Plants. Camera. Action!

Features - Cover Story

Use video marketing to amp up your operation’s sales and reputation.

April 28, 2016

Johnson Nursery creates all of its video marketing in house, and publishes content on its website for consumer education.

Photos by Matt Ray with Millie Holloman Photography

Perception of value: It’s the fundamental challenge most companies within the green industry struggle with in today’s marketplace. Getting paid what you should for the products and services you provide and moving enough volume depends on customers who assign high value to what you offer. These days, the responsibility for making that value connection with retail buyers and home gardeners seems to be falling more squarely on the shoulders of the plant growers.

Hit your target

As with any good sales strategy, delivering the right message to the right customer is key to building strong profits. More and more, consumers are turning to video as a place to learn about products they want to purchase. Why should shopping for plants be any different, be it at the wholesale or retail level? Remember that your direct customers (plant buyers) are trained as consumers by the other companies and industries they buy products from. As other industries successfully use video to better communicate the value and benefits of their products, plant buyers will be looking to wholesale growers to do the same.

Chason Johnson (right) says he's influenced by brands like Apple and Chevrolet to spread Johnson Nursery's message via video.

Keeping up

When researching wholesale growers that are using video in their marketing strategy, Johnson Nursery in Willard, N.C. came to my attention. While their use of video is still exploratory, their approach of marketing to both industry buyers and end consumers stood out. Chason Johnson, the young V.P. of this family-owned wholesale growing operation, cites the influence of other industries using video marketing as a significant motivator for his company to go visual with video.

When Johnson joined the family business full-time two years ago, he noticed something peculiar about the horticulture industry, given the digital nature of today’s marketplace. “Every day you see video ads for Chevrolet, Apple, whatever it may be,” says Johnson. “And only rarely have I seen video advertising involving the horticulture industry.”

Similar to manufacturers of products subsequently sold at retail, such as Apple and Chevrolet, Johnson decided it was also their company’s duty as plant growers to educate both their direct buyers and the end user about the plants they would potentially buy. “I feel it is my job to help educate and promote the product I am producing not only to my customers, but to the customers of my customers,” he says.

B2C value

While many wholesale growers have yet to embrace B2C (business to consumer) marketing, opting out of this strategy is becoming a less sustainable approach in today’s marketplace. (See “Make your message heard” in the February 2016 issue for more on this topic.) Just because the end user may not be buying the plants directly from your company (yet), that doesn’t mean you don’t have a vested interest in making sure they’ve been educated and enticed by it when they shop at retail.

Know that videos don’t have to be created primarily as B2C pieces in order to be relevant to the end user. Videos can be strategically geared toward your direct industry customer and still be interesting and useful to gardening customers. Often, simply getting to see behind-the-scenes of how plants are chosen, sourced and grown can breed familiarity and brand value with those who ultimately plant your product.

Johnson’s latest video marketing campaign “In the Nursery” does, however, directly target the end consumer. The video series is designed to educate gardeners on certain plants, showcase new or improved varieties and cultivars, and simply highlight the beauty of the plants grown at Johnson Nursery. These videos typically star the nursery’s plant growers or associated vendors. “We feel that if our customers thrive, we will thrive,” Johnson says. “And by helping market directly to the consumer, our hope is that this will bring more people in contact with garden centers and landscapers.” Exactly.

So what’s the ROI? Time will tell, says Johnson. “The ‘In the Nursery’ series is only about six months in the making, so we have not seen a huge response just yet,” Johnson says. “But our goal is to host these on our website on each corresponding plant’s page and slowly build our viewer base.” They host their B2C videos on YouTube.

Let’s meet B2B

When it comes to marketing your company to your industry customers, inspiring confidence is job No. 1. B2B (business to business) marketing serves multiple purposes. It helps you establish your company and brand as an authoritative and credible resource to your direct customers. It also fosters better relationships. Good wholesale business is built on the backs of great industry networks. Familiarity and trust translates to bigger and better transactions. So how do your customers get to know you?

Too often, company websites rely on mile-long pages filled with an extended company history to tell the story of their business. I guarantee that most potential customers may skim the first few sentences, but can’t bring themselves to keep scrolling. A two-minute video that offers a quick tour around your operation, including some brief history and key personnel, may be a more effective approach to making the right connection. Better yet, how about recruiting a few of your best customers to record video testimonials?

Show me what you’ve got

Next, you need to make it easier for your direct customers to buy from you. Getting visual with plant availabilities is still an area of great untapped opportunity. When plant buyers can see what they’ll be buying from you, chances are their order turnaround time will speed up and order volume will increase. Video slideshows of your weekly or upcoming availability could be a great way to make the task of buying both easier and more fun for your customers.

Johnson Nursery has done just that. When they decided they needed to get more out of their availability lists, they began putting video slideshows of their weekly availabilities up on their website. In fact, their plant availability is used as their core marketing tool from which all of their marketing outreach efforts stem. Johnson says that while this may seem like a simplistic approach, putting their availability lists to work across multiple platforms is a “huge sales tool” for him and the other sales staff.

Each week, Johnson Nursery staff takes more than 100 pictures of plants ready for sale and links them to the digital availability. It is from these plant availability photos that they then create their weekly availability videos. Johnson Nursery’s “Weekly Video Tour” takes viewers through the very best of what they currently have to offer. The availability videos are hosted both on the company’s website and their YouTube channel. Photos and videos are then distributed through their weekly “Hot List” email.

We feel that if our customers thrive, we thrive. And by helping market directly to the consumer, our hope is that this will bring more people in contact with garden centers and landscapers. — Chason Johnson, vice president of Johnson Nursery

A-list applicants

Publishing a recruitment video on your website or social media platforms that outlines what you're looking for in an employee may even attract a quality labor force to apply for a position, Halleck says.

Don’t forget about one of your most important marketing niches: recruiting. Boring job duty lists posted on your site or job boards are guaranteed to get you at least one thing: a big pile of generic resumes and potentially bad fits. When marketing products and services, customers want to see themselves reflected in what you have to offer in order to make that purchasing connection. Choosing where to advertise your job openings, or where send someone’s resume really isn’t any different. You want to get better applicants who fit in with existing personalities and company culture from the get go; potential employees want to work for companies they feel reflect their persona, lifestyle and career goals. The best way for you to cut your turnover costs and keep morale high is to hire the best fit the first time.

By having a good online video presence, potential hires will be able to get a better sense of who you are as a company and what type of work they’ll actually be doing if they join your team. They’ll get a preview of your facilities and be able to evaluate your product and marketing message. Take it a step further by posting a video announcement of your job openings and describe the type of person you’re looking for.

Get the job done

Johnson Nursery doesn’t yet have a dedicated marketing staffer in-house; Johnson and the rest of the sales staff each take on some of the marketing duties themselves. When they started with video, Johnson hired a professional videographer to come in and show them the ropes. Once they got the hang of it, Johnson Nursery staff started producing all the videos themselves on site.

Video doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective. You can use a good smartphone or digital camera to shoot good quality high-resolution footage. Be sure to shoot horizontally and take into account wind or equipment noise if you’re recording outdoors. Keep videos in the one- to two-minute range; if your topic requires more time, consider breaking it up in to a series of shorter videos. Have a theme for the video session and review the dialogue before you shoot. You can use simple video editing software, or even YouTube’s free Video Editor tool. While there are free services online, you might find it worth paying a small annual fee to use video creator platforms such as Animoto, WeVideo or Stupeflix for a more polished look.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, marketing strategy, digital content creation, branding design, advertising and social media support for green industry companies.