The Downside to Objective Feedback: It Tends to be Alarming By Tom Cosgrove

In the April Editor’s Report I made an observation about the mix of articles GPN offers every month. I cited several topics, including marketing, that were rarely featured in bygone issues but which are now the focus of one or more articles each month. In fact, GPN not only has been publishing marketing articles; marketing also has been the key focus of several recent Grower Success profiles.

Four years ago, a Grower Success profile would have focused on the history of the grower’s operation and on the specifics of the grower’s production program. In those days a successful grower was a production ace who also took good care of his or her customers. The concepts of “differentiation” and the “specialty niche” were well entrenched, but only a few growers were involved with ambitious marketing programs; of that number, only a handful were trying to brand their products with an eye toward building brand recognition among end-consumers.

Obviously, it’s a whole new ball game in today’s marketplace, but the implied question still stands: “Is a floriculture trade magazine that publishes numerous articles on marketing serving the best interests of commercial growers (as opposed to leading growers down a blind alley)?

I don’t worship at the altar of brand awareness (I do try to catch the services), so I invited feedback from readers either in favor of or opposed to a steady diet of marketing articles.

The first volley of feedback came from a reader who also happens to be one of GPN’s major authors. His feedback ran along the lines of, “So, you’re going to be running more articles on marketing, huh?” He obviously was not beside himself with excitement at the prospect.

Now I should put this into some context. Like many people whose dedicated devotion to their professions is way out of whack with what they receive in compensation, this reader/contributor can at times come off a bit churlish.

He is a man who cares deeply about hort science and the growers for whom he toils. He also constitutes, along with several other key contributors, the thin ink line that stands between whatever credibility GPN has earned in the field and utter, banal irrelevance.

“Well, yeah, GPN is placing more emphasis on marketing,” I fired back, “but that’s okay; we’ve been having a good run in the market and we’re putting out magazines with more pages. That way we can run lots of marketing articles and still run lots of other kinds of articles.”

“Whatever,” he concluded. (This “whatever” needs some elaboration. The word was uttered in the manner an elderly gentleman from Dallas might utter the phrase, “Good luck,” to someone announcing that he was going to set up a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign headquarters next door.)

As is my wont, I immediately began flipping through the articles we prepared for publication in this issue. “It’s full of articles on pest control and Pack Trials introductions!” I proclaimed with great relief. “There’s only one article on marketing and that’s from the august personage Stan Pohmer, a pillar of credibility in the floricultural community and a marketing authority so awesome in stature that we must publish his musings every month!”

At this point I feared that GPN had swung in fatal fashion to the other end of the spectrum – nothing but Integrated Pest Management and new varieties. The kiss of death!

Anyway, for what’s it worth, I’m starting to come around to the point of view that growers will fall into one of two groups in the not-too-distant future: those who have a marketing program and those who don’t. As for those who don’t, I’m also starting to detect more and more underlying cynicism at the root of the argument that the “average” grower can gain no benefit from devoting time and energy to developing a marketing program. Probe into this argument and you might uncover several innuendoes: A) Most growers are merely riding on the crest of a great economy; when the economy dips they will take the plunge. B) Many growers simply do not have the “skill set” necessary to develop a good marketing program. C) Most green goods are commodities, anyway. D) Growers have little control over their products once they load them on their trucks and ship them off.

Do you buy any of these arguments?

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