Recently we posted several articles about “collective marketing,” the whole idea of having an industry-wide “got milk?” type of campaign. The general conclusion these posts arrived at was that such an initiative would simply not work as we currently define it.
But rather than give up, OpenHort has 3 ideas that can change the green industry. Here they are:
Play to our strengths.
One of the major reasons “collective marketing” won’t work is because the industry is so fragmented…regionally, climatically, horticulturally…the list goes on. As the ANLA posted on the Knowledge Center Facebook page last week, “efforts…were always harmed by the industry’s diversity and fears that “flower growers would benefit more than tree growers,” or… “what if promotion peaks during Minnesota’s spring but I’m in Georgia?””
Instead of fighting an uphill battle, what if we played to this strength, in fact seeking to increase the diversity? OpenHort envisions a future with many more people actively selling plants for a living. We see an opportunity to form an army of individuals advancing the same cause: getting people excited about plants. It is our belief that the biggest change we can effect is through an emerging but ignored sector of the industry: the personal garden coach.
Huh? What is a “personal garden coach?” You’re probably already aware of the phenomenon of the “personal trainer” for fitness. A large percentage of Americans have the desire to get in shape, but not the knowledge or the drive to do it alone. Gardening and landscaping are very similar. Many homeowners and potential gardeners do not have the first idea how to get started. Our industry has made success very complicated for the average person with an average interest in plants
We have given the American consumer two options: call a landscape contractor and they will come to your house with a truck full of Mexicans or go to a garden center and blindly pick out plants as best you can. Trucks or shelves. Take your pick. [This is perhaps THE KEY insight we can offer, and we will visit it again. Trucks or shelves.]
Could it be that our sales are flat or declining not because people don’t care for plants but because they don’t particularly like the solutions we offer them? What if they don’t want trucks or shelves? What if they want a person to help them?
The third option is beginning to take root already. There are landscapers finding that their target customers are choking at $30,000+ landscape quotes, but eager to pay for a multi-year project done in stages. There are garden centers finding that the people coming through their doors (or not!) are intimidated and lack even a basic understanding of how to select, install and care for plants…but they are willing to pay for “personal shoppers,” to have their hands held and be guided through the life-long process of enhancing their homes with beautiful plants.
It is time for the industry to legitimize and encourage the emerging role of “personal garden coaches” by creating a national certification program. Such a program could bring many hundreds of new professionals into our industry. But existing firms do not have to worry that this will increase competition or shrink the existing pie nor their slice of it.
Retailers can have their staff become certified, and benefit from selling an additional service as well as selling more product. Landscapers, likewise, should not see this as a threat but rather an opportunity, either from offering this level of service themselves or by becoming “subcontractors” for an army of garden coaches out there independently spreading the gospel of gardening.
One objection to this idea: “Certification should be done at the state level.” Another objection: “We already have horticultural certification at the state level.” Take a moment to imagine something different. We imagine it as national in order for it to be more visible, powerful and normal. We imagine it as very different than simply a horticultural knowledge exam. One might know plants, but do they know how to “coach?”
By offering a national certification program, it will encourage this sector to grow tremendously by legitimizing it, professionalizing it, defining it and ensuring that it grows in ways that benefit the industry.
Once this national certification is in place, common or “generic,” easily-customizable sales, marketing and support materials could be developed and deployed via this network.
If you’ll forgive a Christian gospel analogy…instead of relying on converts to somehow show up at church and listen to one single preacher, let’s equip the congregation to go out and make disciples.
That’s our first idea on how to “sell more plants.” We have two more we’re ready to share.
The future belongs to the creative class, and its ranks are swelling quickly. The tools and distribution platforms to create and publish creative content have been democratized so greatly in the past 5 years that only the invention of the printing press can compare with the societal impact we will witness. Today, for less than the cost of a used car, a student can obtain the means of making a feature film that can rival Hollywood. With blogs, social media, desktop publishing, apps, mobile computing and video broadcasting platforms, the traditional media gatekeepers have lost their power.
OpenHort believes our industry has a tremendous opportunity before us. We can exploit this change. We can lead it. We can rehabilitate our image and reinvent ourselves faster than we can imagine. We can change the perceived value of plants.
OpenHort encourages every green industry firm to hire a creative. Every grower, garden center and landscaper should make it a priority—right now—to hire a talented multimedia creative producer. Do not look to your current staff to “fill in” like you always have done. And do not out-source the creative process to an expensive, established marketing firm. Hire your own creative.
It doesn’t have to be a full-time position, though that would be ideal. And it doesn’t have to cost a heart-stopping amount. There are many thousands of design and film students, amateurs and semi-professionals willing to work for as little as $10 per hour. True, many are only worth $10 per hour, but now, while the upheaval is still occurring, there are many talented creatives that are undervalued. OpenHort will help you find them by telling you how to advertise, what to look for and how to put them to work.
We want to see a massive infusion of new creative ideas into our industry, and we want OpenHort to be a connector, facilitator and inspiration to these creatives in the green industry. We believe that if as little as 20 firms made the commitment to hire a creative, and to task those creatives with promoting the basic fundamental value of plants…the innovation would be staggering. We would go a long way forward to understanding what we as an industry should focus on to “sell more plants.”
The way forward is not through clever slogans or slick brands. To focus on these is to get distracted. Slogans and brands are fine and well, so long as they connect emotionally with the people we want to buy more plants. The way to be relevant, the way to engage an audience, the way to move people and inspire them…is nothing new. We must tell stories. We should make it a priority to become world-class storytellers.
Whether it be through recruiting and equipping garden coaches or though finding and hiring creatives, we must make sure that they realize their #1 goal and primary skill should be in telling stories.
OpenHort has a modest proposal to begin a project that will point us forward in how we should tell stories.
We propose to make two documentary-style videos that tell the personal story of a gardener (end consumer) in an emotional and relatable way. The idea is a simple one: have real gardeners explain why they love plants. Not just for the results, but for the whole process. The experience. The lifestyle.
Once the format, tone and style of these videos are established and refined, we can make plans to produce and distribute them in a concerted way. Imagine if in a few years’ time we had 1,000 such videos made. It is possible. Even if the only viewers of these videos were their friends and family, which would happen naturally without paying for network airtime, the number of people impacted with a positive message for gardening would perhaps be close to 1 million. How much would this cost? We don’t know. Perhaps as little as $200k.
This is what we imagine: A garden center asks some of its customers to give testimonials to why they love plants. Depending on the garden center’s unique priority, they could choose the demographic that would most benefit them (GenY or BabyBoomer? Female? Middle-class suburbanite? Urban hipster? Tropical, xeriscape, vegetable?) The “creative” connected with the garden center makes the videos, producing two versions: one that specifically promotes the garden center and another that is generic and able to be used by the entire industry. What could be unleashed if we give voice to those most passionate about our products?
How can we encourage and nurture those with an average or immature interest in plants to pursue this interest further…and in a safe and credible way? We need to make it seem normal to have people talk about plants.
To move forward, OpenHort is asking for help. It is our goal to have 100 individuals contribute $20 to have these two pilot videos produced. It’s not that it will cost us $2,000; we don’t know what it will cost. And we don’t care about the money. OpenHort isn’t about money. We would gladly pay for this ourselves, but this is a test. We are tired of wasting our time. If we can’t convince 100 people to give up 20 bucks freely, without a guarantee that it will ever end up helping their business directly…then the whole concept of “collective marketing” and industry-wide participation in the common goal of selling more plants is…well, never gonna work.
If you’re tired of hearing people say, “We should have a campaign like GotMilk,” but never doing anything to make it happen. If you wish there was something we could do, here’s your baby step. We’re willing to work on this very hard, but we’re not willing to work alone.
In summary, OpenHort proposes that we:
1) Play to our strengths. Lay the groundwork for a massive influx of “personal garden coaches” by creating a national certification program. This would increase diversity and distribute the power and control, but in a way that could allow for common marketing messages.
2) Get creative(s). Encourage and guide all green-industry firms to hire creative individuals from outside the industry, and then put them to work.
3) Tell stories. Donate $20 to OpenHort to produce 2 pilot “Why I Garden” videos. To support us, send me an email: art[at]openhort[dot]com.
We are eager to hear your response to these ideas, and willing to support any others that may be superior. As with everything that OpenHort produces, you are free to use, borrow, improve upon or do anything at all you’d like to do with these ideas. We plan to post them on the blog later this week, so if you have suggestions or comments, please send them our way soon.
Art Parkerson for OpenHort