How to engage with new and returning customers Ashcombe

September/October 2023
How to engage with new and returning customers By Cassie Flynn

With meaningful engagement, every customer interaction becomes an opportunity to create connections that transcend transactions.

Tips for Marketing Your IGC

  • Humanize your brand — make your brand values and personality known.
  • Use ad copy and social media captions to show your personality.
  • Engage with the community around you.
  • Offer events to get new customers in the door.
  • Meet your customers where they are.
  • Focus on human-centered communication.

Engaging with new and old customers is a challenging prospect for business owners in all industries. This age of constant media consumption and the ability for consumers to remove ads from their lives causes friction among marketers. The word “marketing” inherently means to connect and sell to an audience, but what we need to do as marketers and business owners is shift the way we think about marketing in general.

Leverage Your Brand Persona

Every business has a personality that creates the brand persona; this personality is what draws consumers to you. A brand’s persona means the personification of a company to a near-human entity. Brands have feelings, values and emotions defined during their creation that evolve and assist with brand recognition among audiences. Values and ethics play a huge role in the personification of a brand. In a study funded by Google Cloud, a Harris poll found that 82% of consumers want to buy from brands with values that align with their own.

So what does it look like to use your brand to engage with customers? In general, it means adapting to bridge the gap between the need to sell and emotionally connect with customers. This can mean many things, from changing how you craft your copy on social media to training how your employees speak with customers in store.

In my time with Ashcombe Farm and Greenhouses, a 60-year-old IGC in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, we revised the marketing plan in a way that allowed us to build emotional connections with our clientele, new and old. On social media, we adopted a less “sales-pitchy” tone and opted for educational, funny and chill. Changing the way we spoke online helped us to be more welcoming to customers and increased our social media engagement rates. We found that being more personable in our messaging made the clients feel like they were talking to an old friend and, in turn, they were more likely to comment, like or share our content.

As we turned our focus to new audiences, we approached things differently and introduced convenience. The mobile plant bus, aptly named Fern, became one of our best forms of communication with new clients. This bus served as a pop-up shop that traveled throughout Central Pennsylvania bringing plants and the Ashcombe name to new places. The bus drove miles attending festivals, expos, private shopping events, mobile planting classes and even a trunk-or-treat. Meeting your customers where they are enhances convenience for them and expands your reach to new clients in different locations.

Invite Customers Into the Store

I know what you’re thinking — online engagement is all well and good, but how do I engage with folks enough to get them through the door? The answer is simple: invite them! Engage with the community around you. There is a constant stream of new potential customers coming to your area. In 2021, more than 27 million U.S. residents moved to new neighborhoods, according to the census and the National Association of Realtors. Besides new residents, longtime community members reaching milestones such as adulthood, starting families and purchasing homes will also require the products and services provided by an IGC.

You can actively engage with these new audiences through new mover campaigns. Try direct mail marketing — work with a local print shop that can purchase mailing lists for you and design an eye-catching postcard with an introductory offer to new customers. Keep in mind, however, that there is much more you can do!

Events are a great way to introduce yourself and new customers to your location. Sales events are great — and classes are better — but what engages new clients and gets them excited are free events. Since COVID began, IGCs are seeing an increase in millennial customers between the ages of 20 and 40 who are venturing into the gardening world. A study by the National Gardening Association confirmed that, of the 18.3 million new gardeners gained during the pandemic, 29% are millennials. This age group is new to gardening and relatively new to home owning, and is starting families. This means IGCs must adapt to marketing to the older generations along with this new demographic. Free family-centric events at your garden center will bring in grandmas and new parents alike, increasing your foot traffic immensely.

In 2021, my first year at Ashcombe, we brought back an old event and revamped it for a new market. It was a Christmas event offering free photos with Santa (you won’t find that at the mall!), a scavenger hunt, free crafts and a DIY hot cocoa bar. The event was free to attend. While they waited for photos with Santa, attendees shopped for poinsettias.

We strategically placed the scavenger hunt clues throughout the greenhouses, so they ran around with the kids and saw everything we had to offer. We actively engaged with the customers while they were at the event and saw them when they returned in the spring for their plants.

The event saw families with multiple generations. New parents brought their babies to meet Santa for the first time, along with their own parents. After this particular event, we saw an increase in loyalty program sign-ups and followers on social media.

We Are All Humans

There’s a new concept in the world of marketing: If you speak to customers like they’re a person, not a dollar sign, they’re more likely to engage with you and make purchases. Revolutionary, right?

In a book titled “Human-Centered Communications: A Business Case Against Digital Pollution” by Ethan Beute and Stephen Pacinelli, we learn that personalized communication with an audience makes an impact in emotionally connecting a brand with an individual. When you meet a client on a personal level (even digitally), you are forging a relationship and making them see you and your brand for who you are.

What does personalized communication look like in the IGC world? When you’re responding to a comment or message on social media, use the person’s name. If they send a question like, “Are the Knockout roses in yet?,” respond with, “Yes, [insert name here] they are! Is there a specific variety you’re searching for that I can look up for you?” That little bit of communication goes a long way in making that customer recognize that:

  1. You are not a robot automatically responding to them, and
  2. You care what your customer is looking for and want to find it for them to make their shopping trip easier.

This same type of communication applies in-store. When a customer approaches an employee, the first thing the employee should do is introduce themselves, welcome the customer to your store and ask the customer’s name. This type of interpersonal communication humanizes the brand to the customer and will elicit an emotional reaction as they feel seen.

The power of engaging customers — both new and old — cannot be underestimated in today’s competitive business landscape. By shifting your mindset and leveraging your brand persona, you can create emotional connections that resonate with your target audience. Embracing authenticity and aligning your values with those of your customers can forge lasting bonds and drive loyalty.

Engagement goes beyond online interactions and extends to our physical spaces. By inviting and actively engaging with the community, you can attract new clients and foster a sense of belonging. Free events and personalized communication provide opportunities to connect on a deeper level, capturing the hearts and minds of diverse generations.

Remember, customers are not merely dollar signs, but humans seeking meaningful connections. By treating them as individuals and showing genuine care, you can establish relationships built on trust and understanding.  This human-centered approach brings you closer to your customers and transforms transactions into memorable experiences.

Embark on this journey of meaningful engagement, where every interaction becomes an opportunity to create connections that transcend transactions.

Cassie Flynn

Cassie Flynn is owner of Harken Consulting, a small business marketing consulting firm specializing in helping independent garden centers thrive in today’s competitive marketplace. Harken Consulting offers a range of services including social media management, marketing coaching, strategy development, public relations and more.

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