Digital dialogue

Digital dialogue

Katie Elzer-Peters, owner of The Garden of Words, shares how to attract customers with a strong online presence.

November 2, 2020

Katie Elzer-Peters describes herself as “a copywriter specializing in plants, paddle boarding, dabbling in coffee cake and organic pet food, ghost-editing books about how to grow pot hydroponically, and producer of shiny and colorful five-fold brochures.”

Along with that, she’s an author of eight books and owner of The Garden of Words, a digital marketing agency that specializes in horticulture.

For 12 years, Elzer-Peters has used her education in public horticulture to help garden centers with web development, email marketing, digital strategy, implementation planning and so forth. “It’s kind of a gamut of marketing for the green industry,” she says.

One web search show that marketing agencies have grown popular over the years, but Elzer-Peters was somewhat ahead of the trend. While The Garden of Words is an agency now, she began as a contractor in 2007 after working at a botanical garden, and dabbling in custom printing and embroidery. Her inspiration for freelancing? Filling the need she once had.

“When I worked in botanical gardens, I was chronically in need of an extra set of hands,” she says. “And so I thought, ‘Well, if I can be that extra set of hands for somebody else, that would be great.”

While an extra set of hands is helpful, Elzer-Peters says hands that have experience in the green industry is even better.

“One of the limiting factors about working in the green industry is finding people who have green knowledge. When you’re hiring outside people to do marketing, design, anything, it’s helpful if people know something about plants, the seasonality and everything in general. There’s just a lot of nuances and prior knowledge makes things easier.”

She compares gardening to cooking: “If people mess up a few dishes, they assume they’re bad cooks. If a few plants die, people freak out and assume they have a brown thumb. This is why it’s important to know how to help the target audience.”

Marketing vs Branding

While some use marketing and branding as a singular expression, Elzer-Peters says they are indeed, different.

She defines branding as “a set of expectations that’s communicated through fonts, colors choices, the brand voice and whether you’re formal or casual.” Marketing, however, is the communication route regarding a company’s products and services; how they are positioned in the consumer eye.

Marketing during COVID-19

The most important thing right now is communicating, Elzer-Peters says. While people are growing more accustomed to the pandemic, it’s still important to “create comfort in your stores through the online experience, and make sure that onsite experience matches what you promised them.”

According to her, customer disappointment occurs when expectations aren't met and in this case, it's comfort.

This is essential because it creates a sense of safety, which she mentions is a basic role in the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. “If people don’t feel safe, they don’t move to the next level — the next part of the pyramid, which is your store.”

Marketing mistakes

While Elzer-Peters says she sees “tons” of marketing mistakes, the most common is missed opportunities to engage with customers.

“I feel like I’m beating a dead horse, but I don’t think people understand how important social media is for businesses,” she says. “Influencers are doing it really well, there are businesses that run almost entirely on Instagram and garden centers can join them.”

According to her, personal interactions create stronger bonds with customers, even if it stems from a comment post or like. By doing this, companies are letting customers know they are seen. In a world full of “loneliness,” Elzer-Peters says this goes a long way.

Digital dialogue

Another mistake she sees often is the need for new design and technology. With a new generation becoming the audience, Elzer-Peters says there’s a huge need for “modernization.” This includes the way consumers are reached, talked to and invited.

“The marketplace is huge and we’re competing with so many places now,” she says. “Etsy is a huge plant marketplace and so are big-box stores. Customers now want to be talked to in their language. Catchy hashtags and slogans bring people in. The whole ‘plant mom, plant parent’ thing has created fun around plants and garden centers should incorporate quirky-corny more.”

The takeaway

While Elzer-Peters understands how tiring it is to run a business, she says owners must find time to create a strong brand voice. Most importantly, they must make time to market that voice through a solid digital presence.

Her response to those who aren’t as social media or tech savvy? “Learn or hire someone who is. Whether people want to embrace it or not, change is coming so it’s good to have things in place.”