One of the coolest benefits of my career is meeting some of the smartest people on the planet. While the list continues to grow as a result of knowing someone who knows someone who introduces me to the next big brain person I meet, David Wolfe remains the one person who impresses me most with his knowledge and insight, especially when it comes to marketing. David once sent me what I consider to be one of the top three business books ever written, Ageless Marketing. (It so happens that David’s other book, Firms of Endearment, is also one of my top three.) After reading both of his books, my approach to marketing has remained forever unwavering.
Over the last several years, David and I have worked together several times, at The Group’s 2007 Fall Event, then at other workshop sessions where I invited him to speak. Sadly, David died of cancer last February. His perspectives and straightforward approach to marketing and consumer insight will be sorely missed.
Here is what David had to say about what I call the “alphabet generation” issue so pervasive in our industry and the misleading notion of trying to focus marketing on specific age ranges: “The problem with age-based marketing is exclusivity. The alternative to age-based marketing is ageless marketing: marketing based not on age but on values and universal desires that appeal to people across generational divides. Age-based marketing reduces the reach of brands because of its exclusionary nature. In contrast, ageless marketing extends the reach of brands because of its inclusionary focus.
“For example, a company’s genuine concern for the environment is a value that speaks to people of all ages, including children, young adult interests and older generations. Hallmark does a great job at this. It simply sells love, a universal value for any generation.”
IGC Retail Rule of the Road: “It’s not the media you choose to use as much as the message you choose to relay.”
All it takes to see the fallacy of trying to target the next generation is a visit to any Whole Foods Market or Trader Joe’s. Lines are backed up into the store with a mix of every generation possible. If you’re “cool” enough, all generations will find you.
You don’t “go get” a target customer as much as the target customer finds you.
Camps of Thought
To find out what garden centers are actually doing to attract the elusive younger shopper, I ran a contest in my weekly e-newsletter asking for examples “that attract and retain younger generations of repeat inventory-purchasing customers.” Once all the entries arrived, it became obvious that people running garden centers and those responsible for their marketing fell into one of three camps as it pertains to this next generation issue:
1. Make sure to participate in every social media program invented to date.
2. Make sure your garden center entertains the public by providing an unending stream of special events - along with a farmers market or cafe, of course - regardless of whether the results have any impact on selling more inventory.
3. Understand the demographic and psychographic lifestage currently in play in our country, and realize it’s difficult to sell inventory to any target if they have little to no interest in what you’re selling.
The majority of entries favored Camp 1 and Camp 2, but only stated what their garden centers were doing, not whether the actions were having any ongoing financial success as a result.
Two entries arrived explaining the reasoning behind those residing in Camp 3:
In 45 years, I’ve witnessed a number of industry and generational changes, but one thing remains constant: If people have no interest in a product, they’re not going to buy it. With few exceptions, folks under 40 aren’t interested in what we sell - they’re interested in relationships, cars, boats, vacations and other assorted desires. At their age, I was, too. When they settle down, buy a home and start a family, they will become aware of their need for the types of products garden centers offer. Then, it’s up to us to provide those goods and services they desire.
For years, I’ve attended meetings and conferences where the concerns have been first the box stores and recently the alphabet generations. In reality, it’s taking care of those customers who visit your garden center today that is of the utmost importance. They’re your bridge to the next generation!
We, as an industry, spend way too much time and effort concerned with the future. The emphasis should be on practices to make sure our current customers remain loyal. It’s about establishing relationships and providing a pleasant shopping experience. Remember, there’s no better reference than Mom and Dad.
And this one…
As for the younger generation, I hear all the talk about it, but I’m a lot more concerned about staying in business today, tomorrow and over the next couple of years than I am about whether I’m doing things to turn kids who are 10 to 15 years out from being my customer into future customers. They will become customers when they have families and homes. Then, if we are still in business, selling and doing the things they need and want, we stand a good chance of attracting them.
Sometimes, a dose or two of reality helps to clarify an issue.
Reality Check Time
My wife Wendy’s two sons and my daughter fall squarely into this alphabet generation discussion. Before beginning their careers, none of the three cared what we did for a living. But as soon as marriage and home ownership arrived, questions on landscaping, herbs and compost became hot topics. “Finally, the answer has become clear once and for all. All that’s required for getting the next generation interested in garden centers is marriage and a home.”
But we didn’t see the next hurdle ahead - when much of our children’s and most of their friends’ enthusiasm for what our industry has to offer came to an abrupt halt: Kids (grandkids to us), little bundles of joy who suck up every waking minute and spare dollar these younger generations and garden center shoppers have to spare. Now it’s diapers, not compost. No time to grow fresh veggies any more; just buy organic baby food at the local co-op. Lawns, flowers, perennials - as little attention as necessary while available funds go toward baby transport units, educational videos and a much-needed mini-vacation close to home and as low-cost as possible.
Oh well, we had them for a while, and they promise to come back - but not until Lucy, Fiona and Troy are a bit older and the families have a few extra dollars to spare. Until then, they’ll still attend all the free family events their local garden center offers, but the line you’ll find them in will be for face painting, not the register.
Looks like David Wolfe’s “lifestage” theory is firmly in place.
Stop Worrying About ‘The Next Generation’
From: IGC Retailer, January/February, 2013