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INDUSTRY VIEWPOINT: To brand or not to brand -- that is the question

Branding has become the social phenomenon of the day, and the produce industry is certainly no stranger to this ever-broadening trend. But what does branding mean for the produce industry? Can you brand broccoli, lettuce or eggplant?

Looking at other brands like Campbell's Soup ("MMMMMM Good!"), Nike ("Just do it!") and Volvo ("Powered by Perceptions"), it's the promise and the keyword ownership that are the essence of the brand - the promise to be Campbell Soup "wholesome," Nike "inspired" and Volvo "safe."

So what kind of a promise can branded produce make that would resonate with the consumer to build brand profile, preference and loyalty?

There are many ways to build a produce brand, but fundamentals should be observed first. Research is the best starting point. Ask base questions about your company and your product like, How would you describe the company? What are the company's culture, mission, vision, mantra and success stories? What is the produce item[s]? Where is the product from or where is it processed? What is the unique value proposition? Who are the stakeholders or target audiences? Is the company or product No. 1 in its field? What are the competitive dynamics and who are the potential entrants? Is it a new product, category extension or does it call for the creation of a new category? Is it relevant, does it exhibit functional or nutritional benefits? Is it accessible, affordable, sustainable and safe?

And then develop key messages that reflect those answers. That is what we call the foundation of your brand.

There are four fundamental platforms to choose from when branding a produce SKU.

Origin branding can be a very powerful brand position depending on the perceived attitudes about that region or country.

Corporate branding can be equally powerful when there is a demonstrated longevity and positive company reputation.

Product branding is a great way to deliver on product attributes that may be topical, such as nutrition, functionality, organic, local or green.

Context branding is about relevance. It's the type of branding that usually addresses a need like dietary, attitude, demographic or geo-political.

However, what is equally important as branding is the strategy behind the marketing of a produce item. Not all strategies are created equal though. How you approach a processor, wholesaler or foodservice operator would be different from how you might address a retailer or a consumer.

Strategies are developed to address a target audience requirement. It's about discovering a problem that can be translated into an opportunity. For example, cardiovascular disease is the leading killer of women in North American. Would it not be prudent for those products with a health profile specific to this concern to develop a strategy that educates the consuming public regarding those product attributes, fashion it for women and deliver it with a credible voice, at their acknowledged points of contact? Developing an appropriate strategy is paramount to the success of a brand.

And education is the single most important strategy when building brand equity today. Whether educating a foodservice operator, retailer or consumer, each requires information relevant to them to make an informed decision. People need to know more about the food they buy, serve or eat and/or the foods they should buy, serve or eat. They need to know how to select produce based on the right criteria, but first they must know what the right criteria would be for making that selection. Set the guidelines. Be a knowledge leader by educating your audience about what they need to know to purchase your products.

So now you have developed a brand identity and a strategy to deliver that brand promise. But it's not enough to think you've mastered a brand identity and developed a clever strategy. You need to choose appropriate vehicles to deliver the key messages that will build your brand's equity. So, what tactics should you choose that will satisfy the strategy?

Today we are all suffering from information overload. It is imperative to choose appropriate tactics that are relevant to your target audiences. And if you have truly created a compelling brand identity, with key messages that resonate with your target audiences in conjunction with the right tactics, you will be on your way to building brand equity, like Coke, Chevrolet and John Deere.

Communicate to the trade through its preferred formats. Assist the trade, [wholesale, retail and foodservice], with its efforts to communicate to the consumer. Once you know your target audience[s], you need to know from which medium and from where they acquire the information they trust. You need to determine if your target audience watches TV, listens to radio, pays attention to billboards, reads the newspaper, uses the Internet or picks up in- store point-of-sale materials. You must know where they are most likely to be available and engaged, such as in the car, at home, while shopping, at the club or at a hair salon. Use appropriate points of contact and the recognized media vehicles that will reach your chosen audience.

So do we have a brand yet? No, you really won't achieve true brand identity until you acquire brand equity status. Not until your brand promise is believed and reiterated by your target audience. So to brand or not to brand -- that is the question.

Branding is the straightforward but important idea that you want your target audience to remember about your company or product. Organizations that follow best practices typically demand that all communications materials, whether a brochure or a page on the web site, reflect "the brand" to maintain consistent messaging and ultimately produce results.

Simply put, branding is a necessary marketing tool that allows you to divulge your product's and/or company's unique value proposition in order to reach the ultimate goal: preference and loyalty.

(Virginia Zimm is vice president of Faye Clack Communications Inc., a communications firm who has 30 years of experience branding and marketing produce.)