Branding is one of the most important activities within any business. Branding generates market awareness. Market awareness generates potential customers. Potential customers become customers. Customers buy your products. That was easy! Now the world knows about you, wants your product, you’re having fun making money, and life is good! From 50,000 feet you might think that is all that needs to happen if you want your business to become an icon in your market space and have the world demand your products. Unfortunately, at 50,000 feet it is difficult to see what really needs to happen unless you have the business discipline to take a high resolution look. When you are in business, business discipline raises its demand whip in many different areas – starting with feeding your horses on a regular schedule so they a healthy and happy to taking care of your business’s business at the end of a hard day’s work so your business is healthy and happy. It frustrates me when I think about the number of unhealthy horse businesses I know because they didn’t have the business discipline to take care of their business’s health. They spent way too much time worrying about their facade then worrying about their business’s health. Branding your business isn’t easy. I will remind of this more than once in this article. Branding falls in what I call one of the ‘wooly’ areas of business that has to be done. Branding deals with intangibles that are influenced by ever changing tangibles - such as the economy and life style shifts to name a couple. It is like trying to solve a simultaneous equation with three unknowns. It is a lot harder than breaking a young colt! It is probably one of the most difficult things you have to do in business – it ranks right up there with having to make cold sales calls. Oh! And then it has another variable – time! It takes time, probably far more than you ever thought. Think about why the number of horses in the United States has gone from about 45 million to less than 8 million in the last eighty years. I will bet a horse related business that exists today, that was in business in 1935, has probably gone through a business rebranding exercise more than once. Anyone remember windrow rakes pulled by horses? Those windrow rakes sure look a lot different today! The fundamentals behind promoting your brand apply to any type of horse business. Very few people have unlimited funds and those who do, do because they are not foolish with their money. Once in a while you we will see a horse business appear to be an overnight success that everyone is talking about, only to wonder where they went five years later. Where they went the majority of the time is their ego spent all their money. I have said before, your ego has a terrible return on investment. So, what do you need to consider before you embark on branding or rebranding your business? The first thing you need to do is understand that branding isn’t just a marketing communication exercise. It is first a strategic marketing exercise that you then communicate. And, by the way, there is a big difference between strategic marketing and marketing communications. Email blasts are important, but they are a marketing communications exercise employed after the strategic marketing has been completed. Strategic marketing deals with how to market the business’s products the majority of the time, but marketing is still standing on the shoulders of the business. Branding involves the entire business even if you are a one horse operation and therefore, a very busy person. If you are a one person business you might consider contracting out your marketing. My only caution is, be careful! A marketing consultant who has been around horses for many years might know horses, but it doesn’t mean they know marketing, in particular strategic marketing – check their successes. Be careful they don’t get you into what I call the Chinese marketing trap: There are 1.4 billion Chinese, they all wear gloves so let’s make gloves and send them all an email blast. No, no – before you do that there is a lot of strategy questions that need answers – market size, available market, served market, market message, glove styles, etc... In the branding or rebranding process somebody has to watch the store to keep the income coming, while someone has to keep the expenses in check, while someone has to keep their hands on the reins of the branding plan, all while marketing does their magic. Why? Promoting one’s brand is not easy, it is time consuming and it can run you out of money before you know it. Further adding to the difficultly is the herd syndrome. It is unfortunate, but a lot of people have a ‘herd’ mentality. That herd mentality further adds to the difficulty of promoting your brand. Just look at the breeding sales of a stallion the year after they win a national championship, and then look at their breeding sales two or three years later. You will probably think the country is in a recession. But it isn’t, the herd has just moved on to the next national champion.
National Champion Stallion - Actual Five Year Breeding RecordNext you had better have a good product worthy of being part of your brand identity. If you are a boarding stable this means a professionally run, clean, safe stable with well-fed healthy looking horses. This doesn’t take a lot of money and your stable doesn’t have to have fancy stalls. In fact it only takes a few tools like a rake, a broom, and a wheelbarrow. What is takes more than tools is discipline and old fashion ‘elbow grease’. A well run stable can differentiate their business from the area competition, get a higher boarding rate, absorb all their overhead and have a waiting list. If you are a trainer you had better have the same horse environment as a boarding stable, plus the gift of understanding horses and how they think, and you had better produce winners. If you are a horse breeder, the same stable and horse rules apply, but with the added criteria that the horses you produce had better win, or produce winners. Then you need a plan. I mean a real meaningful documented plan that provides you with a roadmap that has defined tasks, milestones, measurable decision points and your business’s message. You will learn a lot about your business, your competition and yourself during the brand planning process. It is okay to talk to people in your market and outside of it as you develop your plan. Einstein stood on the shoulders of Nicolaus Copernicus and Isaac Newton when he formulated his theory of relativity. Be sure to make a plan that can accommodate changes in your market over the plan period. Remember implementing a branding plan takes time and in that time things can change. You might want to include the following in your plan: 1. Your business’s mission statement. (Go back and review it after your plan is complete – it might need to change and that is okay) 2. List your business’s strengths and weaknesses. 3. List your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses. 4. List what your customer’s can expect from your products. 5. List how you will communicate the difference between your products and your competitors. 6. Include your message to your customers. 7. List the communication materials your will use to communicate your plan to your customers. 8. Include the milestones, cost and decision points for the development of your customer communication material. 9. Include how you are going to maintain your brand’s equity. 10. Attach milestones dates, expected cost and decision alternatives to every activity in your plan. Another strategy we haven’t discussed is leveraging your brand by piggybacking on someone else’s brand. An example of this is putting your horse with a successful trainer. When the trainer wins with your horse your business wins and your brand is elevated along with theirs. My only caution here is, watch your cost and understand the value it adds to your brand and your business. Is it worth the cost, or is your ego spending your money again? Piggybacking your brand is often a very good strategy for smaller horse businesses. It reduces your capital investment, lowers your fixed cost, and lowers the amount of overhead your business needs to absorb. But, it can increase your horse cost significantly. You need to run the numbers to understand if this branding strategy adds value to your business or just more cost. I can’t leave without reminding you that a good horse business management system will help you evaluate the cost and added value your branding strategy brings to your business. equineGenie is that system! Underlying the success of any horse business and the management system you chose is your commitment to keep your system current and use the information it provides to assist you in making good business decisions. Believe me; you need a horse business management system! But, purchasing one if you do not have the ‘business discipline’ to keep it current and use it is a bad business decision, and probably not the management system’s fault! To be successful in a horse business does not require a finance education, but it does require business discipline and an understanding of what your financials are telling you. This understanding will enable you to make better business decisions. A good Horse Business Management System will do the calculations for you and analyze and report the results with comments or suggestions. A good Horse Business Management System will save you valuable time you can then use to improve your business. I encourage you to investigate how equineGenie not only helps you manage and care for your horses and manage your business operations and support your customers, but helps you be financially successful. equineGenie will add value to your business. Page 5 of 5 Bob Valentine, Ph.D. President GenieCo, Inc. Box 271924 Ft. Collins, CO 80527 970.682.2645 or 970.231.1455 firstname.lastname@example.org www.equinegenie.com Dr. Valentine taught Equine Business Management to graduating seniors in the Equine Science Department at Colorado State University. He has been involved in the horse business for too long. If you have any questions, you can reach Bob at email@example.com, or call him at 970.682.2645 or 970.231.1455 (mobile).