Perspective: Steve Cissel On Technology

Steve Cissel has been on a journey to aggregate plant information to consumers since 1998, when he founded Green Industry Online. Green Industry Online became Green Industry Yellow Pages in 2001, and it expanded into 10-20 Media three years ago. Today, Cissel serves as CEO of 10-20 Media, and he’s a creator of GardenPilot, the research tool for iPhones and iPads that features illustrated plant information pages where consumers can access information. Cissel offers a unique perspective on Internet marketing and its potential for growers.

GG: You recently told us the demand for mobile media exposes a weakness in the greenhouse floriculture industry–its fragmentation–and a simple example you used is the fact that plants have Latin names, nicknames, potentially more than one common name and different names in different regions. Although mobile media exposes a weakness, what opportunities does it offer growers, breeders and others to simplify gardening to consumers?

SC: The consumer adoption of mobile media is our industry’s opportunity to put a gardening lifestyle in the palm of the consumer’s hand. However, in order to do so, we as an industry are going to have to break out of the “fragmented data” rut we’re in and adopt the efficiencies of data aggregation. Only then will the industry be found in a local mobile search space that educates consumers about our products and services. Only then will our industry get a larger portion of the consumer’s discretionary spending.

GG: How does the greenhouse floriculture industry’s ability to aggregate information to consumers compare to other industries?

SC: We’re not there yet, but we’ve started. In the automotive marketplace, Classified Ventures is the aggregator who publishes Cars.com. Cox Enterprises is the aggregator who publishes AutoTrader.com. In the restaurant marketplace there is Restaurants.com and OpenTable.com. In the lawyers marketplace there is Lawyers.com and Avvo.com. In the real estate marketplace there is Zillow.com and Trulia.com.

For the sake of full disclosure, let me say that 10-20 Media is aggregating lawn and garden marketplace data and publishing GardenPilot.com–Web, mobile and app. In addition to their own publishing, all the aforementioned aggregators distribute their aggregated data through other publishers like search engines, Internet yellow pages, Internet magazines, niche content websites and many others. The syndication of marketplace data is one of the benefits of having a marketplace aggregator.

GG: Some growers are believers in mobile media, while others aren’t. Why should the non-believers be more receptive to mobile media as a tool for their business?

SC: Morgan Stanley forecasts (12.15.09) that the mobile Internet market will be at least two times the size of desktop Internet when comparing Internet users to mobile subscribers. Forrester Research (01.04.10) reports 17 percent of U.S. adults in 2009 used smart phones, up from 11 percent in 2008 and 7 percent in 2007.

Mobile media is less about the message and more about the device. The device is a multi-tasking personalized computer that you carry in your pocket. It knows who you are, where you are, is “always on” and “always connected.” Computing power and data transmission speeds are only going to get faster–allowing programmers to write powerful software solutions that meet unique business needs.

GG: Now that we’re in an age of accessing information via the Web and mobile-phone applications, how will growers get involved in this technology in the coming years?

SC: Consumers want to know if a local retailer sells a specific plant, and in most cases, the grower knows the answer. We need to, and are beginning to, connect the dots for the consumer. We are beginning to have growers communicate with us about plant availability, and in turn, we communicate that to the consumer–via the retailer’s website, the brand’s store locator, the Internet magazine, the Internet yellow pages, the major search engines, the mobile apps, the Internet newspaper and more.

In this scenario, you can see the important role of a marketplace data aggregator. Imagine each grower having to communicate with each retailer, each publisher and each search engine. It becomes a rats nest of communication inefficiencies, which leads to more fragmentation. The aggregator is the efficient conduit for all parties.

GG: Microsoft Tag was introduced 18 months ago, and now we’re learning about several retailers who are testing out the technology at the garden centers as a way to directly connect their customers to additional content. Are there opportunities for growers who aren’t retailers to use Microsoft Tag or other 2D tagging technologies, as well?

SC: We’re all getting a little carried away with the technology at this point. It is easy to create the QR code and Microsoft Tag, but then what? Are we able to serve meaningful content in a mobile format?

So far, every Microsoft Tag that I have scanned in our industry takes me to somebody’s desktop-formatted home page. This is a mistake. The scan needs to go to a WAP page (mobile format) with rich content about the item I scanned.

Are there opportunities for the grower? The mobile-format content question needs to be answered first. If there is a meaningful deliverable in a mobile format, the Microsoft Tag or 2D barcode are considerations.

GG: What role can mobile media and other potential new mediums play in bridging the gap between the greenhouse floriculture industry and young people–the next generation of consumers?

SC: The era of mobile advertising is upon us, and our industry needs to pay close attention. The younger demographics are in tune with the mobile device and are receptive to relevant advertising messages, especially in the SMS format. The news is that advertisers are seeing open rates of SMS advertising as high as 82 percent, with 69 percent of the messages opened immediately. These success rates are realized because the consumer has chosen to receive the marketing message.

We’re not seeing a lot of mobile advertising yet, but we will. The recent approval of Google’s acquisition of AdMob and Apple’s acquisition of Quattro Wireless sets the stage for the broad use of mobile and in-app advertising.

GG: Can you share your vision of a 2015 garden center and how new technology like mobile, Web and other future developments may change the consumer experience?

SC: The keyword in your question is “experience.” Our industry needs new customers. There is nothing wrong with the ones we have, we just need a broader slice of the population to “experience” gardening.

In the next five years, I think there will be a number of developments that will help us communicate an interactive message to the consumer. They are: interactive television, RFID, game mechanics, voice recognition computing, environmentalism and ideas we haven’t conceived yet. 

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