Equestrian & Rural Business Branding

Branding can make a massive difference to a small business, whether it’s connected to equestrian, country and canine, or a different industry.

There’s a whole art to branding and how it makes a customer feel. What does it say about your company? How does it engage? What experience does it give the customer? In this section, you’ll find hints and tips about branding, and some real life case studies too.

The case studies you’ll see connect to a range of businesses, but most will have an equestrian, canine or country link. It’s essential for any budget, and the great thing is that it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. More than that, there are some exceptional examples around, in our industry, that we can learn from.

In addition to agencies, there are also some exceptional books on this subject, that can help guide you in the right direction and inspire you too.

After seeing Atlas & I at Badminton Horse Trials and then seeing the video included in here on Facebook, I had to drop Sophie an email and find out more about her brand, her packaging and what inspires her.

Atlas & I Atlas & I packaging demo (click to see!)Atlas & I Bespoke Leather Album 

Tell us a bit about Atlas & I and what you do

At Atlas & I we create gifts that tell your story. From a photo album printed with a vintage map of where you got married or went on your honeymoon to a congratulatory gift of a silhouette created from a photo of someone completing a gruelling challenge. 

Let’s start with your branding – how did you decide on your logo, the colours and your branding overall?

The company was started 5 years ago from my coffee table. Initially it started at KirkPatrick Design (My surname) but I didn’t think it explained what the product was and it wasn’t a name I could see going global! I sat down with a good friend who was a graphic designer and we brainstormed names, colours and logos. The circle and star above the brand name hints at the idea of a compass and the name Atlas & I was born from the use of maps and the personalised aspect of each and every product. Because the vintage maps are all sorts of colours and designs it was important that the logo was simple and clear and stood out. We took the red from the markings on an old London map that showed the tube stations in a strong deep red colour and the text we wanted to keep fresh and contemporary.

How did you decide on your packaging? What elements did you consider?

The artworks came first followed by the leather stationery range. It’s hard to package a picture as well as keep the glass protected in transit so these were always bubble wrapped to keep them safe. The leather albums and journals needed something to protect them in transit as well so the gift boxes were designed to do this as well as look beautiful and keep your album safe on the shelf in your house. Photo albums last for years and so the packaging they are kept in need to be just as robust. The tissue paper is only a recent addition but all our products will now be wrapped in this.

What kind of response have you received to your packaging?

Atlas & IPeople love the boxes, I think it heightens the experience of receiving a gift. Once you unwrap the paper you then have another layer to get through by opening up the box. That sense of excitement about what’s inside just grows and by having the name on the lid, people are already thinking, maybe it’s a map!

Do you think packaging adds to a product and the customer experience? Was this something you factored into your product quite early on or something that has evolved over time?

To be honest the packaging started as a practical aspect of the product to protect it in the post. I looked at so many gift box companies who had such huge numbers for their minimum orders that I simply couldn’t afford the outlay of ordering 1000 gift boxes, especially as we have size different sizes of boxes. But when I found a company  in the UK that could do small quantities it was possible to make beautiful packaging at an affordable price.

Are there any other brands who have packaging that inspires you? Or that you think is done really well?

I love Jo Malone, everything about the brand, the packaging and the product. You think, “who would buy a candle for £50!?” But the packaging and ceremony of the brand makes it all worth it.

 Anything else you’d like to add?

I think as more and more competition arrives on the gift market and products that are so similar crop up everywhere, packaging, brand and stories are almost becoming more important than the product itself.

Where can we find you online?




Leroy & BongoWe all know that I have a bit of a thing for packaging. OK. It’s a bit more than a thing. I see the power it has and how it can elevate a product and a brand or fall wide of the mark and make people believe that whatever is inside the packaging is distinctly average. In a new occasional series, I’ll be speaking to people who create packaging that (I feel) hits the nail on the head. And here’s the first. Caroline from Leroy & Bongo had a chat with me about her packaging and how she feels it makes a difference to this fun, dynamic brand. I’d love to hear what you think…

Tell us a bit about Leroy & Bongo and what you do

Leroy and Bongo is a new British brand,  founded by a little team of equestrians and designers in Marlborough, Wiltshire.  Together we love creating useful and beautiful equestrian stationery and lifestyle products!

Let’s start with your branding – how did you decide on your logo, the colours and your branding overall?

Our aim with our logo was to create something contemporary, clearly equestrian and proudly British. We wanted to keep it simple, easily recognisable and flexible enough to work across lots of different applications. Our logo is used in a number of colour-ways  depending on the application. 

We wanted our brand colour palette to be fun and eye-catching, as well as appealing to a wide demographic across the horse-loving world.

How did you decide on your packaging? What elements did you consider?

Right from the beginning we wanted our packaging to be fun and appealing to our customers, as well as unique to Leroy and Bongo. It also needed to be flexible enough to be used across our product range and “different” enough to stand out in a retail environment.

Leroy & BongoQuality was also important, as we wanted the packaging to reflect the quality of the product inside.

The end result is (we hope!)  like our products – useful and functional, but lovely to look at too! All of our product packaging features a paper “band” with a description of the product and our little black acrylic mini-pony.

The mini-pony has also featured in social media campaigns, which has really helped with customer engagement and brand recognition.

We also include a personal note to our customers when they buy from our website – handwritten on a Leroy and Bongo correspondence card.

What kind of response have you received to your packaging?

We’ve had a wonderful response to our packaging and the mini-pony already has a following of his own! Customers send in their own photos of the mini-pony in various situations, which is absolutely delightful. It’s lovely to have that level of engagement with our customers.

Do you think packaging adds to a product and the customer experience? Was this something you factored into your product quite early on or something that has evolved over time?

We like to think that packaging really adds to the customer experience. It makes the purchasing and gifting experience a little more fun – something that was definitely in our minds from the outset. If a product is beautifully packaged, it’s going to feel like a treat – either for yourself or the person you are gifting it to.

Are there any other brands who have packaging that inspires you? Or that you think is done really well?

Leroy & BongoWe love anything that’s simple, functional and beautifully designed!

Anything else you’d like to add?

For us, packaging is an important part of the Leroy and Bongo brand identity. But most of all, we hope our mini-pony makes our customers smile! 

Where can we find you online?

You can find us at leroyandbongo.com 


This week’s ‘A few minutes with…’ features the lovely Liam Killen. Liam is the brains behind the Equestrian Creative Network – a brilliant resource for equestrian and country creatives. Find out more here.

Tell us about you and your background. What made you want to start a business?

I grew up on the family farm in County Down, Northern Ireland. Did the usual Pony Club (East Down ’til I die) and riding club stuff. Did ok at eventing, did pretty well at tetrathlon – until I started smoking *smacks hand*. My parents have a small mares’ stud breeding flat thoroughbreds and my mum’s family own studs in Kildare, so it was almost inevitable that I would follow an equestrian path. I studied for a degree in Equine Management at CAFRE Enniskillen Campus and graduated in 2007. I really excelled in the marketing modules and my tutor in final year urged me to  follow a career in marketing. 

While at Uni I spent a summer interning in Washington DC for Habitat for Humanity in their marketing department. As a result I was able to get a foot in the door at PWC straight out of Uni, in their marketing devision in Belfast. I learned lots about how to be corporate and personality-less. I grew tired quickly and decided to work for a more relaxed organisation, Belfast City Council. I then did the silliest thing ever, and fell in love. DOH! However, it would mean a move to Manchester. My other half (yup, we’re still together nearly 10 years later) is a one of the directors of a software agency and they built a super easy-to-use website tool called PagePlay. I instantly saw its use within the equestrian industry and was given the opportunity to run my own equestrian devision. I don’t think they thought it would work. Fast forward 8 years… roughly 1/3 of all PagePlay sites are horsey! 

In 2010, along with Rhea Freeman – you know her, you’re on her site right now – we set up the Equestrian Social Media Awards (ESMAs). The ESMAs were initially a vehicle through which to spread the good word of social media among equestrian business, and promote PagePlay as an added bonus. They soon became a beast. They ran for four years and by the end we had finalists from every continent and nearly every country. You can see all the finalists and winners’ acceptance speech videos here: http://www.equestriansocialmediaawards.com

The ESMAs exposed a massive gap in the market within the equestrian and rural sectors. During the ESMAs we were inundated by requests from the agencies behind the accounts, with requests for coverage for their work. It suddenly dawned on me… there isn’t a dedicated place for equestrian creative professionals to showcase their work. PR and marketing people are notoriously rubbish as practicing what they preach. Doctor heal thy self, and all that. So that’s where the Equestrian Creative Network came from. 

The Equestrian Creative Network is  a directory and news site for the creative side of the horse world; photographers, PRs, writers, designers and bloggers etc. Members showcase their work with content-rich portfolios and add news stories about their work, their clients’ work and provide valuable information geared specifically towards equestrian businesses. The ESMAs ended in 2014 when we adopted our son (thankfully I stopped smoking by then). Sadly at the moment there just isn’t enough time to run a global online award ceremony. Those were the days!

How is your business different? What makes your products special?

The Equestrian Creative Network is a niche within a niche. We are solely dedicated to showcasing

Liam and one of his parents’ broodmares.

creative talent in all its guises – so long as it’s horsey/country.

If you had to sum up your business in a few words, what would they be?

The place to go to find a creative pro. 

Do you have a motto or ethos?

How can I tailor the Equestrian Creative Network’s reach for each member to get their content in front of the right eyes.  

If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring business owner, what would it be?

Go for it. It takes time and by goodness it’s a slog sometimes. But if you put the hours in and really take the time to build relationships you’re half way there.

One thing that helps you run the Equestrian Creative Network more effectively

Social media scheduling. Shhhh… I didn’t say that.

Best thing about running a business?

It’s a bit like raising a child. Through your efforts you see it flourish and develop – sometimes in ways you hadn’t thought when starting out. It’s a pain in the butt at times. But always worth it. 

Worst thing about running a business?

Work/life balance is difficult to achieve at times. I need to stop myself. Should stop myself. Step away

from the emails! 

Liam and his first pony, Foxy Lady. Still knocking about. Her retirement role is as a baby sitter for the foals.

Top business blog you follow

I like Social Media Examiner and like following the work of agencies like Social Chain

Top business book you’ve read

Not really a business book as such, but Rich Dad Poor Dad changed how I look at money and how to use it. 

Top business achievement

The ESMAs. Just phenomenal!

Where can we find you online (web, social)




It’s video time! In this video I’m talking all about how you can make something negative, positive – well, how you can take negative feedback generated by a faulty product and turn into a positive. How you can turn this into a great PR opportunity? Does it sound a bit far fetched? I don’t think so…

Is it really possible?

It honestly depends on a number of factors but I think in most cases it can be IF it’s handled properly. I say most cases because it obviously does depend on the ‘damage’ something has caused, this can be a variable and can mean that your task is incredibly difficult if not impossible. However, when I created this video I was thinking more about popular products that we buy that can leave us disappointed, something like clothing or footwear. I’m not talking dodgy seatbelts here. I’m looking at the kind of products that most people sell online.

Any other caveats?

Yes. The dodgy product needs to be unusual. If all your products are substandard you’re basically firefighting and you can’t win long term because everyone is going to be peed off with you because you’ve let them down.

But what about social media?

Yep. Social media has changed the game in this area. Previously people would call the company or email them first – or even take it back to the shop they bought it from – and would follow the correct complaints procedure. Now they take to social media. If you’re lucky they’ll send you a message, but they might just post that you’re Satan on your Facebook page and that they’re bitterly disappointed/the product is cheap and rubbish/they hate you. Before you become a keyboard warrior too, just take a breath. It can be really frustrating and it makes you wonder if you should bother trying to turn this negative into a positive but you should. Honestly. Even if they don’t respond how you’d like, your other customers will see that you’re trying – in some cases they might come to your defence (I’ve seen this happen before…). Acknowledge their message and suggest they DM you or email you with additional information to try and remove the discussion from public view. This has the obvious benefit but also allows you to ask them personal details that they shouldn’t disclose in public. Be nice to them. Try and help them. Obviously you must follow your company’s complaints procedure, but do it in a nice way. If you say you’ll get back to them by a date – DO – even if you have to say you’re still waiting. Keep them informed. Be honest. Be genuine. Be understanding. If you can, send them a goodwill gesture. You’ll be amazed at how these ‘haters’ can become your biggest cheerleaders if treated kindly and respectfully by someone who wants to help them.

Of course, no one should ever be happy with selling substandard products, but sometimes things slip through the net- I’ve had clothes shrink, boots split and all manner of things as I am sure you have. These things happen and people do generally understand. And if you’re nice to them, you might have got yourself a lifelong brand ambassador too.

If you liked this, you might like this blog here – all about turning a negative or fault products into a good PR opportunity.

If you need to get any business cards or other business stationery sorted out for yourself, there are lots and lots of providers out there. I’m not saying you should use my choice, which is Moo, but I’m going to tell you why I chose them and, hopefully, highlight some points that you can have a ponder about before you take the plunge.Why I use Moo.com

What is a business card? Really?

Let’s just think about what a business card is. At its most basic, it’s a way of giving people your contact details, but it has the power to do a whole lot more. Like a website is your online shop window, a business card can have a similar power. Hand over a scrappy bit of paper and that’s what people have to remember you by. A scrappy bit of paper. And that’s not how you want to be seen. Is it?

More than a place to put your phone number…

In my opinion, a business card can be so much more. At one end you have the scrappy bit of paper or poor quality card that bends and stains and just looks rubbish. At the other end you have clever business cards. I’ve seen ones made out of wood, with liquids in – just have a Google. It’s a bit mind blowing. I’m looking at the happy medium area. As much as I’d love a business card made out of wood, I don’t think I’d like to give them away, and I would need a suitcase on wheels to carry them around. And I don’t need more bags!

But, luckily, there’s a big area that sits between scrappy paper and wood/metal/full on amazing business cards. There are a few things to consider when you think about your business card…

  • Design – you want your design to align with the rest of your branding
  • Copy – make sure the key info is on it
  • Colours – again, like design, you want these to align with the brand
  • Size – there’s more than one size
  • Quality – the thickness of the card that you use
  • Cost – goes without saying, but is often linked to the quality
  • Finish – matt or gloss
  • Extra touches – like spot gloss, embossed detail, foil spot and more
  • Quantity – again, no awards for guessing what that means

I know this is just business cards, but the above applies to other business stationery too.

And here’s why I use Moo.com!

This can seem like an overwhelming list if you’re just starting out. But it’s not. A lot of these things you’ll already know if you have a website, a logo or any kind of branding. It can be difficult to get inspired, visualise different finishes and card quality, but what I’d suggest is a bit of time on Google and ordering a sample pack or two – here’s a link to the moo one. If you’ve had a designer work on your website or logo, ask them for their ideas too. As for why I use Moo…

  • They do a great range of business cards in different sizes and different qualities and have a range of extra touches too
  • The customer service is second to none
  • There’s lots of inspiration on the site if you’re at a bit of a loss
  • They also produce ‘flyers’, which I use as compliment slips, stickers, postcards and other stationery items that match
  • I had an issue with one lot of postcards I had printed and they replaced them for me, for free, really quickly. I then had another issue with something that was entirely my fault but I didn’t like and they fixed that for me too. Really exceptional.
  • You can upload your own designs or customise theirs
  • The process sends you emails at different times so you can see where your order is

Of course, there are LOTS of people who print business cards out there, and I am sure many of them are very, very good. However, I’ve only personal experience of Moo, and I have no plans on changing in the near future. Definitely check them out.

I’d love to see your business card designs or ones that have caught your eye on the web. Please post below, or tag me on Instagram (@rheafreemanpr) with your business card in action!

Should you use a designer to help you with your website? The depends on a number of factors. I had a designer help me with mine (and I’ll tell you why!), but it’s also perfectly possible to produce a really good website yourself, especially if you use a nice template.

When I decided I was going to redo my website, I got on good old Google and started looking at Should you get a designer to help you with your website?templates. WordPress templates to be exact. Now, I usually have a designer, well, my lovely designer Amy, help me with my websites. Why? Because she’s better at it than I am. Simple as that. Can I tweak a template? Yes I can. But it would take me eight times as long, it wouldn’t look as good, I’d get frustrated as hell when something went wrong, and I’d always be concerned I was about to break it in a way that meant there was no going back. Although, for the record, I think the latter is quite challenging to do.

So why bother with a template? Because it will save you a fortune. If you have a site built from the ground up by a designer it can be really expensive. It’s just a simple case of time, and creating a completely bespoke website will take your designer a lot of time. For some people, this is the only option – they don’t want something ‘off the peg’, they want something bespoke. And that’s fine. But you’ll have to pay. The other option is the template.

You can get free templates on WordPress. And some of these are nice. Or you can buy a template (I think this one was about $50 ish?). When you buy a template (in my experience!), you get a lot more options and everything is, well, it’s just better. I’m not a designer, but I like nice design, and it doesn’t take a lot to imagine my colours and branding on a nice template, but on a more basic one, I know there’s going to be more design work involved to get it to look like how I want it to. With the features I want. I did discuss the template selection with my designer before I purchased it too, so she made sure that she was happy with the backend and could make the changes easily. Again, this step will save you time and money in the future.

I work with Amy, my website designer, because I really like her work and I have worked with her for years. She understands my quirks. And she’s got a really good eye for design and detail. And I like that. More to the point, I can send her a list of things I want fixing and she’ll do them, while I carry on with the work I do that earns me the money to pay her. I do enjoy a bit of web design, and I love writing the copy, but I know there’s a trade off – should I spend four hours learning to do something that I will probably never need again, or do I ask Amy and pay her for the 30 mins it will take her. Well, probably more like 15 minutes actually. See, it’s that simple. Not only is Amy better at it than I am, it’s cheaper for me to use her…because my time, just like yours, has a value.

Now, there are exceptions to my thoughts above. If I was time rich, I’d have done more myself, because I would have been able to enjoy the process and the learning aspect of it. Because I wouldn’t be thinking ‘my to do list is getting longer and the phone keeps ringing’, I’d be immersed in it. Equally, if I wanted to offer a web development service, I’d put the time in and be Youtubing like a mad thing to learn how it all works.

So, do you need a web designer to create or help you with your site? It’s completely up to you – are you time poor, or time rich? Do you want to learn a new skill? Are you looking to improve your web development skills for your business or is your website just a platform rather than a showcase of your web design skills?