Why Plant Consumer Education Should Be About the Consumer

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Want to connect better with potential customers? You might consider implementing a consumer education program.

It’s hard not to get excited by the recent spike in consumer interest in plants. However, just because we’ve seen a spike in interest, that doesn’t mean we’ve seen a spike in knowledge or understanding.

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Someone who finds a Ficus lyrata (Fiddle-leaf fig) on Instagram probably isn’t going to be an instant expert on everything they need to know to be successful with that plant. Chances are they also don’t have any idea how that plant got to them in the first place, or if it’s really the best plant for them. They just think it looks cool.

Thinking something looks cool is great for a one-time purchase, but if that consumer isn’t successful, there’s a likelihood they won’t come back.

That’s where it becomes our job as an industry to not just be purveyors of plant goods, but also to become educators. It’s our job to make sure that people have the knowledge of our products and our industry to be successful. Successful consumers buy more. That’s the power of a Consumer Education Program.

So What Is a Consumer Education Program?
A Consumer Education Program is a program to teach consumers about an industry (and its products) in a way that will encourage them to be larger participants in that industry’s economy.
The goal is to break down real and perceived barriers that consumers have about a given product/industry.

Why They Are Important
If someone thinks they can’t grow something, they won’t. If you didn’t think you could cook, you wouldn’t buy a lot of cooking ingredients. When it comes to educating consumers about plants, it’s about showing them where they should start. What are the absolute essentials to being successful? On GrowIt! our top three plants that people seek identification on are hostas, daylilies, and peonies. If a consumer doesn’t know what a hosta is, do we really expect them to know that it needs shade? It’s also important to show our consumers that sometimes plants just die, and it’s ok. We have to show them that you don’t need that fabled green thumb to enjoy plants.

It’s also essential to show the consumer what plants can offer them. If they’re interested in buying something for only one reason, then there’s inherently a lower value to your product. But if you can communicate all of the benefits of plant ownership, the consumer begins to understand why some plants are more expensive than others, and in general that adds more value to what you’re selling. People will pay more if they know they’re getting more.

Bonus: Consumers don’t know a whole lot about plants, but they know even less about our industry. You can add even more value to your products by showing them what’s behind the curtain. How long does it take to grow a 6-inch petunia? Where do you import your houseplants from? This can be a great boost for plants that are grown and sold locally.

What a Consumer Education Program Is Not
Consumer Education Programs cannot be about selling more plants. If you’re enacting/aiding a Consumer Education Program in your area with the immediate goal of pushing sales, it’s going to fail. Consumers know the difference between education and advertisement. You educate to build trust. Once trust is established, sales will follow organically.

It also can’t be an intimidation program. There’s a lot to learn about growing plants, but we also have to show that anyone can grow something.

How to Get Started
There are several easy ways to start up a horticulture/gardening/plant education program in your area. It could be a great idea to partner with other businesses in your area. People are more likely to trust that you’re genuine in your efforts, and not just trying to make a sales pitch.

Another great idea is to find a venue outside of your business to host education sessions/series. It allows people to learn in an environment that they feel is neutral. One idea could even be a plant town hall meeting where people could come in and ask any sort of plant questions they have in an open forum.

Some Extension services are already doing some of this work. It might just be a matter of teaming up, and making sure you get the word out.