The last time you bought an appliance, did you happen to read the directions? It’s pretty entertaining, I have to say. After buying a toaster recently, I noticed how specific the buyer’s manual is — every detail is covered, from how to plug it in, right down to what to do with it, what to put in it (and what not to put in it), and what to do if an emergency should occur. While just about anyone with an ounce of common sense would likely be able to figure out how to use the toaster, the company can’t and won’t take that chance. Providing this level of basic information is obviously to avoid liability on the off-chance of someone misusing the product and suing the company for not offering directions.
While that kind of information might seem like overkill to you and me, it’s worth considering that perhaps we don’t provide enough basic-level information about the varieties we produce. Sure, we have care information on the tags and sometimes on the pot and signage they can read at retail — but some of that information could go right over consumers’ heads (Read: Taxonomic names, Zones, Annuals vs. Perennials, etc.)
Why aren’t we providing more directions for how consumers can use plants? With the number of things our customers can spend their money on other than plants, we need to provide the value proposition for why they should buy plants, and how plants and flowers can affect and improve lives. And beyond that, how do plants make their lives better, easier, and more beautiful and harmonious, and what are the ways they can use plants to make this happen?
I recently returned from the Week 24 Flower Trials in Europe, where I was fortunate to travel with nine other members of Luxflora, a visionary, women-led, nonprofit, professional organization with the mission to promote the use of flowers in everyday life. During the tour to several breeder operations, which was similar in some ways to the California Spring Trials, it occurred to me just how many things are actually dissimilar to our trials in the U.S.
For example, we noticed that breeders are very active in marketing not just the plants, but the uses for plants. A wall of herbs at Volmary demonstrated how consumers can plant their own bartending garden. A combination of flowers and herbs at Westhoff called ‘Strawberry Mint Mojito,’ complete with merchandising, showed the consumer how they can use those plants and why — it appeals to the “maker” sensibility. Yes, you can use the herbs in this combination to make delicious drinks and impress your friends. Boom, sold.
At Dümmen Orange, new marketing the breeder is working on shows us how to color our shade, taking the guesswork out of looking for plants that will grow well in shady areas. Three simple words — Color Your Shade — answers a number of questions: What do I use these plants for? Where can I put them? How do they make my life easier? Or even better, for customers who already know what they want, this message provides an automatic solution. Boom, sold.
A number of breeders used marketing to appeal to consumers’ need for transparency in the way plants are grown and the social aspects that are considered in growing those plants. From the fair trade program at Dümmen Orange to the Global GAP display at Syngenta Flowers, and the signage at Florensis showing how the company takes care of its employees and the communities where the farms are located, it all matters. Consumers care, and the more we want to show them, the more they’ll care about us. (Oh yeah, you know it: Boom, sold!)
The point is, if we want consumers to use our plants, we have to hold their hands a little and show them some TLC. We have to stop assuming they know how to use plants, and then get frustrated when they feel like they failed with our products. Let’s learn from the small appliance companies of the world to give more clear directions, and reduce our own liability, even if it seems painfully obvious to us. Because ultimately, we’re not the ones we need to convince to buy flowers.
Grower Homework: Test new messages that communicate not only the benefits of the plants you sell, but also exactly how consumers can use them. Learn more about the other products your customers buy at retail, and how they use them, and see if you can cross-merchandise your products — for instance, place herbs in the barware section, or put vegetable plants and edible flowers near the barbeque. Share your ideas at [email protected].