The only reason I was allowed on stage was because Novalis had signed on to be that year’s big sponsor. Part of their sponsorship package included a one hour presentation in the ballroom. I considered it an honor (and an act of bravery on their part)that I was chosen to share my views on garden center operations for the hour Novalis was allotted. (I’m guessing given the sponsor money Novalis was paying there was no way those running the show could protest.) On a personal note… the relationship I had with Novalis remains one of the highlights of my career. The retail segment of the industry lost one of the most valuable, progressive and bar-raising plant supplier teams ever assembled when Novalis stopped operating.

My entire career has been focused on helping garden centers do what’s right. Deciding what’s right is most often based on previous experience, sometimes it’s a gut feeling and other times it just makes sense. One of the (few) joys of getting older is sticking around the industry long enough to witness what I knew was the right thing to do, regardless of what others believed, come to pass.

Take this PowerPoint slide that was part of my Novalis in Louisville presentation for example…

No social media distraction until…

– a properly designed/delivered enewsletter

– a well developed, frequently updated website

– a well rounded marketing program

– a well developed signage program

– a financially focused/financially successful garden center

The comment that accompanied this visual was that until a garden center learned how to continually deliver a properly constructed enewsletter, spending time and money on Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media was just a distraction promoted by the industry as a recommended form of marketing. Given the enticement of believing something so popular as social media could replace real marketing that costs money but can actually grow a business, it’s no surprise this feel-good alternative was considered a viable option by budget adverse garden centers.

Turns out they were wrong. We’ll get to those facts in a bit. But first allow me to finish my story.

After finishing my presentation, the first person to approach me was one of the industry’s strongest proponents of believing only the most tech-savvy companies willing to adopt every shiny-new online tool would survive. (His online business is no longer in business so I’m guessing there were flaws in his assumptions.) With a wide grin on his face and delight in his voice he said… “Would you like to see what people are saying about you on Facebook and Twitter, especially your comments about social media being a waste of money?”

First of all, I didn’t say social media was a waste of money… not exactly. But after presenting hundreds of seminars over the years I’ve learned that lots of people go out of their way to hear what they want to hear compared to what I hope they understand. In this case I stated that garden centers should get their priorities in line and first focus on marketing that has proven to work before convincing themselves that social media could actually be a low cost replacement.

But being in a good mood after finishing what I knew would be a ruffle-some-feathers-get-people-to-think program, I replied… “No… I’ve never really cared what people think of me or my views, and if these comments are being made on Facebook and Twitter, the few people actually reading them are most likely as delusional when it comes to social media as those doing the sending. So Twit back that if my feeling-safe-hiding-behind-the-send-button detractors who spend their work day tethered to a desk staring at screens while trolling the internet want to have a face to face discussion on facts compared to their unsubstantiated opinions, they can give me a call or shoot me an email and I would be happy to discuss our differing views.”

I never heard back from any of them. No big surprise.

At the time of my presentation I believed that a properly designed and delivered enewsletter should be every garden center’s first step toward creating a successful marketing plan. I still do. My marketing approach for companies trusting me to continue making the right decisions begins with enewsletters as the first message delivery method. Fast forward more than five years from my social media vs. enewsletters presentation and let’s take a look at the reality of today…

According to a recent iConsumer survey study by McKinsey & Company, in spite of companies spending less time with email communication…

  • 91% of U.S. consumers still use email daily
  • acquiring customers through the use of email is 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined
  • purchases prompted by email is three times that of social media with a 17% higher spend per purchase

So why the discrepancy between senders and receivers? Companies and customers? Social media darlings and enewsletter neophytes? In my opinion…

  • companies are always looking for the next big thing when it comes to marketing and are quick to act when one appears with little investigation other than peer recommendation. “Surely this shiny new bait will lure in more customers than what we’ve been doing.”
  • companies are made to feel like they’re not keeping up with changes in society if they don’t embrace every new marketing tactic that comes around

The fear of being left behind in a rapidly changing tech world is initiated by the general media then regurgitated as fact within our industry by people whose jobs require them to have something new to talk about.

  • glimmers of hope supporting what proponents desire to be true are looked upon as an avalanche of success resulting in more articles, interviews and seminars by like-minded believers
  • the industry’s infatuation regarding the next generation of shoppers leads garden centers to effortlessly abandon vilified “old-fashioned” marketing in favor of the next “youthful” feel good alternative

The result? Instead of nurturing and developing proven means of marketing, garden centers dilute or whiplash their approach on a whim setting them up to be easily tempted by the next pronouncement guaranteed to make everything better.

Next time we’ll uncover the steps required to make those “old-fashioned” enewsletters become the driving force behind an effective marketing campaign.