Brittanie Chludzinski

The importance of building an authentic brand

Unidentified Plant Units
Inside the RISE green house on Michigan State University’s campus. 

According to this week’s Entrepreneur article, “Your brand is your promise to your customer.” Everything from packaging, to the logo and even the distribution channels impact your brand and the message or product you’re trying to sell to customers.

Although we’ve worked on branding this entire semester in JRN 450,  it was very insightful to visit with Laurie Thorp from MSU’s RISE program to understand how the learning community focused on sustainability quickly expanded into a profitable student-run business, Land Grant Goods!  

During our discussion, Thorp outlined Land Grant Good’s “brand promise” to customers. At its core, the business wants its products to be recognized as both organic and authentic.

For Thorp, this authenticity is presented to the customer before they even use the product. The packaging one of the RISE students designed is very simple, which she believes ties back to the overall brand image of sustainability.

Once the packaging, logo and mission were created, it was time to find local customers! Jeffrey Hayzlett’s advice on “getting personal” in his Fortune article, “4 Ways to Create a Marketing Strategy for your Small Business,” ties in really well to Land Grant Good’s approach to securing its first customers.

Hayzlett said, “If you want to acquire and retain loyal customers, and keep your followers engaged, personalized one-to-one marketing is no longer optional, but a requirement.”

Land Grant Goods took the same “personal” approach in building its relationship with MSU’s Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center. The RISE Program and the Kellogg already have a personal relationship, as they are located right across the street from each other. As the students demonstrate their hard work and passion for the products they produce, the Kellogg also sees value in their work. In response, the hotel has been committed to  offering an assortment of Bailey Tea in each hotel room since 2015.

I think this idea of building personal relationships with suppliers and customers is also demonstrated in Sheena Iyengar’s TED Talk called “The Art of Choosing.” In her discussion, she says, “When two or more individuals see their choices and their outcomes as intimately connected, then they amplify one another’s success by turning choosing into a collective act.”

Again, this concept of identifying companies (and customers) who value Land Grant Good’s sustainable, organic products is incredibly important for the company’s branding. By finding these consumers who will choose Land Grant Goods products based on their shared beliefs with the company, the students will successfully build a loyal customer base who can help guide the brand mission throughout the community.

While the Kellogg has significantly helped increase brand awareness for their products, the students are now looking to expand to other locations that value its mission. Thorp mentioned they are personally working with Fresh Thyme and have considered building a relationship with MSU’s cafeterias to increase access for students.

Like any business today, Land Grant Goods has also started relying on e-commerce to sell products. Although Thorp mentioned the system itself is not user friendly, it’s helpful to have this options for customers.

While reading the Kissmetrics blog, “How Marketing Funnels Work,” I immediately thought back to this point in our discussion with Thorp. Despite the limitations on the e-commerce platform through MSU, I’m curious if Land Grant Goods can create similar “funnel reports” that show how many individuals moved through the “funnels” of visiting the site, putting products in their cart and and then actually making the purchase. As mentioned in this article, knowing how customers move through these funnels is helpful in future growth for the company.

Following the success of the Bailey Tea Project in the beginning, Land Grant Goods continues to diversify its product line. Branching into its new makeup and honey products were not fueled by financial goals, but by an ethical and sustainable mindset.

It stemmed from asking questions like, “How can we add more value to these leftover herbs we’ve grown in the greenhouse?” and “Are there other products that customers value when made with organic ingredients?

According to Thorp, the business recently asked itself how the leftover wax from its honey production can be utilized. By asking this one simple question and sticking to its mission, the business has been able to further diversify its products with a tentative plan to begin making and selling candles in the near future.

Overall, it was incredibly inspiring to visit RISE and hear its story of growth! These MSU students are not only growing and processing the products on their own, but they are being resourceful as they integrate their products and develop their brand in the community. There’s no doubt that Spartans make successful entrepreneurs.

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