Dot’s Pot — I Don’t Get It

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I have been working on a project where I get to assist with some design work. That is the fun part of marketing. This is the part of marketing that you see on TV – the snappily dressed and witty ad agency folks all sitting around, drinking lattes, brainstorming ideas for the client, when one will jump up and shout "Eureka!" or some such. Now in my case, I sit around not so nattily dressed (Florida flip-flops do not the GQ list make), the latte is Folgers, but every so often I jump up and shout "Eureka!" if for no other reason than to wake the sleeping dogs.

We are working with really, really good designers. The team is exceptional. Not a better agency team in the industry. Period – end of statement.

We are also working with a breeding company’s design team. They are making sure we take care of their precious invention of a new plant and are putting proper spin and story to the genetics. The breeder design team is top gun good. At this point, there are about 10 folks involved with the different companies and all of them exceptional professionals.

Now in comes the Dot factor. Dot is the code name for my sister-in-law, Dorothy. Dot is a serious gardener. No, scratch that, she is serious outdoor decorator. Dot has great taste and a flair for interior and exterior design. She gardens to add color to the house, not just the garden. Dot is the one person in my life that proved to me that Wave petunia was a true consumer brand when she told me, completely unsolicited, where and why she plants "her Waves." I had seen the market research data, but when I heard from Dot, I knew it was so.

We have been working with a design on a pot and we had a design that we all loved. It was modern. It was fly, it had a cute use of the breeder logo. The breeder team loved it. We are high fiving and popping open new lattes and just quite full of our brilliance.

Now while all this jubilation is going on, we just happen to have Dot visiting. And since Dot is a decorator who uses plants, we decide to show off how smart we think we are by showing her a mock up of the brilliant design. I very carefully build the mock up so it looks like a pot. Then I show her photos of the great plant and explain why the plant is so great. Then, with trumpets blaring, I unveil "the pot."

Does Dot have a jaw-dropping moment overcome by our collective team brilliance? Does she have an overwhelming need to rush out and buy this plant? Does she look over at her sister (aka Wifey) and say how lucky she must be to be married to such a brilliant man? Nope. She looks at the pot and says, and I am quoting here, "I don’t get it." It was really very funny. In four little words, Dot summarized not only a wee little problem with our pot design but possibly the entire horticultural marketplace.

What we had done, despite all the best intentions and talents of 10 folks, is create a design around what we thought would work, then we talked to ourselves to see how good it was. See the trap? We stayed way too internal. We think we know what our customer wants, but we sometimes (dare I say often) forget to ask her. I know we know this – I write about just such a thing in this Rant section. You think at least I could remember, but we all sometimes forget. We get busy. We get rushed or, worse, we get blinded by our brilliance (I am blaming all those lattes myself.)

And we do this as an industry all the time. We have decades of practice giving the customer what we think she needs. We cannot decide if she is a gardener or a decorator. We cannot decide where or how she shops, mostly because we do not ask her. Why did you pick up this plant instead of that plant? What caught your eye? What will cause you to actually put that plant into your shopping cart?

The good news is we are getting better as an industry. We are starting to ask at least a few questions. We did ask Dot before we made 1 billion of these pots (thank goodness). And we are starting to give Dot’s word more weight than ever before. One consumer trumped 10 industry pros. Most of the pros do have some sort of consumer litmus test in place, but we as an industry have so much to learn.

How can you use the Dot factor and possibly impact the price of a geranium? A few thoughts:

1. Give a lot of money to whatever trade organization is going to start doing great consumer research. I am not sure which one will come through – but we need help.

2. Give a lot of time (or money) to anything that our few industry market research folks need. Marvin Miller at Ball and Bridget Behe at MSU are two of our best. Listen to them, ask them questions, hero worship them. Now that we are into our "supply outstripping demand" era, Marvin and Bridget are way important.

3. Listen to consumers. Walk stores and watch how they shop. Talk to them.

4. Put together a test team of neighbors and family.

5. Be prepared to have people hate your ideas and listen, because sometimes they are right and you are wrong.

After all that, the brilliant team of 10 is changing the pot design, the Dot factor worked and I am a "Eureka"-spouting idiot.

Laurie Scullin is a marketing consultant helping get new ideas to the consumer marketplace. For more information, contact him at or 352-495-3375.

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