The opportunity to devise innovative new marketing programs isn’t the reason most greenhouse growers got into the business. However, marketing has developed into one of the most critical parts of what most growers — especially at the Top 100 level — do every day. Increasingly, even growers without consumer-facing brands find themselves connecting more directly with consumers, either by crafting marketing messages to help retailers move plants, or by going past the retailer and communicating one-on-one with gardeners using tools like video and social media.
This new marketing landscape was the topic for a panel discussion at Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Breakfast at OFA Short Course. This year’s Top 100 event was sponsored by Becker Underwood and Sakata. We invited representatives from three Top 100 operations — Natalie DiScascio, marketing coordinator for Delray Plants (number 14 on the Top 100 list); Jason Roseman, director of sales for Rockwell Farms (number 58), and CherylAnn Morgan, marketing specialist for Paul Ecke Ranch (number 7) — to talk about how they’re managing marketing methods, messages and costs in 2012.
1. What’s The Most Important Message You’re Taking To Consumers?
“One of the biggest challenges we face is that consumers don’t have the confidence in themselves that they can use our products. Negating that concern is one of the big things we focus on. We try to grab their attention first, and then show them how fashionable, convenient and easy it is.” — Jason Roseman, Rockwell Farms
“Plants are an emotional product for consumers. They have a fear they’re going to kill the plant. We’re trying to give them better resources, and show them there’s a lifecycle to the plant. The internet and social media are helping us communicate that message to our consumers.” — CherylAnn Morgan, Paul Ecke Ranch
2. Whose Job Is Marketing In Your Greenhouse Business?
“I know the others on the panel have dedicated marketing departments, but for us, sales and marketing are still under one job description: me. I’m using third-party help in social media and website development, and we’re trying to decide if we should bring other people on board. But sales and marketing go hand in hand today. One can’t exist without the other.” — Roseman
3. Are You Spending More On Marketing Today Than Five Years Ago?
“The cost in dollars is about the same, but the real new costs are in time. Time is a resource. It’s hard to calculate the time cost to do all of this, but it is significant.” — Natalie DiScascio, Delray Farms
“Our budget hasn’t changed much, but we have reallocated how we’re spending it. Instead of mass marketing, we’re targeting certain areas and spending more on consumer focus groups, social media and helping retailers.” — Morgan
4. Measuring Marketing ROI
“It’s difficult to measure success. With social media we’re able to engage frequently with the end consumer. We can see the interaction, and we can tell the message is being followed. We’re not necessarily able to quantify results, but we can at least see the message is being heard.” — DiScascio
“The bottom line is we’re looking to be profitable. You might have a 90-percent sell through, but then you can be left wondering, was it due to the weather or the packaging or maybe everything working together? You have to rely on your gut with this and sometimes you’re going to be wrong. It’s not black and white.”
5. The Trend Of More Women In Lead Marketing Roles With Big Growers
“Over the last five to 10 years the numbers of women in key positions has increased tenfold. This makes a lot of sense since in our industry the female shopper is our main customer. Who knows better what a woman wants then a woman herself? — DiScascio
“Personally I don’t think it matters if it’s a man or a woman who runs the department. Some of the best shoe and clothing designers are men. When looking at filling this role, you need to find someone who is willing to push the envelope and take risks. You want someone who understands your industry and your end consumer.” — Morgan
6. So Much Social Media — Where Are You Focusing Your Efforts?
“We’re using Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn and we’re playing with Pinterest. That’s enough. We don’t want to jump on everything.” — Morgan
“We work with Facebook and YouTube and we’re getting into Pinterest. You can provide ideas that get people thinking about ways to use your plants. Pin a photo showing a fern in a bedroom. It gives people ideas they hadn’t considered.” — DiSciascio
“Pinterest is definitely trending for us right now. But you have to have a strategy for whichever social media outlet you choose. Know your goal and your message or you’re wasting your time.” — Roseman
7. Video Has Become A Powerful Tool — How Are You Using It?
“We’re not doing as much as some people are yet, but when I’m looking for information, I look for online videos. Why shouldn’t it work for our industry too? It doesn’t have to cost a lot or be professional quality to be valuable. — Roseman
“You don’t need to hire an expert to do video. The cost can be minimal. My advice is to invest in a Sony Bloggie camera or something similar for $200 and create your own two-minute videos. Video is more about the content than anything else. — Morgan
8. Bilingual Marketing Is Here
“We’re doing two versions of our videos, one in English and one in Spanish. We recognize the buying power of this market. It’s vital that we speak to our customers in their own language. Right now it’s only Spanish but going forward this country will continue to grow with many languages and we will adapt.” — DiScascio
9. Who Is Responsible For Managing All Of Your Social Media Accounts?
“We hired an outside social media consultant to help us, and our technical support specialist and I do some as well. For those who can’t hire someone to help with it, there are tools like Hootsuite.com that make it really easy to manage everything. They allow you to schedule your social media posts in advance. — Morgan
10. What’s The Coolest Marketing Idea You Tried in 2012?
“We came up with a four-inch plant and a greeting card all in one, called Green Greetings. It’s a plant with a pot cover that looks like a coffee cup. The cup has a message for a specific theme or holiday on the outside. You’re getting a greeting card and a plant for about $4. Most greeting cards cost $4 now all by themselves, and we’re providing a plant on top of it. Mother’s Day did better than Valentine’s Day for us, and we plan to do it again at Christmas.” — DiScascio