We'd Like to Mention

Build Your Farm's Brand

Kevin Wulf (Progressive Farmer image by Joel Reichenberger)

Levi's. McDonald's. Coke. These three consumer brands are instantly recognized around the world. All used similar strategies to build their brand and establish a large, loyal following. They share brand tactics that are unique, consistent and genuine.

Building a brand for your farm is just as important to your success as it is to these multibillion-dollar corporations. As a member of the human resources team for Riverview LLP, a large diversified crop, beef and dairy enterprise with operations in five states, Kevin Wulf teaches classes to coworkers on the company's culture, as well as instills Riverview's brand and values in each and every employee.

Wulf, who spoke at the recent DTN Ag Summit, cohosted by Progressive Farmer, says establishing a brand can:

> give your farm operation a competitive advantage

> keep everyone focused on the same objectives

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> establish a positive reputation with your business partners, suppliers, neighbors and community.

He stresses a strong brand isn't about creating a captivating logo. It begins by taking a critical review of your farm and how it will be perceived by others outside of the farming operation. "It's really, really hard to do an honest self-assessment of your farm business, especially when there's family involved and multiple generations. But, it's a critical first step to establishing your brand. You need to ask the question, 'What does your farm look like, smell like, feel like from behind the lens of a third party?'"

Wulf says a self audit is much like an annual cleaning of a closet. You do a thorough overview of every aspect of your farm, throw out what isn't working, tweak here and there, and implement new procedures and practices. "It's all about defining what you want to be, establishing a culture where you and others associated with the farm feel this is a great place to work, where people care for one another and their success." He reminds us that once you specify your culture, you must continually teach it to your team.

Once you define your culture, it must have clear brand core values. Wulf explains that Riverview operates on the principle of "providing a culture of opportunity for passionate people and innovative ideas." In turn, Riverview operates around five core values:

1. Candor

2. Integrity

3. Keep It Simple

4. Spirit of Humility

5. Strong Work Ethic

"Core values let everyone know what we stand for and what we don't stand for," Wulf explains. "Many farmers may view core values as a mission statement. At Riverview, we see them as something that should never change, otherwise we're going to lose our foundation. Core values provide the consistency that leads to a strong brand."

Finally, for your brand to succeed, you have to live your culture. You can create a mission statement and core values, but "the best way to kill your brand is to say you're one thing and do something else," Wulf stresses. "That sends a false message. You have to be consistent to build trust, which, in turn, builds a strong brand."

Wulf explains building a brand is a very intentional process that's part of a long-term game plan. "As a farming business, you need to figure out what it is that you're passionate about, what it is that is your economic engine and what it is that you can be the best at. If you always focus on those three things, you're going to build something [brand] that will last for a long time."

Write Gregg Hillyer, 2204 Lakeshore Dr., Suite 415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email gregg.hillyer@dtn.com.

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