Those of you who have worked with me before, have heard me speak at industry events or have read my past writings know that I am one of the industrys staunchest supporters of consumer-focused marketing and promotion efforts. Weve got a great product that the consumer genuinely likes, but were continually getting outhustled by the marketing/promotional efforts of nonfloriculture products. These other industries are successfully convincing the consumer that their products are better than ours, providing them with compelling reasons that a spending vote for their products is a better value or is better for them.
To this I say "Hogwash!" We know this isnt true, that we are the better choice but have any of us really told this to the consumer? We spend a lot of time, effort and money telling each other that we have the preferred choices the better products and programs but preaching to ourselves doesnt add a nickel to our industry sales or your bottom line. If, as an industry, we could ever get ourselves together with a unified front, a consistent message, to the consumer, theres not enough production capacity to support the demand that would be created!
Whats In the Air
Well, that scary phrase "industry promotion" is raising its ugly head again! At least two initiatives were broached at the OFA Short Course in July. The first, America In Bloom, uses the Communities In Bloom strategy: a grass roots, civic landscaping, PR campaign that originated in Canada and was brought to the United States by the now-defunct BPI. It has been presented as a stepping-off point for the development of a national marketing initiative.
The second marketing suggestion was for a campaign to reposition poinsettias as a value-added, home decorating solution with the goal of changing the image from a price-based focus (something we as an industry have promulgated and perpetuated, not a position that was dictated to us by the consumer). Both of these initiatives met with, at best, lukewarm response from the audience.
Some of you may say, "been there, done that," because the industry has attempted to organize marketing and promotional efforts before, without sustained success. Anyone care to remember Floral Board, Promoflor and Plant America?
A marketing/promotional campaign for the floriculture industry has to deal with a number of anomalies that other successful commodity campaigns (e.g., Dairy Council, Beef and Pork Councils, Grape and Apple Commissions, etc.) dont have to deal with. And yes, many of our products are commodities because weve positioned them to the consumer that way. Consider some of our challenges:
Our industry is made up of many different and divergent sub-groups: annuals, perennials, foliage, trees, herbs and specialty plants, cut flowers, etc. The dairy industry has one main product: milk. All of their other products, like cheese or ice cream, are milk by-products.
In floriculture, there is no association or trade organization that represents all aspects of the industry, nor is there any national group that can speak for or coordinate all of the state, local or specialized product groups efforts. The dairy industry, as an example, has a national council that represents the interests of all the individual state or regional dairy groups.
The floriculture industry has to deal with climatic zones that dictate both production and retail timing, as well as actual product availability by geographic area. In the Sunbelt states, gardening is a year-round business, starting in January, while here in the upper Midwest, the season kicks off in late April and only lasts 6-8 weeks. Milk, on the other hand, can be universally promoted at any time; the beef and pork industries can focus on national barbeque promotions from Mothers Day through Labor Day.
Producers in our industry are forced to take sides with retailers: They are either mass-market oriented or independent retailer-focused. Each retail segments needs are different. And, these retail channels look at each other as archrivals. A cow is only concerned with providing milk, and there is no difference in a gallon of milk at the convenience store or the supercenter; the cow is apolitical.
Because of the multitude of combinations and permutations in our industry caused by the different product and geographic groups and the varying degrees of participation and representation in these groups we are forced to deal with tremendous political pressures. For example, a program that meets (or is perceived to meet) the needs of the mass merchandiser will not be supported by the independent retailer and vice versa. In the dairy industry, the cow is still apolitical and has no interest in who sells its milk.
A Little Advice
Weve been down the road of federally controlled marketing orders, and the "will of the industry" is that we do not want anyone (especially the federal government, who is already perceived as being too invasive in dictating policies to producers) telling us that we must contribute to any industry cause. Voluntary contribution is the funding alternative, and it is impractical to assume that we could ever get universal financial support without resolving many of the issues noted above. Note that all of the other commodity promotion industries operate under federally controlled funding mechanisms.
These are all valid reasons why an industry-wide promotional marketing initiative wont work and, unless these issues are considered and addressed, any new marketing/promotion initiative is just setting itself up for failure.
But I, for one, refuse to accept these reasons as excuses for not doing anything! With a lot of planning and forethought, these are not insurmountable obstacles; theyre just challenges to conquer. So we cant do things as simply as some of the other commodity promotions do we just have to think outside the box to discover things that will work for us.
Some thoughts maybe we start with an umbrella theme that works for all segments of our industry, something like "floriculture as an indoor and outdoor home decorating solution," something that suppliers and retailers can all support on a local level. Maybe we start on a regional basis, building an alliance of trade groups and associations, suppliers and retailers that represent all product categories and retail channels and expand from there. We need a total industry brainstorming session to generate ideas and then a committed and dedicated team to ferret through them and formulate something that makes sense for us and our consumers.
One thing is certain: If our industry truly wants to become a competitive and preferred consumer choice, we cant accept excuses about why we cant develop a viable marketing promotion and we cant go off half-cocked without thinking through all of the challenges and implications. Right now, theres a raised awareness in our industry that we need marketing initiatives to start reaching our competitive potential; we cant mess up this opportunity or well end up losing industry support for a long time. We either have to do it right or not at all.
It wont be easy, but it can and must be done!