Native is its own brand

Nursery Management columnist Bill Jones says native plants meet the same qualifications, goals and characteristics as branded plants.

Photos courtesy of Carolina
Native Nursery

Horticulture has become dominated by brands. Some growers have become so enamored with them they have become “brand-a-holics.” I wonder how they choose which of the many brands they should grow and represent, then how they choose from all the plants available under that brand, then the expense of all the swag and royalties. It is certainly understandable considering how it seems everything has someone’s logo or brand on it. From our socks and underwear, to the computer I’m typing this on — most consumer products — it is harder to find something that doesn’t have a brand on it than something that does. Could it be that brands have become so pervasive that most have lost their strength and meaning or never meant anything to begin with?

Brands are supposed to do many things. They are supposed to: deliver a message clearly and succinctly, reaffirm your credibility, build an emotional connection with an audience, motivate a potential audience to buy or take the next step, generate goodwill and loyalty, and more. When you walk through a garden center today, there can be dozens of different brands on display. What does it really mean when there are many brands in the same section, some having practically the same species of plants? Probably not very much. And do landscape companies really care? Most don’t want to pay the extra 20-25% markup for the brand.

Do native plants need to find a way to fit in? How do native plants fit in to what has become horticulture brand land? Maybe they do not need to fit in to brands. Perhaps native is the brand because Mother Nature created their outstanding characteristics, and market forces outside horticulture are working everyday to reinforce “the native brand.”

How do native plants do this without fancy pots, tags, trademarks, royalties, expense accounts, marketing and sales programs, trials and everything else? They do it naturally. Let’s review what brands are supposed to do. Deliver a message clearly and succinctly: Native plants will bring birds, butterflies and pollinators to your garden and help restore our ecosystems. Reaffirm your credibility: By growing and selling native plants you are truly a part of the green movement. Build an emotional connection with your audience: By planting native plants in your garden, you are helping save our songbird, butterfly and pollinator populations, many from extinction. Motivate your potential audience to buy or take the next step: Gardeners know they are doing the right thing ecologically by buying and planting native plants. Generate goodwill and loyalty: See the preceding statements.

Native plants really have no marketing budget, plan or strategy. There are many organizations that occur outside of horticulture that are working on the marketing and sales of native plants. They have large audiences that are growing, lucrative, educated and very influential. For example, National Wildlife Federation, Audubon Society, Sierra Club and many more environmental and ecological groups, clubs and foundations all over the U.S. are talking about native plants today, as in right now.

The National Wildlife Federation was founded in 1936 and counts somewhere north of six million members and affiliates across all 50 states. They have over one million followers on Facebook alone and post about native plants constantly. The National Audubon Society, established in 1905, has 500 chapters, and over 600,000 members. They count over one million followers on Facebook and encourage all their members and followers to plant natives for the sake of the survival of birds. The Sierra Club has 3.8 million members and over 1 million Facebook followers. These groups have a combined 6.3 million members and 3.5 million followers on Facebook. Add to them master gardeners, all the school kids that learn about monarchs and milkweed in kindergarten, bird and wildlife lovers in general, young people in the Sunrise Movement, those who understand the Green New Deal, and many more.

Native plants meet many of the qualifications of some of the strongest consumer brands in any market. They are naturally credible, reaffirming, recognizable and deliver a message strongly and succinctly. The marketing takes place every day, all over the U.S. by immensely trusted and recognized sources that have millions of intelligent members and followers, many of means. And as more of these potential and current residential, commercial and municipal clients purchase plants and landscapes, the brand they will ask for is native.

Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of GIE Media, Inc.

Bill Jones is president of Carolina Native Nursery in Burnsville, North Carolina, a specialty grower of native shrubs, perennials, ferns and grasses.

June 2020
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