When you think of brands or branding, you probably think about the Cokes, Dells and Harleys of the world. But branding isn’t just for corporate giants. In fact, the brand values you embrace as a dealer and the brand experience you create can go a long way in determining your success in the rural lifestyle market.

If you’re serious about pursuing rural lifestyle customers, going through the process of establishing a brand for your store and business can create a key advantage. First, it helps differentiate your store from others. Second, it creates an expectation among customers and prospects of what they’ll experience in their interactions with your store. And third, it directs and defines your business by creating a brand identity that can bring consistency to the various touchpoints with your customers — from advertising to your Web presence to the total in-store experience.

A Different Customer

As you’re already aware, the rural lifestyle customer is very different from your business-to-business type farm customer. For instance:

•   Most rural lifestylers have never shopped for, or purchased, farm equipment. Their knowledge base and ability to comparison-shop and define their exact equipment needs is limited.

•   Rural lifestyle customers value the advice and expertise you can offer.

•   Purchasing equipment is a means to an end — enhancing their rural lifestyle experience.

•   The integrity and professionalism of the dealer is critical to rural lifestyle customers. Unrestricted by geography, they will shop until they find a dealer (or Big Box home center) where they feel confident in spending their money.

•   Most are value-oriented, not price-oriented. Since major purchases are “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences for them, they will invest in quality and value-added products.

•   Most important, rural lifestyle customers must first “buy” your dealership before they will financially invest in your products.

For rural lifestyle customers, the emphasis is more on the buying and ownership experience and less on the iron itself. This is where branding your operation can give you an important edge in the minds of these more retail-oriented buyers.

Brand Values: What
Do You Stand For?

One of the critical first steps in branding your dealership is identifying the core values that will serve as your brand’s foundation. These brand values play an important role in defining for your employees and teammates how your business is run and how customers are treated. Externally, the values you embrace help shape your brand identity — how customers perceive your store and what differentiates your business from the competition.

When identifying brand values, honest introspection is very important. For instance, if you believe outstanding customer service is one of your core values, you must honestly evaluate whether you’re truly delivering this level of service — from your rural lifestylers’ perspective. Are your business hours aligned with their shopping times? Do you attend to their needs promptly and professionally in both phone and face-to-face interactions? If the answers to these questions are anything but a resounding YES, you shouldn’t count outstanding customer service as a brand value.

‘Living the Brand’

“The brand you
invest in creating
is only as strong as
its weakest link, and all too often that weakest link is employees...”

This brings us to one of the most important, though frequently overlooked, aspects of brand development and management — the idea of “living the brand.” The brand you invest in creating is only as strong as its weakest link, and all too often that weakest link is employees. In simple terms, the idea behind “living the brand” is to engage your employees so they clearly understand and embrace the brand values of your business. Once they do, they can ultimately serve as ambassadors or champions for your brand.

If the brand promise you create for your rural lifestyle customers is framed around expertise and exceptional customer service, a single phone call or store visit that doesn’t deliver that knowledge or professionalism your customer expects can undermine that promise.

Developing internal brand champions that “live the brand” starts by involving your staff in the early stages of the brand development process. It continues with consistent reinforcement of the brand values that define your operation. It’s also important to recognize and reward employees who consistently deliver on your operation’s brand promise. If you build brand behaviors into performance and bonus plans, for instance, it will encourage the types of actions and behaviors among your staff that reinforce — and more important, deliver — your brand promise.

The investment you make in launching your brand will help differentiate you from your competition and bring rural lifestyle customers to your store. Providing them with the brand experience you’ve promised will go a long way in determining whether or not they — and the friends they talk to — become satisfied customers for life.