Create community to connect with the next generation

Departments - Straight Talk | Honest insights from an IGC expert

You may need to change up your overall marketing and branding strategies to reach younger customers.

August 20, 2019

A key marketing focus for many customers today, especially younger shoppers, is health and well-being.

Grabbing the interest of younger customers and new plant enthusiasts has proven a tricky endeavor for many traditional garden centers. You may have found yourself frustrated with the younger generation’s seeming lack of interest in your idea of gardening, while your existing customer base may be aging out.

If you aren’t seeing an influx of new younger customers the way your business needs to, it’s probably time to audit your overall marketing and branding strategies. Are you creating a community with your marketing efforts or just pushing product?

I’ve been saying this for awhile now, but I think the concept of gardening is due for a rebranding. How and where people engage with plants is changing, and the conventional ideas about what gardening is, or isn’t, require evolution. Older customers see gardening as an outdoor activity, with a focus on landscape plants or vegetables. Younger customers commonly consider gardening the act of keeping a single houseplant indoors. Both of these ideas about gardening are valid. The challenge for many garden centers is, and will be for the near future, how to satisfy their existing customers’ wants and needs for more traditional gardening activities, while simultaneously attracting an entirely new audience who gardens differently.

Rather than thinking about “how to market to Millennials,” which is still a common refrain, it’s better to think about how to market so you continuously replenish your customer base — no matter their generation. Gardening and plant keeping is an equal opportunity hobby. New people can come to the love of plants at any age. As I always say, your customer wants to see themselves — regardless of age — reflected in your business before they choose you. Relevancy, trust and comfort are key components of the modern customer relationship.

But let’s get back to those newbies. There’s no lack of plant love among the younger generations. In fact, they might even be more rabid about plants than we were in our 20s and 30s. I’d say houseplant-crazy is an accurate description. Interest in growing food indoors and in small spaces is also on the rise. The difference is, younger plant enthusiasts’ lifestyles are less homeowner-centric, and conventional outside gardening and landscaping may still be out of their reach.

With work productivity pressure at an all-time high and personal budgets stretched thin, many may feel traditional outdoor gardening activities are too complicated or costly for them, at least for now. But that doesn’t mean you can’t feed their need for indoor jungles and countertop herbs.

If you can’t seem to connect with younger consumers, take a step back and evaluate your marketing and messaging. Do you know why younger customers are buying plants and what they really want? While you are busy focusing on promoting gardening products and supplies for projects, your target customer may be focused on something completely different: healthy habits and meaningful connections.

A key marketing focus for many customers today, especially younger shoppers, is health and well-being. That’s a huge opportunity and advantage for anyone operating in the green industry. People are super stressed out these days. Depression and anxiety seem to be rampant, and the political climate has made a lot of people want to flat-out hibernate.

I’ve recently hosted some community plant swaps as part of the promotion for my new book “Plant Parenting.” I’ve had multiple young attendees approach me to wax poetic about how much tending their indoor plant collection has helped them deal with intense anxiety and stress, and how appreciative they were of an opportunity to get out of the house to make meaningful connections in person with other plant lovers.

If I give you one single piece of marketing advice to use regarding younger customers, it’s plant for peace of mind. Whether you get a harvest from your gardening endeavors or you simply fill your apartment with foliage, there’s a huge emotional reward that comes with cultivating and nurturing plants. Gardening and plant keeping is one of the ultimate healthy habits.

Trying to garner more customer loyalty from younger shoppers? Stop thinking about loyalty in terms of a customer’s dedication to you and think about how you can make them comfortable with you as a brand. Younger customers tend to be more naturally loyal to brands they are comfortable with, than are GenXers and Boomers. When younger customers feel like they are part of a community you’ve created for them, you’ll earn their repeat business.

Creating a community around plants is really what this all comes down to, both at your store and in your digital marketing. Younger customers aren’t as interested in solo gardening and plant keeping activities. They want to be part of a group, share their projects and questions, and commune with other plant lovers.

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.