What Floriculture Can Learn From The Alcoholic Beverage Industry

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Marta Maria Garcia of Costa Farms

Never underestimate the power of marketing, or the potential of a product with a great story behind it. These are the two primary elements that launched Grey Goose from an unknown contender in the vodka category in 1996 to a premium brand and a $2 billion (that’s right, billion) pricetag in its sale to Bacardi a mere eight years later.

How is that possible, you ask? It’s all in the story, a killer marketing and advertising strategy and a little bit of serendipity. You see, founder Sidney Frank identified a hole in the vodka market, where a $17 bottle of Absolut was the top of the line. He topped that with an ultra-premium brand at an eye-popping $30 a bottle with his French-imported vodka, and concocted a marketing scheme that engrained its talking points of quality and luxury with bartenders, distributors and influencers – the consumers who mattered.

“Bacardi purchased Grey Goose when I was with Bacardi,” recalls Marta Maria Garcia, director of marketing at Costa Farms. “They paid $2 billion for the brand – that speaks volumes to what a good marketing investment can do for you. They took this premium vodka positioning; they built that category. There’s a huge category now that is premium vodka. Grey Goose revamped a category within the industry.”

What does this all have to do with growing ornamental flowers? Everything for an industry at the crossroads and looking for ways to improve margin while elevating its products to the next level. See, all those dollars between the $17 Absolut and the $30 Grey Goose is all profit, according to a 2005 profile on the brand in New York Magazine.

Brands still matter, though the story behind it is really the key. So what can greenhouse growers learn from the liquor industry? One key lesson is to tell your product’s story, and not just on the pot. Marketing is key to getting that story out to the right people, whether it’s media publications, retailers or direct to consumers.

Breaking Down The Barriers

For Garcia, one of the biggest obstacles to reaching consumers buying plants is the education factor. Garden retail customers are intimidated by the product and the lack of directions or instruction that often accompanies plants. Coming from Bacardi’s experience marketing division, Garcia realized the best way to educate customers and create an unforgettable experience at the same time is almost always in person.

“One of the things we used to do at Bacardi was get involved with events,” she says. “I spearheaded for Bacardi Rum their experience marketing efforts. That was a big deal for Bacardi because a lot of the consumer loyalty that came from Bacardi drinkers came from experiences Bacardi hosted in places like bars and at music events.”

When Garcia transitioned to Costa Farms in 2007, she brought that knowledge with her and set about to create a similar strategy with Costa’s experts in the greenhouse.

“The first spring, we went out to retailers and did educational events every weekend with our growers – they are the experts growing the plants,” she says, adding the events, called Meet The Growers, were on Saturday mornings and involved activities with the kids so parents could shop, too. “We’ve been doing it for four springs now, and the stores keep asking for it.

“That was a really big case study; applying how to engage consumers through experience. Here, the lack of knowledge was evident, and what better way to educate than an in-person event with the growers.”

Marketing Lessons For Growers

Imagine having a brand that practically sells itself. Again, the history of the product here is vital. The 23-year-old micro-brewery Great Lakes Brewing Co. (GLBC) in Cleveland, Ohio, enjoys a tremendous word-of-mouth following for its seasonal release of Christmas Ale each year. Area beer drinkers await word from the brewery that their favorite seasonal brew is returning to area taps and happily spread the word to each other.

The key is the marketing efforts of the brewing company. Great Lakes spreads the word via social media, area media and eNewsletters to consumers that hype the release date. It’s a big deal among beer fans. “We get our fans excited for the release date and try to send out as much information as we can. This goes for all seasonals,” says Lauren Boveington, marketing assistant at Great Lakes Brewing Co. “It’s all about educating the public on how to drink beer. Craft beer is just like wine. (It) pairs great with food, and there is so much artistry that goes into making a delicious craft brew.”

Again with the education. But providing that comfort level via in-person events also helps to spread the word about the seasonal releases, as well as the other offerings at the brew pub.

This statement from Boveington says it all: “One of the reasons why we don’t do heavy media buys is because we choose to invest in people. We are only in 13 regions and have over 20 sales reps. Some larger breweries that are in 30 states only have 10 sales reps. Our sales reps work with our distributors and accounts to promote our product. We feel having that personal brand representation to connect with our customers markets our product best. They are spreading the word on our product and GLBC’s history and explaining our ‘Triple Bottom Line.’ They get involved with tap takeovers, special releases, beer dinners and beer festivals. We want to educate the public on our brand and craft beer.”

How many times have members of a grower’s staff gone out to a retailer’s store to act as an ambassador for the grower’s products? Retailers carry thousands of SKUs from a wide range of suppliers, and they can’t always promote each product with the knowledge and enthusiasm the grower of the product could.

Using Technology To Connect

Nothing beats a face-to-face encounter. However, to accentuate the relationship between growers and their customers, as well as to educate the consumer about the grower’s product, technology can be an extremely useful tool. For some examples of this, check out the use of Great Lakes Brewery’s blog, Facebook page and Twitter account to get consumers excited about the release of Christmas Ale (which, by the way, is gone by Thanksgiving). Get your search started at GreatLakesBrewing.com.

In October, the brew pub asked customers via social channels to write about their favorite Christmas Ale memory. And while the brew pub received more than 100 entries, all of which could be read by other fans of the company, the winner received the first pour of Christmas Ale. A small, yet meaningful prize that continued to build the brand and its – forgive the pun – buzz.

Growers in cooperation with retailers could translate this into contests asking consumers for stories about their favorite plants or gardens. Prizes could be brand-spanking new plants not yet released for sale.

Growers also can learn from alcoholic beverage companies when it comes to creating a robust website about their products. A website is a great way to tell a story, and social media can help to push interested consumers back to the site for more information and additional product knowledge. Creating a marketing program to push those products is the next step for many growers looking to gain a competitive edge.

“Coming into this industry and seeing that no marketing has really been done at the level other packaged goods companies have been doing is pretty amazing,” Garcia says. “It’s fresh, fertile ground with so many areas of opportunity. It’s just a matter of having the vision and the guts behind it.”

Jennifer Polanz is a freelance writer with Grasshopper Freelance. She can be eMailed at jepolanz@gmail.com.

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    One comment on “What Floriculture Can Learn From The Alcoholic Beverage Industry

    1. Sid Raisch

      Thanks for this excellent piece of journalism Jen. This is a great example of the type of marketing thinking we need more of in this industry. I hope this is an indication of what Costa will start to do to show others that we can stop the race to the bottom of plant supply and start taking new products to the top!