Branding down on the farm

This week, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by fellow OAC alum Mike Brine, agri-business specialist at Trillium Mutual Insurance Company, for his Podcast The Back 40. Our topic: marketing and branding your farm. You can check out the full podcast here, and for convenience, I have included the Coles Notes version below. And if you’re old enough to remember Coles Notes, you’re in the perfect demographic for this podcast!

A quick Google search returns 779,000,000 references for the term ‘branding’ – so this is by no means a definitive view of the subject. If you’re interested in learning more, check out some of these titles or shoot me an email at

The Origins of Brands & Branding

Let’s indulge in a bit of etymology here. The word “brand” comes from the Old Norse word brandr, meaning “burn.” (It also means “sword blade” – which is cool but not relevant to this discussion, unless we’re turning swords into plowshares.)

By the 16th century, brand evolved into an English noun for a mark burned (generally on cattle) to establish ownership and the associated verb, “to brand.” In a nutshell, individual farms used a unique pattern to identify their cattle. An effective brand was, of necessity, simple and memorable, making it easy for a blacksmith to contrive and farmers and buyers to recognize.

It was only natural for buyers to connect the quality of the product with the brand, making it possible to know at a glance which cattle to buy and which to avoid. From there, it wasn’t a far leap from a literal brand to the definition we marketers (and consumers!) know today.

Farm brand

What Exactly is a Brand?

According to brand guru Colin Bates, a brand is “a collection of perceptions in the mind of the consumer.” It is very different from a product or service; a brand is actually intangible, existing in the mind, not on the shelf. Your brand is a complete summation of all your communications, your logo, your product, and the total experience you offer consumers. How a consumer perceives your brand determines where it ranks on their “loyalty ladder” — how likely are they to choose your brand over another to satisfy a need state?

Why Invest in Your Brand?

First and foremost, it’s the surest way to be remembered, known, and trusted by your clients and customers. Your distinct brand differentiates you from other options and alternatives and increases your organization’s perceived value and services. Plus, in times of uncertainty, research shows that consumers gravitate to brands they know and trust. And how else would you define these times?

Of course, for businesses, the bottom line is literally the bottom line. Investing in your brand leads to financial gain.

Why is Branding Important to Me and My Farm?

At the farm level, even if you’re not selling directly to the consumer, branding is very much reputation management. The stronger your reputation or brand, the better shape you’ll be in when it comes to things like:

  • Competing for rented land
  • Accessing financing
  • Hiring and retaining great people
  • Negotiating with suppliers
  • Obtaining top prices for your good and services


So How Do I Build My Farm’s Brand?

Here are four simple steps to help:

1. Be aware that your farm is a brand – if you don’t build it yourself, others will position it for you by default. It’s far better to be in control when it comes to your brand.

2. Do some reading on the subject – my favourite book on the subject is Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy. While it has an advertising focus, the author touches on branding and other core advertising and branding techniques.

3. Live your values – how you treat your hired help, how promptly you pay your bills, sharing a smile at the Co-op all factor into your personal and farm brands.

4. Become active in your community and the general agricultural sector – being engaged with national organizations like the Canadian Centre for Farm Integrity,  supporting your local 4-H Club as a volunteer, and being involved in community activities and causes all enhance your brand/profile in your community and the ag industry as a whole.

Finally, if you are in or considering entering the food side of the agri-food industry and marketing directly to consumers, here’s a shameless plug for our friends at Nourish Food Marketing. If it has to do with food, especially food branding, these folks are the best!


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