One of the most spirited discussions during the Nursery Grower Business Coalition involved marketing. Marketing is the vehicle that will push the green industry forward. But the processes and channels of marketing plants was at the center of the debate. “Why” wasn’t the question, instead it was “how.”
“In terms of a national marketing campaign, I think many in the industry are not against the idea, but stupefied as to how it could be accomplished,” notes Maria Zampini, co-founder of UpShoot, a horticulture marketing firm. “Grass-roots efforts — which have been discussed in the past as the best way to market plants — is important. But unless there is a common, unifying thread, it will only go so far.
“Until we can walk into a room and check our egos at the door, then look at it from a how can we perspective and not a why we can’t perspective, then a national campaign won’t work.”
Zampini points to Plant Something!, an existing model that’s getting attention in several states. Plant Something! is a program that got its start at the Arizona Nursery Association. This simple, yet dynamic campaign was designed to get consumers outside to plant trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. ANA then extended an invitation to other state nursery and greenhouse associations to join the campaign. State associations receive access to all promotional materials originally created by ANA. They can modify existing artwork to suit their needs and develop promotional materials customized to their state, including brochures, plant tags, plant stakes and posters. Check out the program at www.plant-something.org. To date, 16 state associations have adopted it.
“I love Plant Something!, but they have struggled to get nursery associations on board, some of which are saying, ‘we can’t afford it.’ I say you can’t afford not to do it,” Zampini adds.
Angela Treadwell Palmer, founder of Plants Nouveau, which helps breeders get new plants to the market, agrees that the Plant Something! program could be highly effective if more states would support it.
“It’s a great place to start. Plant ‘something’ could mean ‘anything.’ It’s a versatile term. If we all used it, it would become a recognized tagline. We need it to go viral, so to speak,” Palmer says.
Instead of thinking about it as a national marketing campaign, try looking at it as a “movement,” she adds.
“Use some of the same language, such as the health and benefits of all plants, so there’s a unified message. It could be as simple as the entire industry using the same hashtag,” she says.
Speaking of hashtags, social media is the industry’s biggest ally when it comes to marketing plants to consumers.
“It’s free, it’s easy and it reaches the masses,” she adds.
Most participants at the NGBC agreed that a “Got Milk?” type campaign is not achievable. Milk is milk, generally speaking. But trees aren’t annuals and shrubs aren’t houseplants. While the message needs to be unified, there’s got to be some flexibility for the different types of plants, says Ken McVicker, director of marketing and product development at Van Essen Nursery in Lebanon, Ore.
“The umbrella message can be universal, but it needs to have a flexible supporting message for multiple purposes,” he says.
The industry must effectively communicate the value proposition that plants bring to consumers, he adds.
“Our product does something for the quality of life. It’s a feel-good product and it’s a true environmental product,” he says. “And we should also communicate what it takes to bring a plant to market. The majority of consumers don’t begin to comprehend the science, the technology or the finesse it takes to get a plant to the garden center.”
During the event, Randy Bracy, owner of Bracy’s Nursery in Amite, La., addressed the crowd and urged everyone to work together to bring about a collaborative marketing program.
“We as an industry do not collectively market our product,” Bracy says. “But if we had something we could all do and push one message forward, it would be a good thing. Bracy’s Nursery puts [that message] on all of our products and the garden center down the street does the same thing. Everybody down the line uses it. Consumers would see the message on the plants, on a banner in the garden center, in newspaper ads. The cost to each industry person would be negligible.”
Back to basics – way back
In conjunction with getting more consumers interested in plants, the industry also needs to better educate customers on the basics of gardening. There’s a lot of so-called gardenspeak on tags, on signs and in garden centers – things the industry thinks is basic information that everyone understands. Think again.
“One of our biggest obstacles with marketing plants is, that as an industry, we assume way too much about consumers’ knowledge of plants and gardening in general,” says Angela Treadwell Palmer, founder of Plants Nouveau., and NGBC attendee. “So many of them don’t know the difference between a perennial and an annual. But consumers are hungry for information. I know, because we get calls and emails almost daily asking basic questions about a plant.”
The “basics” we’re putting out on tags and other marketing material needs to be even more elementary.
“We think we’re sharing basic information in the form of hardiness zones and sun or shade requirements, but many consumers don’t even understand that,” she says.
Palmer uses Google Analytics to see what search terms get people to the Plants Nouveau website, and a lot of it is looking up basic gardening terms, she says. “Consumers are uncomfortable with what they don’t know or understand. So we’ve got to help them understand and get them comfortable with plants,” she says.
The main objective would convince the consumer that plants aren’t a luxury but a necessity in their everyday lives, Bracy adds. He envisions state and national organizations stepping in to help manage the message. It’s going to take time and total participation, he says.
“We really need the state and national associations to push this whole thing. The $64,000 question is getting the associations to agree on the message,” Bracy says.
Read more about the Bracy’s campaign.