Q. What inspired you and industry consultant Laurie Scullin to come up with the Grassroots Marketing Initiative?
A. Laurie and I believe the horticulture industry needs to have a national program to promote the benefits of plants to the public. Many experts maintain that the rate of growth enjoyed by the industry over the past decades is over. Annual sales in several horticulture segments during the past few years are flat and can even be interpreted as shrinking. Baby boomers are aging and as a group are less likely to maintain the level of annual purchases for their garden as in the past. The population segments following are not demonstrating the same level of activity, interest or capability in gardening.
A little more than half the U.S. population participates in some gardening activity every year, and for 75 percent of those participants, it is only to mow the lawn. As marketers it is a compelling idea that the opportunity to grow the consumption for plants lies not in competing for business from those who are already engaged, but by promoting to those who don’t think about plants.
Together, the horticulture industry spends billions of dollars annually to attract consumers. The problem is most of the advertising consumers receive is competitive. Most of the messaging consumers receive about plants is crafted to cannibalize sales from someone else in the industry.
Our inspiration comes from imagining what can happen when the horticulture industry decides to play a simple tune together every so often. To not always compete against each other but to cooperate and compete for public attention about the enjoyment and benefits of plants.
Q. What is it about this initiative that is different from other industry marketing programs that have been proposed before?
A. There are several essential differences. A mandatory marketing order is not required. The funds that need to be raised to develop and maintain the program are a fraction of the amounts put forth in other proposals. It is an inclusive program that does not compete with any brand, company or horticulture industry segment, and it can be positioned to support them all.
The initiative does not rely on purchasing audience impressions. Imagine a simple call to action, like a “Got Milk” message for plants. This voluntarily placed slogan would not replace marketing or brand messages, but would help support the idea that plants are good for (fill in the preferred benefit). If the medium gained traction and many industry members participated, the result could be a non-traditional medium that reaches millions of consumers for free.
Social media is a key component of the initiative that previous proposals did not include and could not have anticipated, even three years ago.
Q. During the initiative’s introductory meeting at last year’s OFA Short Course, the use of e-media to promote flowers was discussed. Why do you think these types of media would be more successful than the traditional outlets?
A. To use traditional media to deliver a sustained and effective horticulture industry message requires commitment and funding levels not available today. Traditional media is also less effective than it once was in reaching all audiences due to the proliferation of media choices.
In comparison, social media in concert with the horticulture industry delivering “call to action” type messaging on its own “free” media (tags, trucks, wraps, etc.) provides a way for people to find information about the benefits of plants, to discover interesting content and links prepared by industry members, and to interact and share with industry members and each other. Connecting with social media sites has important benefits for business as paid advertising vehicles and as an important way to improve on-line SEO (search engine optimization) strategies.
The cost to develop, orchestrate and maintain a horticulture industry social media strategy and presence, while not free, is only a tiny fraction of the budget needed for a traditional media campaign. There is still a place for traditional media in an on-going strategy when integrated with social media at a local level.
Q. At the Short Course meeting it was discussed about coming up with a simple common message that could be used by all industry segments. Is this still being considered?
A. Laurie and I have developed Life. Plantlife. as a concept message to illustrate the initiative. It is based on visuals that depict life with and without plants, plus a benefit statement that ties it to the industry segment. We’ve developed concepts representing all segments of the horticulture industry: floriculture, nursery and landscape, turf, as well as all points of public contact with plants at home, at work and in the community.
A committee should be established to represent all industry segments while also representing the profiles of those we want to appeal to: younger, female audiences. Their role would be to filter and fine-tune the slogan and messages to ensure they are appropriate and effective. These concepts should then be tested with consumers for their responses to be sure our efforts generate the best possible return on investment.
Q. Initially how much money do you think will be needed to start this type of program?
A. To move forward, we have two choices. Gather a small committee of industry professionals together, settle on a slogan and just jump in as a true grassroots effort. In theory that costs nothing.
A professional approach would involve doing consumer market testing of the slogan, developing a marketing plan and reaching out to the industry for fundraising. The initial “grassroots” portion would be supported with a web and social media presence. This approach would be more costly, but would likely have a greater chance of success.
Our analysis shows a minimum investment needed for launching an effective horticulture industry program, is upwards of $300,000.
For more: Frank Zaunscherb, Zaunscherb Marketing Inc., (905) 304-5222; www.zmi.ca.