Miracle-Gro is working to secure the next generation of its customer base by capitalizing on the millennial trend for ‘plant parenting’. Its tactic is less about marketing per se and more about offering personalized, tech-enabled guidance on the art of keeping plants alive.
Of all the brands to activate alongside the likes of Netflix, Bose and Amazon on Rainey Street during SXSW in Austin, Miracle-Gro was perhaps the most surprising. The 68-year-old brand has built a reputation off the back of its gardening soil – an analog product out of kilter with the tech brands at the innovation festival.
Yet Miracle-Gro has quietly been experimenting with technology in order to appeal to a younger, more urban audience. As city populations grow and house prices rise, the brand has expanded its focus from the home-owning customer with a spacious backyard to the apartment-bound millennial.
This younger customer is already proving to be valuable to the gardening sector at large: 18- to 34-year-olds now occupy 29% of all gardening households in the US, according to the annual National Gardening Survey.
The surge in spend and interest has been driven in part by the Instagram aesthetic of an apartment filled with green, glossy leaves and vibrant flowers, collated into hashtags such as #UrbanJungle and #Plantstagram. It has even made influencers of the likes of Jamie Song, who has let house plants overrun his London flat with the precision of a horticultural curator, and guided the branding of new, direct-to-consumer gardening brands such as Patch.
Beyond the visual aesthetic, this younger generation is engaging with gardening as a lifestyle choice on almost a spiritual level. A New York Times article noted millennials are using houseplants to “fill their voids – both decorative and emotional” while the concept of #PlantParenthood – treating houseplants as a baby or pet to be kept alive – feeds into the self-infantilizing phenomenon of ‘adulting’.
“One of the things we see over and over again is this idea of being a ‘plant parent’,” said Sara Gordon, vice-president of marketing at Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, Miracle-Gro’s parent firm. “It’s definitely real within the social space and we want to let people know that anyone can be a plant parent.
"Once you achieve one success, that leads to ‘What else could I grow or do?’ We're here to make sure people are successful when it comes to gardening. Nobody wants to be talked to like a master gardener. I'd say [our tone of voice] is one of being more of a friend."
Gordon and her team have pegged three key areas for growth within this urban demographic: house plants, edible gardening and container gardening. This insight has manifested in the $300 Miracle-Gro Twelve Indoor Growing System, which combines minimalist and sleek design with technology such as an LED lighting system, a water level sensor and a Bluetooth connection.
The latter allows the system to connect to a mobile app – one of two the company has recently rolled out.
A second app, ‘My Garden’, is also designed to help budding amateur gardeners keep their plants alive with ‘dirt meets data’ functions, such as and watering and weeding reminders. An in-app shopping list feeds into Miracle-Gro’s e-commerce strategy – one that Gordon is gearing up grow with a personalized, DTC model in mind.
“If you’re going to be growing a plant, chances are you aren't only going to need the plant itself,” Gordon explained. “We can curate solutions and provide customers with a total project rather than one-off products without any meaningful connection or content. Then their success will really snowball, and will give them more confidence to go ahead and try something they’ve never tried before.”
It will also mean Miracle-Gro will retain these millennial consumers if and when they eventually move from the city to the suburbs. Users of its heavy-duty outdoor products, such as soil, composters and hosepipes, have not been forgotten by the brand’s “comprehensive” media plan, Gordon said, noting she has no plans to “just zero in on just millennials because there's gardening for everyone”.
“Some of it is just changing how we frame the category a little bit,” she said.
So, while above-the-line, broadcast work continues to target a core audience of gardeners with yards, Miracle-Gro has struck up a media partnership with Cheddar to target younger, urban consumers. The ‘CNBC of the internet’ is producing and airing a series of sponsored segments that discuss the benefits of gardening while introducing products such as the Twelve system.
With 60% of Cheddar’s audience landing in the under-35 category, Kim Markus, manager of consumer marketing and public relations at Scotts Miracle-Gro, said its audience comprises consumers perfectly suited to the notion of plant parenting.
“We want to reach them, make that connection and share what we're doing on an innovation level,” she said. “We really just want to make an honest connection with them."