How personal branding can build public trust
Brands represent most commodities – so why not farmers?
Building and managing a brand has many advantages, from representing agriculture positively to the rest of the world, to helping other farmers, to improving profitability.
What motivates a producer to build a brand varies.
For example, when Listowel, Ont.-area pork producer Stewart Skinner of Stonaleen Farms, started to build his Modern Farmer brand a decade ago, his focus was global. The Feeding Nine Billion movement had started, and he wanted to be part of it.
So, he developed a brand that reflected his belief in technology and tradition.
“Modern Farmer was an acknowledgment that parts of what we do are very current and supported by technology, and other parts can be traced back to our heritage, to what my great grandfather did as a farmer,” Skinner says.
On social media, he started working his brand primarily as a guest writer on others’ blogs but found the best results on Twitter. There, he’s part of a helpful community of pork producers worldwide dedicated to producing pork as efficiently as possible.
Skinner says he has yet to find a way to truly monetize Modern Farmer. But meeting other producers in his network for exchanging information, problem-solving, and marketing has saved him hours trying to find answers and contacts alone.
That’s deepened his conviction to stick with his brand.
“I won’t give it up,” he says. “A magazine tried to buy my Twitter handle from me, but I refused to sell it. Modern Farmer represents what I believe in, and that’s important to me.”
High heels and canola fields
In Watrous, Sask., Lesley Rae Kelly created her High Heels and Canola Fields brand four years ago, during a maternity leave, contemplating her next steps.
Her brand name is a tribute to one of Western Canada’s biggest game-changing crops, canola. And high heels eludes to the uptown, boardroom side of agriculture, such as managing financial portfolios.
Kelly had a track record in both worlds, once a brand manager for FCC, and being part of a family farm. She decided to engage on social media after an encounter with a consumer who called her, while pregnant, a “bad mom” for using crop protection products on her farm.
“I spent time creeping others on social media, seeing what they were doing with their brand, and decided having one with a catchy name would help me get out of the gate,” Kelly says.
She was right. She used her brand to develop a blog, co-host a podcast called “What the Farm,” and wrote several posts that went viral. Her original intent was to have fun, create a positive image for agriculture and push back against anti-farming campaigns.
Along the way, she took an interest in farmers’ mental health . Kelly was pivotal in connecting agriculture with Bell’s Let’s Talk mental health initiative and co-founded the Do More Agriculture Foundation, an important grassroots resource for farmers’ mental health.
All this has raised her brand profile appreciably. Today, she is an undisputed social media influencer, with nearly 25,000 Twitter followers.
“Connecting with urban Canada is about understanding the world they live in, which I do by connecting through mental health discussions.”
A farm brand attracts urban audiences
Near Elm Creek, Man., Colin Penner, who operates Pennmann Farms with his wife Lori, is developing a brand that reflects his interest in education, advocacy, leadership and communication.
He believes a “farm” brand attracts urban people who overall are fascinated with agricultural life – even images that seem mundane to farmers and rural people, like inert machinery, or a sunset.
A “farm” brand attracts urban people who overall are fascinated with agricultural life.
“I want agriculture to have a positive public presence,” says Penner. “So many farmers you see written about in the media are connected to doom and gloom. I want to help show there are many good stories to be told.”
Besides taking part in his family’s 4,000-acre grain farm, he teaches a capstone course for agricultural diploma students at the University of Manitoba, his alma mater, called the management planning project. As well, he serves as co-chair of the Manitoba Young Farmers.
“We share who we are and what we’re doing,” Penner says. “Sharing information in meetings or on social media is a way to develop a brand and help people better know farming.”
Building a strong personal brand can help an operation gain familiarity and credibility in the eyes of consumers. Experts suggest creating an open, positive environment that teaches, promotes, leads and communicates on all aspects of agriculture to the public - even the ones farmers may find mundane.