Times have changed and your brand’s message must adapt to fit the changing needs of your consumers.
PHOTO © REDPIXEL, ADOBE STOCK

After the big shake-up this spring with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, now may be an ideal time for you to consider a re-brand for your garden center — or at least consider how your brand is translating to evolving customer needs. Are you the same business you were pre-COVID? If not, could you be a better one? If so, you need a new communication strategy. With a boom in gardening interest, you may have a unique opportunity to refresh, or reinvent, your garden center brand just as a huge new wave of plant consumers enter our market.

Authentic, relevant and cohesive branding is far more than just a nice logo, tagline or packaging. Branding is your entire business identity. It is who you are to who you want to sell to. Good branding helps your ideal customer pick your business and quickly understand what benefits you offer them. Strong assertive branding is key to building and defending your market voice and share.

Change is not always easy for our industry. Updating and refreshing a company brand can be one of the most intimidating tasks for IGCs, and the one to which they are most resistant. We like to hold on tightly to specific identities, even if that identity is no longer relevant or resonating with our target customers. It can be tough to let go of what you feel makes you “you,”even if your company and brand have evolved, or need to evolve.

PHOTO © ABDUL | ADOBE STOCK

I realize that many of you may think rebranding during a pandemic is a crazy idea. I often take a downturn investor or risk-embracing approach when it comes to business opportunities. When change is being forced in the marketplace, you might as well look for challenges or perceived negatives that can be turned into opportunities for business growth.

A good place to start is to ask yourself what story you would like to communicate to your existing and potential ideal customers. Does your existing branding tell that story? It is crucial in today’s market to understand and accept that thinking or claiming you have “great plants and great customer service” is an adequate or effective brand story. Frankly, many IGCs fall far short of great service, and many carry the same plants. So how do you plan to grow your brand beyond a baseline expectation into something uniquely different and meaningful?

What you do and do not sell is of course a big part of your brand identity. How you sell it and how easy you make it for customers to buy is also central to your story. The experience your customers have, or will have, when they visit you in-store or online is where your brand really comes to life. How do you want customers to feel during and after the experience? What do you want them to tell their family and friends about you? You must do some serious self-evaluation and reflection as a business to find out if your existing brand story matches up with the real-life experience your customers are having now. The truth is often harsh, so it can take a thick skin to recognize and acknowledge where there are disconnects. Authenticity is non-negotiable.

When I work with clients on a new brand or brand renovation, I spend a good part of my time reassuring them that letting go of their existing visual branding elements — their logo or package design — is not going to lose them their reputation or customers. While well-designed visual brand elements are a necessary tool in your brand toolbox, your existing target customers are not staying with you because of your logo.

However, dated or poorly designed visuals can get in the way of attracting the new customers you need to replenish your pipeline and grow your profits. Dated logos and bad color choices create all sorts of roadblocks for you when it comes to a multitude of other marketing tools and optics such as your website design, company uniforms, company vehicles, private label packaging — you name it. A bad logo trickles down in a way that can be hard to escape, telling the wrong story for your business everywhere it travels.

I do not think I have to explain why a great, up-to-date website with some e-commerce functionality is a non-negotiable brand element. If your website is bad, dated, unattractive and hard to navigate, and offers no e-commerce functionality, then you are doing significant damage to your own brand. Not to mention to your customers’ experience.

As your services and approach to retail evolve under the quickly changing and often stressful circumstances of today’s realities, what you mean to your customers is also evolving. Let’s mean more. While times may be uncertain, they may also be prime for you to shed your old skin and emerge from 2020 with a brand that is better and brighter.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com