Category Archives: Agriculture
A couple of years ago I took a class called Field Cropping Systems for my major at Cornell University. We would talk about everything from planting to post-harvest. We would talk about how each growing region had a climate and in each tiny area that essentially could be limited to a single plant there was something called a microclimate. The same can be said of today’s marketplace. Even though there may be prevailing trends within the horticulture and agriculture industries, we have to realize that individual businesses are each affected and shaped by different microclimates within the market.
Now I’m just as guilty as the next person when it comes to talking about the green industry as one whole big jumbled mess, but on the other hand I’ll be the first person to tell you that just because something works for a garden center in Pennsylvania doesn’t mean it will work for a garden center in Washington State. As an industry we should share ideas and communicate with each other; we should decide which fronts that we need to tackle to move our entire industry forward, but in order to move forward as an individual business you really have to assess what works for you.
I have people ask me all the time, “How do I get involved with Social Media and be effective?” or “How do I cater to young people?” I can give them a few bits of advice on typical content, or point them in the direction of market research that myself or someone else has done regarding Generation Y, but I cannot emphasize enough that when laying out a marketing strategy the first step has to be identifying your true market.
The industry can tell you that gardening is most popular amongst married women aged 35-65 who lead active lifestyles blah blah blah blah. However as an individual business you must understand that these are averages on the industry as a whole and that your market may be completely different. For instance if you own a grower/retailer operation who sells to landscapers, and does 75% of its business with those landscapers, does it make sense for you to market to the “typical gardener”? No way!
One thing that small business owners often neglect to look at is who is coming into their business to purchase from them. Take a look around. Who’s shopping at your location? Who’s buying from you online? Who’s placing the orders for next spring? You can only really gain a sense of who you need to cater to by first gaining a sense of who is coming to your business. The answers to these questions may also work the opposite way. They may show you who is not coming to your business, and the demographics you need to cater to more. Either way the first step in establishing any marketing strategy, digital or traditional (print, radio, etc.), must be to analyze your micro-market. The industry can help you understand trends but when it comes down to your business, no one should know who your customers are better than you.
This is especially tricky when it comes to Social Media Marketing. Getting involved with Social Media can make your company globally known, but if you’re a local business that doesn’t ship or sell online, does it make sense to cater to these global demographics? As a business you have to understand that these global “likers” are good for business by generating popularity in the global high school that is the internet, but at the same time you have to know who your true customers are and that their needs must come first in order for your business to be profitable in the slightest.
Remember before you can create your content you have to know who you are creating it for. For if content is the key to marketing success your audience is the lock and in order for things to work out the key has to match the lock.
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From a business standpoint, when you hear the words “Social Media” what do you think? For many businesses in the industry the only thing that would come to mind would be: advertising. “Social Media is a great place to advertise”, they say. Yes, that is true. Being involved in Social Media does get your name out there to a wider range of individuals and companies, but what else is Social Media besides an advertising tool? This is where a lot of people in our industry get stumped. They can’t move past the thought that Social Media can ever be more than just another way to let customers know about deals and special events.
They say that humans can only use a certain percentage off their brain, and that if we could access the vast unutilized portion that we could be much smarter. Well the same goes with Social Media – in a sense. If we simply use Social Media to advertise what we are currently doing or what we will be doing in the near future, we aren’t maximizing the true potential of these new technologies. We have to think outside of the box and realize Social Media can do way more for our businesses and industry as a whole, and unlike our brains this higher level of output is actually possible!
The first thing people need to realize is that Social Media is a communication tool. It allows two way communications between customer and producer (or supplier). Not only are we advertising and influencing our customers with the things we post on our pages, but Social Media also gives our customer the chance to reach out to us. It gives them a chance to communicate freely with us on what they feel is a personal level. If you aren’t actively answering questions on your Social Media pages, something is wrong. I’ve said it before but when somebody has a question about a product, they no longer turn to a hotline or write an email. Their first step is to find your Facebook or Twitter page and find an answer there.
Now, after coming to grips with the fact that Social Media is all about communication rather than strictly advertising, you can really start to utilize what I see as the greatest aspect of Social Media. Never before in history has knowledge been so accessible. If you want to know about a plant disease or current trends in a market, all of that information is just a Google search away. Sites like Twitter even go a step further. Because of Twitter’s generally public nature, anyone can see what virtually anyone else is saying. That means that now at this poker table of an industry everybody can see at least a few cards in everybody else’s hands. I say “a few” because there are definitely some things in the industry that companies are trying very adamantly to keep under wraps. However for the most part, companies are being “forced” to divulge a lot of information across social channels because their customers are becoming so involved and are constantly asking for more and more information.
Now you could say that this would be bad for businesses, but I say this should be great for businesses because it should provide for a healthy industry of constantly evolving thoughts. It gets us past the sometimes foolish notion that we don’t want people to know what we are doing in our businesses. This way people can get a better look at how we do business and we can see how they do things, and then through discussion and evaluation we can apply changes to what we do to operate more efficiently. Yes, the other company benefits as well, but that’s what we need as a Horticultural Industry. We can only move forward as an industry if the businesses that make it up move benefit mutually. This is how true growth is achieved. Sure one company can advance technologically and have better profits, but if they don’t help ensure that there is competition; how healthy is the industry, really?
Social Media gives us this friendly format by which everyone across the globe can share information about the industry or any industry for that matter. A greenhouse grower in Canada can talk to someone in China who perhaps has a different growing system. Through conversation, these two decide to figure out a way to combine their ideas and come up with a growing system that benefits both of them. This mutualistic benefit is what I think is truly the biggest reason why businesses need to become more social. The days of secrecy are almost over, and if businesses cannot communicate with each other, no progress will be made. Obviously don’t give away granny’s secret cookie recipe, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to talk with people in the industry to see where you can buy the best oven. Social Media can give us this opportunity.
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Just a quick update! I recently wrote this blog for Bayer CropScience on the ways Social Media is impacting Agriculture. Follow the link to check it out!