Embrace modern media

Consumers and retailing have changed, as has media. Here’s how to reach today’s customers.

Maria Failla, host of the podcast Bloom & Grow Radio, interviews knowledgeable plant people from the perspective of a houseplant enthusiast, but not an expert, which resonates with listeners.

We’re living and working in times where marketing and media are ever-moving targets. Technology continues to evolve at a pace that’s tough to match. With the way media continues to redefine itself, choosing and executing the best marketing tactics can be confounding. If you’re still trying to use conventional sales channels to capture marketing share, you’re likely losing ground. If you haven’t figured out how to use new media channels to capture market voice, your brand may be going wholly unnoticed.

Media evolution

Many of your customers have likely forgotten the times when they couldn’t simply pick up their smartphone, tablet, or laptop and get what they wanted or needed, right now. The consumer desires that strike us in the moment can now often be fulfilled in the moment. Entertainment, education, and engagement are also right at our fingertips, 24/7. Media just isn’t what, where, or when it used to be.

YouTube channels and Instagram reign supreme with many of our target customers, and podcasts have seen a big resurgence in the past couple of years. For many consumers, these media channels have completely replaced traditional media such as books, newspapers, magazines, and TV. Clearly, there’s a big surge in plant interest amongst new consumers, but they aren’t getting the bulk of their plant education from us. Where is the green industry and garden center presence in the right-now marketing mix? We’re a bit hard to find.

Soft skills

Our struggle to adapt to and embrace evolving media stems, I think, from our primary systemic challenge in the green industry: poorly developed soft skills. We’ve got our hard skills down: We know our plant science, and we know how to grow great plants. It’s those pesky soft skills such as organic engagement, relatability, and empathy that seem to trip us up. Modern day media requires soft skills to be authentically effective. The bottom line is that our customers don’t really care how smart we think we are about plants — they only care about how that knowledge on our part is going to benefit them in relevant ways.

Market voice

If our industry doesn’t have much skin in the game when it comes to new media, who does? Amateur social media influencers, that’s who. For the most part, it isn’t the garden centers or plant growers who have well-developed educational and inspirational video channels and Instagram feeds with thousands of followers. The experts aren’t the ones producing online master classes. We aren’t the ones opening all the new plant shops with savvy online ordering options. It’s the amateur hobbyists. We didn’t give them the type of on-demand interactive content and media they wanted to engage with to feed their growing plant passions — or online purchasing options, for that matter. So, they did it themselves.

The danger

Now, there are pros and cons to the evolution of amateur enthusiast media channels. The biggest con being that when you have amateurs acting as media “plant experts,” you’re bound to get a lot of misinformation spread throughout the marketplace. I cringe when see misleading posts and photos about plant care, techniques, or ID pop up online, which happens daily. Most of these hobbyists just don’t know what they don’t know. You, as green industry pros, are the ones who are going to have to clean up those messes, and they could very well be hurting your business now and long-term.

The opportunity

The biggest pro for the green industry is that this momentum of consumer enthusiasm for plants can be a boon for your business, if you know how to leverage it. There is no reason we shouldn’t and can’t capitalize on the media engagement these eager plant enthusiasts have generated for us. To partner up with media influencers with big followings, you’re first going to have to be aware of them and acknowledge their existence. Sticking your head in the social media sand isn’t going to get you anywhere. If you’re not doing recon on Instagram, YouTube, or checking out all the new planty podcasts, then you’re missing out big time.

Too dumb?

There’s a dangerous trend in our industry of dumbing things down for our customers. I think we are doing a big disservice to all involved when we treat our customers like they aren’t smart enough — or don’t care enough — to absorb some detail. I’m good with simplification and packaging information into digestible and relevant pieces; but that’s different than dumbing things down. Once you do a little deep digging into modern media, you’ll discover that there is a real desire amongst new plant enthusiasts for more detailed botanical knowledge.

Podcast partners

Recently I did a flurry of podcast interviews, mostly with amateur plant enthusiasts. What did they want me to talk about? Light science for plants. No joke. I was really surprised by how successful these podcast episodes were, given the technical nature of the topics I discussed with the hosts. Listeners are hungry for plant knowledge. Bloom and Grow Radio is a great example of how amateur enthusiasts are garnering big audiences of plant keepers. The host, Maria Failla, is a self-described plant newbie. But she’s done a bang-up job on her podcast, and she has a big following. Kevin Espiritu of the Epic Gardening podcast is another great example of home-grown media success.

As a brand, you must control your messaging. If you aren’t where your customers are, that’s not going to happen. As an industry, it’s time we got into the game to embrace modern media, and partner up with the people who have suddenly captured our market voice.

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. lesliehalleck.com

February 2019
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