Educate the masses

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80% of North Americans know very little about gardening.

Photo by Cassie Neiden

It’s time we rethink the tags we are placing on plants going to market. I receive all of the “customer service” emails for Plants Nouveau. What does that mean? When someone buys one of our plants and has a question or a problem – even though we don’t actually sell plants – they find our name on the tag or they Google the name of the plant and they end up at our website, then they email us.

I actually don’t mind the questions. It connects me to the consumers, and I can see what they know and what they need help with. One of the big growers in the U.S. did some market research and they found, and no surprises here to me, that less than 20 percent of Americans know a lot about gardening. That’s right – less than 20 percent. For any math challenged readers out there, that means nearly 80 percent know little to nothing.

Read that again and commit it to memory – nearly 80 percent of the people we are selling plants to know little to nothing about gardening.

Yet, the 80 percent are still buying some plants, and they actually read the labels, and some follow the information religiously. What can we learn from this?

Perhaps we shouldn’t use one label for the entire U.S. and Canada. Let’s take hydrangeas, for example. The tags usually say full sun to part shade and some (like ours) specify that the plants would prefer afternoon shade. This works for most of the U.S. and Canada, but it certainly doesn’t work for southern Alabama where full sun for any amount of time will bring stress, disease and possibly death to any hydrangea.

What can we do as an industry to help? Printing tags is expensive. Trying to have a different tag for each region would be super expensive – especially for growers who ship plants all over the U.S. and Canada. Inventorying tags is a nightmare. If there were four different hydrangea tags for each hydrangea, how would the growers keep them all straight and make sure the plants going to the deep south had the right tag for sun exposure? How would plants going to Zone 6 and higher have the right overwintering information?

How do we reach the 80 percent beyond the tag? Googling the plant names gets them to websites with information, but can they find what they need to care for the plants there? Most new plant introduction companies and large growers gear their copy to growers.

Knowing that many consumers know nothing, we should re-write the website copy. Anticipate what questions they ask. Stop using words like floriferous and even blooms. The 80 percent of those who don’t know much about gardening call them flowers. Break it down to layman’s terms and talk like a non-gardener.

Phrases like mildew resistant don’t mean anything to someone who doesn’t even know what mildew is. I realize we need to let consumers know when something is resistant to a disease. That’s important and sometimes the reason a new plant is introduced. But let’s sit back in our copywriting chairs for a moment and think about what information is going to be helpful to the 80 percent. We tend to write tag, catalog and website copy for the 20 percent who know something.

Instead of writing, “The Meadow Mamas are a new series of slightly taller, super floriferous coneflowers from AB-Cultivars,” try this: “The Meadow Mamas are a new series of slightly taller coneflowers from AB-Cultivars that are completely covered in flowers.”

It’s that easy. Use the more technical information, but make sure the first sentence or two of the tag or website copy is filled with words anyone understands and leave the back of the tag or the bottom of the webpage for the nitty gritty.

Remember, your tag has four seconds to get someone’s attention, and four seconds is about all they will give you before moving on. Make sure the words you use mean something to the 80 percent.

Angela Treadwell-Palmer founded and co-owns Plants Nouveau LLC., a company that specializes in introducing and marketing new plants to the nursery industry. She’s been around the world, experiencing world-famous gardens and remote areas looking for new ideas and exciting plants.