, and many more, contribute to your personal brand optics, or rather, your story. That story may need a reboot from time to time, to keep things fresh and evolve with you. The same goes for your business and product branding. Your brand helps customers make choices about your products.

A witty tag displayed at the PMA Fresh Summit's Floral Pavilion this past October.
Photo: Cassie Neiden

Cover story

Your looks are often the first and perhaps only characteristic on which others judge you. Fair or not, the book cover matters, at least to a degree. Clearly, how your plants look is one of the biggest factors that contributes to your customers’ purchasing decision. Your plant quality and appearance is, ultimately, a core part of your branding. A well-designed pot and tag won’t save a bad-looking plant. But beyond that obvious fact, how the rest of your overall business looks to your customers — and to their customers — is equally as important as a quality product.

As a grower or retailer, your business appearance is represented by the visual elements of your branding: your logo, website, business cards, availability lists, plant tags, printed pots, videos, you name it. These elements and tools combine to define your brand identity and story, which should be instantly distinctive, cohesive and relevant. If any or all of these elements are dated or don’t seem to correlate, they can confuse your customer or create unintended negative impressions.

Brand audit

You may grow the best salvias on the planet, but customers will avoid buying from you if you make purchasing difficult or you seem out of touch in your business practices. Time is arguably the most valuable currency your customers have; waste theirs and you’ll damage your brand.

Potential customers will abandon your website after only a few seconds if it’s not up to snuff. If your website is dated, clunky and hard to navigate, or you don’t have live inventory numbers available online, you may be sending the message that you’re going to take up too much of your customers’ time on ordering — or worse — the message that you won’t have the inventory your customer needs when they need it.

Dated logos or websites, poorly designed plant tags that lack useful information, or pot materials that don’t meet the needs of modern customers send the subliminal message that you actively resist change. Conversely, when your business space looks good in person and online and you keep up with current technology, you instill quiet confidence in your customer base and make buying convenient.

Talk your walk

Now that we’ve established why looks matter, the story behind the cover gets its time to shine. Communicating with your customers and offering content and tools that help them succeed with their projects makes all the difference. This is especially important when you’re considering new pot and label designs, as well as the digital information that should accompany them. Good content is a major part of good branding.

Just because a customer may be more likely to buy a good-looking plant presented in a well-designed and tagged pot with POP signage, doesn’t mean your job ends there. In my experience, that tag and pot are going to quickly end up in the trash unless they are useful after the purchase. Are you just telling the customer what they’re buying or also telling them how to use it best and actually keep it alive? Do your tags help your retailers and landscapers move more product and make add-on sales? Is your tag good enough to take the place of an unavailable salesperson? If the answer is no to any of these questions, you need to revisit your copywriting and labeling strategy.

Too often, tag content is all generic statistics rather than relevant content. Likewise, tag information is typically not geographically relevant. As a Texas gardener, I can tell you that most plant tags on the market are not useful to customers in my region. As a professional horticulturist, I’m aware of this and know how to navigate around incorrect labeling information, but most of the consumer population does not.

Don’t miss the opportunity to fully utilize your pots as vehicles of useful information for customers that they’ll want to save.
Photo: Leslie F. Halleck

You and your end user would be far better served if you worked to make your plant tags a useful, educational tool and offered a link to online or app-based, region-customized growing information, rather than using labeling info relevant only to those gardening in Michigan. When a hot-climate gardener reads your label and then plants your anemone variety in full sun, you and the retailer are going get the blame for “sucky plants” (a customer’s words, not mine) when it melts 5 minutes later. That’s bad branding.

Consistency is key

Consistency can be one of the toughest aspects to maintain when it comes to managing your business and your brand, but without consistency, your message falls apart. Consistency in branding conveys order, stability, focus and reliability, all of which help you maintain your desired perception of value.

Without consistency in your branding, customers get confused or lose sight of your business altogether in a crowded marketplace. Yes, you need to invest in and be intentional about crafting excellent logos and messaging for your company and products, but it’s how you apply them across all of your product and marketing distribution platforms that makes good branding work for you. In the end, consistency inspires confidence.

Share the mic

Being that good consistent branding has a lot to do with who you have working for you, it’s a good idea to allow those a bit further down the ladder have a voice. Ultimately, it’s your entire team that executes your branding through good growing skills, good customer communication, earned social media engagement, and an overall buy-in to your company branding standards. Authenticity builds trust, and an enthusiastic and cohesive team makes a big impression on customers. Make sure that you find ways to include and engage creative and enthusiastic people across multiple job tiers in your branding efforts.

Time will tell

Direct success can be hard to measure as a 1:1 ratio, so you’ll need to be willing to spend some money and take some risks to boost your branding for long term results. Good branding doesn’t happen overnight. A good portion of return on your investment is organic, resulting from marketplace exposure that increases over time when you’re relentless and consistent in your marketing efforts.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business & marketing strategy, product development & branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com