Target the right customers

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As the customer base for plants diversifies and changes how it shops, the industry must pay attention to those changes and adapt.

October 25, 2018

Plant lovers come from every background, gender and ethnicity.
Photo: Adobe Stock

Conversations are swirling these days around diversity in marketing campaigns. Brands of all sorts of products are working — or being pushed — to better represent a broader base of customers in their advertisements. Companies are swiftly held accountable by social media users when they get it wrong. Consumers have their eye on you and whether or not your marketing efforts make them feel included.

In this industry, we all win when more people garden and feel a connection to plants. Yet, how people love and use plants is evolving — as is who is engaging with plants. Your marketing reflects who you are inviting to the conversation. Have you built a big enough tent for everyone who wants to come to the garden party?

Challenging stereotypes is the first step to shaking up dated marketing. Who is the modern-day plant enthusiast and future gardener? Who is the modern-day and future homeowner, or business owner? What do they look like? Are they male or female? Where and how do they live?

As the world becomes more multicultural, and as women continue to strive for meaningful representation, younger consumers expect to see such change reflected in what they buy. Difference and diversity are looked upon much more favorably by younger consumers and they expect brands to be more inclusive. Men love houseplants, too — and women build landscapes. Some plant lovers — or wannabe plant lovers — use a wheelchair. And guess what? They aren’t all white.

If you spend any time watching TV these days, you’ll be hard pressed not to notice the sudden predominance of ads featuring multi-racial families, nontraditional family dynamics and representation of people with disabilities. The biggest brands in the world are doubling down on diversity. Plant growers and retailers need to take their cue.

Beyond these questions of diversity in demographics is one that might matter even more to us as an industry: Who qualifies as a gardener, and what qualifies as a garden? For me, gardening=one plant + one pot. If someone is growing just one plant, in any capacity, I consider it gardening in terms of how they are included in our marketing conversation. Broadening the definition of gardeners, garden-making and plant-keeping, is crucial for the green industry in an ever-urbanizing environment.

While you’re busy ignoring them, your target customers might just be generating their own marketing content around your product to better fit their own narrative. User generated content (UGC), such as video and social media posts, is nothing to sneeze at. At most of the grower and garden center retail-related talks I gave over the past year, I asked attendees if they used and followed Instagram — not many hands were raised. Well, I hate to tell you, but the plant keepers of Instagram are driving almost most of the marketing behind the current houseplant craze — not the industry. And they are apparently doing it completely behind your back.

If you want to know what’s going on in the marketplace — and how your customers want to use your plants and products — you will at least have to be a social media observer. Even if you aren’t engaging heavily on channels like Instagram, you’d better at least be looking at them.

Now, authenticity in marketing and advertising is a must. Pandering won’t get you far these days and how you market should make sense given what you sell. Relevance is required. Be thoughtful about how you proceed and make sure your message connects with real people and real needs. Be mindful about how your message impacts your ideal consumer’s mindset.

Most importantly, your marketing needs to drive actual sales. So while I am encouraging you to evaluate who you are including, or excluding, in your marketing efforts, you still need to make sure you’re hitting the right target. If you haven’t created a marketing plan for your company or product, which includes detailed information on your ideal customer, that’s a good place to start.

While you might think it’s not your business as a brand to get involved in social issues such as diversity — your customers might think otherwise. Remember: At a base level, most consumers want to see themselves reflected in the brands they buy, and they are looking for meaningful connections. As a brand, you have power to impact and shape ideas beyond just the plants and products you sell. There’s responsibility embedded in that power.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies.