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During the past decade, marketing has become an increasingly important function in the horticultural industry. For many, marketing is viewed narrowly as advertising, brochure development, or logo design. Some view sales and marketing as the same thing.
The most elegant definition of marketing is “meeting needs profitably.” Marketing management is the science of choosing target markets and getting, keeping, and growing customers through creating, delivering, and communicating superior customer value.
In most consumer-driven organizations, marketing managers are responsible for making decisions related to products, pricing, distribution (place), and promotion, commonly referred to as the four Ps of marketing. It is the combination of these activities that deliver value. In your organization, who is responsible for ensuring that this is done in the most optimal fashion?
There are two critical components that are often overlooked during marketing conversations: needs and customer value. Do you really know what the needs are of your customers beyond just the plants you grow? How are you aligned with their needs? How do your offerings and activities create or destroy value for your customers?
If you can’t answer these questions with great confidence, then you are doing a poor job of marketing. No amount of money spent on trade shows, brochures, catalogs, and websites will overcome misalignment with customer needs and value destruction.
Another important component of marketing is precise targeting. Who exactly is your customer? If you are a grower, your customer may be one or more of the following: the independent garden center, the box stores, landscaper, et al. All of these selling channels have different needs. A valid question to ask yourself: can you profitably meet the needs of all of these groups?
I’d argue that in some situations, your target customer is an individual buyer, for example. Whether or not you get the order probably depends on if you are meeting an individual’s needs. What does a buyer really want from you? Make him or her look good? Reduce risk? If that’s the case, then you’d better be aligned with those needs.
Some in this industry think their customer is the homeowner and the retailer is just an intermediary. That’s certainly a valid strategy but requires a laser focus on the consumers’ value drivers — which are far different than the retailer.
The principal outcome of this EAGL (Executive Academy for Growth & Leadership) marketing module is a marketing plan. Many of our EAGL delegates sell to local independent garden centers (IGCs); to calibrate the group, we organized a two-hour focus group with six leading garden retail establishments from across the United States.
The IGC speaks
Based on our focus group, we identified five “higher order” needs of the IGC.
Be a partner
Retailers want vendors who act as business partners. Develop a personal relationship based on understanding the retailer’s needs, desires, and obstacles.
- Know my business and clientele (demographics and consumer shopping habits)
- Act as a market expert by informing me on what’s trending, and help me make the connection to other product categories outside of plants
- Have efficient communication and logistics:
- Quality and inventory of plants and trees (you can deliver what you sold me)
- Clear communication of lead times
- Which variety and combination of plants consumers desire
- No surprises — tell me if/when substitutions will be needed
Sell quality stuff
Quality products are essential and every person at a growing operation needs to understand that they play a central role in the success of a garden center.
- Send me healthy plants
- Prefer items that can be easily up-shifted (i.e. repotting into larger pot)
- Plants that are tested to be compatible for the target climate
- Help me find the right balance of “new”
- Too much variety leads to consumer confusion
- But, color variety can lead to easy sales
Help me help the consumer
Retailers believe increasing consumer confidence will drive traffic to garden centers. The level of consumer knowledge is low and every trip should remind the consumer that planting is easy for anyone to do.
“A garden center is a minefield of embarrassing moments for the consumer.” - Focus Group Retailer
How can growers contribute to consumer confidence?
- Provide combination suggestions to consumer so that they aren’t left to their own devices.
- Make planting easy by including easy-to-read labeling with individual plant requirements (e.g. light, watering, etc.) “We still have a lot of work to do with labeling.”
- Developing combinations or assistance with combination shopping (e.g. mailbox planting or hummingbird gardens)
Help me sell the product
Packaging and signage are still a big concern for retailers. Retailers desire packaging that is standardized, simple to display, and not plastered with “advertisements.” Generally, retailers wanted support in building their brand.
- Vendors should pre-price their plants and send SKU’s to retailers ahead of time
- Vendors need to develop some type of tray packaging standardization (i.e. vendors adhere to an agreed-upon mix of packaging sizes/shapes)
- Pot branding should be plain, with no obtrusive vendor advertisement or labeling
- Plant tags should be:
- The correct size for the pot (i.e. no small tags in large containers and vice versa)
- Helpful, but not overloaded with information (i.e. sometimes tags “un-sell” products)
- Show basic plant requirements and a picture (i.e. no need for long-winded verbiage)
Understand that my business has changed
The IGC retailer is a different business than ten years ago. Retailers have diversified into landscaping services and some have become event and promotion-focused to drive customer traffic. A true partner takes the time to learn our business and identifies ways to support this.
- How can you support new services such as landscaping, garden coaching or at-home consulting)?
- How can you integrate further into our unique market offerings or monthly promotions?
Admittedly, this focus group caused some heartburn. Heard more than once from our EAGL delegates:
- “We try to be business partners but we can only get so far.”
- “We’ve spent a lot of money on signage and no one uses it.”
- “They just want the plants. I’m not convinced they really value the other stuff.”
Another important lesson in marketing is segmentation. Not every retailer is going to value what you do, or they may only value some of the things you do. That’s OK and you cannot change that.
The key to success is to segment your customer base and “work with the willing.” I guarantee that you can find a handful of retailers in your market area who want to grow their business or increase profitability and also see value in the items listed above. My advice to you: focus your investments and resources, and do the math. Imagine how your bottom line would improve if you could grow sales or increase profitability with just a handful of customers. They are out there and waiting.
Kip Creel is the president and founder of StandPoint Inc. Executive Academy for Growth & Leadership is a program operated by StandPoint, in collaboration with Texas A&M University. More information can be found at www.eaglpro.com.
Breeders will continue to introduce new plants, but how does the grower, landscaper or retailer know if they’re any good? That is the importance of plant trials. With a few exceptions, landscape trials consist mainly of plants already introduced to the public. Trials serve an important function: to allow easy comparison of taxa within breeder material and also among different breeders. In his keynote address at the 2015 International Trials Conference, Allan Armitage spoke about the role plant trials play in shaping the future of horticulture. We spoke with the author, speaker, horticulturist and University of Georgia professor emeritus about the challenges and potential for improving the process of plant trialing.
What are the challenges public and private trial gardens face, and what’s the best way for them to coexist going forward?
The challenges all trial gardens face is ‘Who’s paying attention?’
A private trial garden that is trialing in order to see what is best for them to sell, or brings in trials from other companies to see what they can make money on, is becoming more and more important. We have more and more companies that are trialing because they work with the large box stores, and the box stores come in and see what they’ve got, looks good, brings customers in, and it sells plants.
For the private trialers, the challenge is how you work it into your budget, how you keep one breeder from looking at another breeder’s product, etc.
Public trials are under far more pressure. Public, meaning university trials mainly. There are certainly botanical gardens, but they seem to have their own budget. The issue is funding — as it always is in a university — and who’s going to do it. I mentioned that a trial garden is no place for a young professor. Because a young professor, in order to get tenure and promotion, must raise lots of money and must publish academic papers. Both of those are difficult to do if you are managing a trial garden. It doesn’t mean they can’t do it on the side, but it’s difficult.
Most of the funding for academic trial gardens comes from the breeder. That’s all well and good, but the more private operations that get into trialing — the Metrolinas, Youngs, Van Wingerdens — the breeders have to ask, ‘Where am I going to put my money? Where am I going to put my time?’ Sometimes, the academic side of it is more difficult.
In your keynote, you said “new” is important for some consumers, but for some consumers it isn’t. How does a trial garden square that demand to keep up with all the new plants?
The fact is that most consumers don’t have a clue what’s new. That doesn’t mean they don’t ask what’s new, but they see something that looks beautiful and it could be five years old, but it’s new to them and that’s just fine.
From a trialing point of view, that’s why we have standards and comparisons and we have the old plants in there as well as the new. So that A) we can certainly see if the new is any good and B) so we can show that there is value in some of these older plants. That balance is quite important.
Speaking of standards, should public and private trials adhere to uniform across-the-board standards for a more apples-to-apples trial?
We have to make our data transparent. We have to make it so you can go to one site and see what a geranium or Astilbe looks like in Georgia, Wisconsin or California. You, being a person who’s interested in knowing where these plants are best, can then tailor your own sales to say, ‘These are the best ones, let’s go get them.’ A garden center should be able to get on this one site and say, ‘These are looking really good for me.’
And that’s what they should be concentrating on, because even though the consumer has no idea, the consumer is going into a garden center because they trust the garden center. They can go to Lowe’s and Home Depot every day, that’s fine, I have no problem with those guys. But if you’re going to a garden center, and the garden center is going to survive, they have to have plants that people can trust, and that’s how you find them.
What’s happening with the National Plant Trials Database? How can trial sites and breeders get involved?
The National Plant Trial Database started three years ago, and it’s really easy for a breeder or trial garden to get involved.
It’s doing well, but it’s not doing great. We’ve got 12 breeders, 39 trial gardens. There’s a lot more breeders and trial gardens than that. It’s like three steps forward and two steps back.
To me, it’s the most important way in which trial gardens are going to make a difference. I don’t mean to say they don’t make a difference already, for people who are wanting to visit or go to their own website. But let’s get this so that everyone is using the same standards.
The National Plant Trial Database does put out standards – how many times you have to take data, how many plants you have to put in the trial, when you have to start them – things of that nature. Now it’s up the breeder to get the material to the trial gardens on time and it’s up to the trial gardens to get the info back to the breeders on time. That’s what we’re working on. I think it is an important concept.
For more: www.planttrials.org
It’s one of the great fears of businesses in the digital age. A customer catches you or one of your employees at a bad moment, and the unhappy customer goes home and types up a scathing review of your company and all its failures. These days, they might not even wait until they get home. Are you a forward-thinking business with its own Facebook or Yelp page? Get ready for a bad review to mar your pristine, carefully-cultivated reputation. Something one person types on a phone from your parking lot could influence potential customers searching online for your business or your services. It’s the type of thing that keeps business owners up at night.
Salem, Ore.-based Third River Marketing created ReviewSprout to help green industry businesses build, promote and manage their online reputation. Tim Fahndrich, founder of ReviewSprout and president of Third River Marketing says that ReviewSprout.com is the only reputation marketing and management platform built specifically for the green industry. The service is aiming at a broad swath of horticultural companies, targeting landscapers and lawn care professionals, landscape designers, landscape architects, irrigation installers, hardscape contractors, garden centers, nurseries, pest control, and more.
ReviewSprout was presented with a Retailer’s Choice Award at the 2015 Farwest Show in Portland, Ore. The awards recognize outstanding new live goods and hard goods that are available for garden retailers to sell. Award winners were chosen by The Garden Center Group, an alliance consisting of over 150 companies, is the industry’s business development resource for garden centers and suppliers.
Today’s customers are looking online for reviews, and they’re smart, savvy and wary of anything that doesn’t pass the smell test. ReviewSprout assists green industry businesses by helping them get found and stand out above the competition, Fahndrich says. Consumers are making “almost instant decisions of where to shop based on search visibility, online reviews, social media engagement, and mobile accessibility,” he says.
ReviewSprout.com uses a proprietary system to proactively gather feedback and reviews from customers and turn those reviews into a marketing asset. Using the concept of what the company calls a Reputation Marketing Power Wheel, it facilitates the entire process beginning with a new or recent customer transaction all the way through the generation of new leads who in turn become new customers, and the process starts all over again.
First, you upload your recent customer contacts into the ReviewSprout system and send a fully customizable automated email series inviting them to submit feedback about their experience with your company. Next, your customers are given their choice of review platform. There are many third-party choices, and all the biggies are there: Google, Facebook, Yelp, Angie’s List, and more. Or they can simply type their feedback into your company’s branded ReviewSprout review engine.
So now that your company has some solid testimonials from eager customers, you’re all set, right? Well, that’s a good start. But that’s when the “reputation marketing” part of ReviewSprout’s platform kicks in. Social media syndication leads to more likes, comments, reach and engagement, which leads to a stronger presence with the search engines, which leads to more people finding your business on Google, Bing or Yahoo!
Interested businesses can get started with a 15-day trial of Reputation Builder package for $1 to take a test drive of the system, or you can select from one of three packages that best fits your goals and your budget. Once the almost-free trial is over, the Reputation Builder package costs $97 per month.
For more: www.reviewsprout.com
I often joke about my ridiculously short attention span. And it’s something that plagued me long before the so-called digital age. When I saw the Pixar movie Up!, I knew I’d found my soulmate in the character Dug, the dog who stops talking mid-stream and yells, “Squirrel!” (Refresh your memory here: http://bit.ly/1cwNE6m)
Research indicates that a goldfish has a longer attention span than the average human. According to a study by Microsoft, the average human attention span in 2000 was 12 seconds. It dropped to 8 seconds in 2013. The average attention span of a goldfish: 9 seconds. How do we get the consumer to hear the value message of plants in such a short time? According to Microsoft’s research, “it’s not as bad as you think.” Whew! Here are some takeaways from the research.
Marketers must address all three types of attention, according to the research.
Sustained: Tech adoption, social media usage, and multi-screening behaviors mean consumers are getting worse at paying attention for extended periods of time, but they’re able to do more with less through higher bursts of attention and more efficient encoding to memory. Be clear, personal, relevant and (quickly) get to the point.
Selective: Filtering out distractions isn’t related to tech or social media usage or media consumption, but it declines with more multi-screening. Brands need to hold consumers attention to compete with other stimuli, but there’s also potential to grab attention away from other interests. Defy expectations, leverage rich media and movement to grab attention.
Alternating: Digital lifestyles improve the ability to switch between tasks, but only to a certain point, when consumers can get overwhelmed. Embed calls to action, be interactive, use sequential messaging, and build cohesive, immersive experiences across screens.
Even if you have to take it in a few seconds at a time, read the rest of the research here: http://bit.ly/1dZdpnn.
See more coverage on marketing beginning on page 37 and find out how some of the big plant brands connect to the consumer.