October 19, 2012

Extinction Averted: Re-Inventing The Plant Society

PACIFIC HORTICULTURE RE BRANDS ITSELF. 
Left, boring. Right, Awesome! It makes me want to go renew now!
More Relevant Content and Design Saves Plant Societies From ExtinctionRe
Will design save the day? Maybe. Left: the old, right: the new and improved magazine shows how a design firm and savvy understanding of who their consumer is can save an organization from becoming extinct).


In case you haven't noticed because you've been busy planting bulbs, we are in the midst of monumental a monumental shift in how we consume information. Newspapers, magazines, books, music and television are becoming obsolete as we adjust to a new model which offers content 24/7.  In case you've been under a rock, television programing is desperately trying to attract our attention, but just try to find something worth watching. Wouldn't you rather press the pay-per-view button on a Saturday night and select a show like WILD ALPINE FLOWERS OF TIBET or TERRARIUM WORKSHOP 101? I predict that this will be the future - until then, we must tolerate reality TV and Honey Boo Boo.

POSH GARDEN RETAILER 'TERRAIN' OWNED BY URBAN OUTFITTERS KNOWS HOW IMPORTANT EXPERIENCE IS FOR YOUNG AND DESIGN CONSCIOUS CONSUMERS. In a world where nurseries struggle to survive, their hip stores offer more than just scented candles and vintage pots, they offer interesting plant material worthy of any plant enthusiast's collection. Their new Westport CT. location turns a used car dealer lot into a nursery


As a design professional, I am acutely aware of how business and in particular, entertainment had to work harder to capture the attention of end users. Even the design of this blog shifts as I constantly experiment with what I feel my consumer might like based on where cultural trends are shifting. Even though I know how essential visual branding is, even more important is the content. Many blogs repeat the same content, or they find a niche like"Angry 'Organic' Gardeners" or "Backyard Garden Biographies". These are all fine, but as more and more gardening blogs come on to the scene, competition will distill them down to only the finest - meaning, those which offer the most effective content and essentially, the best visual experience in photos and factual writing.

This is all health, as blogs are filling the gap in a world where well-designed gardening magazines with relevant content with some depth, are disappearing. My niche with this blog crosses over into the territory of plant society journals by offering both practical gardening content that you cannot get from other blogs, plus, in-depth explorations for those who may be curious about more specific journeys with plants. Few commercial magazines could ever justify the value or ROI of an article about Flowering Aloes on a windowsill, for example. Or rare bulbs from Peru. Marketing would much rather have them focus on main-stream subjects like "how to plant a container of heirloom tomatoes". The only problem with that is, once you know how to plant such a container, you want to know more.


THE AMERICAN ORCHID SOCIETY REALIZED THAT THEIR JOURNAL, THE AOS BULLETIN. PUBLISHED SINCE 1932 WAS NOT ONLY DATED, BUT VISUALLY OUT-OF-TOUCH WITH ITS READER. THE SOLUTION? DESIGN AND MORE STYLISH AND FOUR-COLOR JOURNAL.


 Specialist plant societies are particularly struggling, with concerns ranging from "how can we attract young people?" to "I wish we could have better printed journals". In much the same way they often gripe about the loss of Ektachrome and Newspapers, many older members gripe about how young people are 'texting all the time". They are not curmodgeons, they simple cannot wrap their head around why technology is so natural a resource for young people.  The truth is that younger people who are interesting in flowers or plants are engaged - just differently -for they would rather visit a blog and ping a photo to their Pinterest account of a boxwood hedge or a DIY article about how to make a succulent wreath than attend a plant society meeting and sit through a slide show.

RODALE'S ORGANIC GARDENING BRAND UNDERTOOK A MAJOR MAKEOVER A FEW YEARS AGO, REFOCUSING ON DESIGN AND CONTENT - THIS IS A BRAND WHO KNOWS EXACTLY WHAT THEIR EVER-CHANGING CONSUMER WANTS.

It's true, they are consuming these passions more superficially, only 'skin-deep' if you will, since their culture is one of sampling and quick-bites, but that may change once they get a taste of whatever they are sampling. We already can see the phenomenon shift as backyard poultry and cooking grow in popularity. Today's consumer is also more receptive to the experience - they enjoy good design, or good taste. They see many of these interests as a way to define themselves - not surprising in a world were the Gap and Old Navy offers the same jeans and graphic T's. Personal identity, fashion and perception is more important to this generation than any other before it.

NEW DOESN'T ALWAYS MEAN BETTER. AMATEUR DESIGN IS AN UNFORTUNATE SIDE EFFECT WITH MANY PLANT SOCIETY JOURNALS AS DO-IT-YOURSELF DESKTOP PUBLISHING ALLOWS EDITORS TO TAKE CONTROL OF DESIGN THEMSELVES. CLEARLY, THE 1980'S ISSUE HAD A PROFESSIONAL DESIGNER INVOLVED. 


I have many thoughts about these trends, and although I have many ideas about what might happen in the near future, no one truly knows - but there are some givens. Firstly, there will always be people interested in something, and in a super-technical world, nature does become more precious and magnified - just look at Japan, and how a concrete world can foster a new interest in gardening, but I believe that what's shifting is the reason why people become involved in the first place. Up until now, people joined specialist groups because they wanted to seek a community - others who are like-minded. In the future, people may seek others who are more like them. Customizing their circle of friends. They may do this digitally first, and then in person later once they assemble their tribe. Networks may be tighter and more specialized because they can be.

WILLIAM'S SONOMA'S AGARARIAN BRAND IS NOT ONLY PERFECTLY CRAFTED, IT TARGETS NOT THE SERIOUS GARDENER, BUT RATHER THE FANTASY OF APPEARING SERIOUS.  TARGETING THE MORE AFFLUENT GARDENING CONSUMER, THE VERY FACT THAT THEY ARE CONSIDERING ENTERING THIS CATEGORY PROVES THAT A RENEWED INTEREST IN GARDENING  IS A GROWING TREND.


We are already seeing this in the plant world. A Galanthus (Snowdrop) collector may join any one of the global bulb enthusiast groups, but now given the opportunity to connect with the 24 or so real-passionate, geeky Galanthus collectors in a Yahoo Group, the experience is enhanced. We should not forget that the Internet was invented by scientists to connect for this very reason.

As social networking changed how we communicate, younger people connect on-line first. Now, many of you over 50 are probably saying "Well, that's what's wrong with young people - they don't know how to socialize anymore." But I disagree.  It may be true that many young people spend more time than they should "connecting on line making meaningless connections on their Facebook page", but for those who connect for a reason, let's say - those horticulture majors in college, or young people who have an interest in a particular plant genus - the Internet offers a tremendous opportunity to connect with like-minded people - an not just from their local neighborhood, but now they can connect globally.

This global connection means that not only are people connecting on a broader scale, they also are connecting at a micro level - if one has a passion for a certain species or just variegated plants, they can connect with those few globally who share the same passion. Sure, there may be fewer people worldwide who are developing an interest or hobby, but that too may change and we all adopt technology into our daily lives. Native users undoubtedly will find no barrier between connecting with like-minded people world wide vs. native plant clubs who meet in person.

CLEARLY TARGETING YOUNG HIPSTERS AND LIFESTYLE FANS, WILDER QUARTERLY CONTINUES TO SURVIVE IN YEAR 2 DESPITE NAYSAYERS.

If one thing changes how we socialize, I predict that this single fact will affect the future of all plant societies and plant clubs. The 'idea' of a 'club' or a 'society' may be a dated concept. The future may mean that many of us connect first on-line, and then later, attend live ( with real live human beings) events which may be local, regional or international conferences or social events, where sharing and socializing happens. If we had to start over again ( which is a creative exercise I like to do), how would we design a social community for those of us who are passionate about plants? It may mean a major horticultural institution like Kew, or even the National Geographic Society could host events that not only connects real people with like-minds, but also events that offer real interesting content - of the highest quality, not just personal slide shows.

SOMETIMES, CLASSIC IS BEST.
CURTIS'S BOTANIC MAGAZINE CONTINUES TO TO USE ITS CLASSIC DESIGN WITH SUCCESS, REMAINING HONEST TO ITS INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AND BRAND. THEY TOO, KNOW THEIR CONSUMER. KEW MAGAZINE, WHICH AT ONE TIME USED THE SAME DESIGN, SHIFTED TO AN EQUALLY APPEALING YET UPSCALE DESIGN WHICH REMAINS SERIOUS, AND WELL DESIGNED.

At the Eastern Study Weekend for the North American Rock Garden Society last weekend, this very subject came up. What will the future of a plant society look like? I struggle with this very question, but if I had to be honest, I believe that it will change significantly. As the world changes around us - and as I mentioned earlier, specifically media and how we consume it, a significant connection is being made in my head. Younger potential members of any plant society or club will ultimately ask " Sure, I could join, but what will I get out of it? What does a membership actually offer me?". With the cost of most memberships costing $20-$35.00, this is a valid question to ponder -especially since mostly, what one gets with a membership is a poorly edited and designed quarterly magazine ( journal) and perhaps access to a seed sale, and the opportunity to attend meetings, which undoubtedly are either wrought with arguing about how to improve the journal, or how to attract young people and new members.

It doesn't take a genius to see what the problem is - most plant societies are becoming dinosaurs, with a majority of the membership using the computer as, well, a computer, with a younger base of potential members either being too busy with life, family and their jobs, or financially unable to even afford a house where a garden might encourage them to become more involved. Lack of free time also factors in at most levels for those under 65, and for those over - retirement still offers not only free time, but pensions, a long-history of arriving home from work at 5:00PM with time to work in the garden, and most likely, a childhood where they had free-reign to wander the woods un-supervised, discovering nature and hence, plants, birds and eventually, a passion for collecting plants.

TERRAIN AT STYERS LOCATED OUTSIDE OF PHILLY IN PA CATERS TO THEIR YOUNG HIP AND AFFLUENT AUDIENCE WHO ENJOY EXPLORING THE WORLD OF TERRARIUMS AND FAIRIE GARDENS - PINT SIZED GARDENING THAT COMBINES STYLE, DIY CRAFT AND INTERESTING PLANTS WHICH THEIR PARENT'S MAY HAVE FOUND TO BE TOO OLD-SCHOOL.

Today, any new "members" of any plant society are rare and few. Those with a deep interest - a real passion for a particular plant species are even more rare. But why? One reason may be that during this time of transition, people are just too distracted by the opportunities of technology.  Many young people prefer video games rather than live television. They prefer to watch what few TV programs they watch not on a major network, but rather on a website like Hulu or Youtube. Any new media outlet will need to consider how users choose to consume content before any thought could ever be put to solutions on WHY one might want to join a club. Why? I already said it but you probably missed it - the reason is CHOICE.

But as TV's and computers converge, on our monitors, our hand-held devices and even as our TV becomes more like a computer - consumers will have more choice.  A whole lot of choice. Imagine - if you could choose to consumer what  you want, when you want it, how great and liberating that would be. Young people are already editing naturally what they choose to consume, and what they don't.  This week Newsweek decided to stop printing it's magazine - then of course there are magazines - Gourmet and Domino, and then TV with Martha Stewart going away ( but I predict that the MSLO brand already knows all of this, and very well may be the first to address this shift-head on given their asset library and intellectual property let alone their brand - if they do not have their own network in a year, I will have to go work for them and make it happen!).

Younger people also are not comfortable with them term 'society' or even 'club' - it doesn't mean anything in a world where Facebook, Pinterest and Hulu live. These creative, curious and interested consumers have a deep desire to connect socially, but choose to do so through a digital connection. You know, blogs, etc. But I predict that the idea of a blog will evolve into something else soon, too.  My point is that humans are, well.....human.  Curious apes who will always have a desire and need to share projects, art and ideas. And in many ways,  now that I think about it, today's youth are far more passionate about sharing DIY projects, craft, art, writing and images than any other generation before them.

The future of plant societies, plant magazines, gardening TV shows and gardening clubs will change, but they won't go away - they will simply be redefined and re-imagined as something else, something that offers much, much more, something not invented yet. I think it's very exciting.


5 comments :

  1. Wow,

    I am 28 male. Run my own plant based garden design and landscape company and concur with everything written.

    In fact I am considering how to get ahead of the curve and en-action what you describe as a way to publicise my work but also progress the industry which is not evolving like many others.

    Thank you for solidifying my ephemeral thoughts.

    This time the revolution will not be televised it will be grown....

    Guy
    Www.emotivelandscapes.co.uk

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Naming Nature", by Carol Yoon, is an exceptional book released in 2009 that explores the history of taxonomy. She explores concepts of a shared, human approach to taxonomy. Doesn't matter where you're from or how modern you culture is, we have innate, hard-wired...an actual designated place in the brain...where plant an animal taxonomy occurs. She calls it the umwelt. Its instinct, its prone to error (whales as fish, cassowaries as mammals) as far as science goes. In the 1950s, the science of taxonomy began to seriously leave the umwelt behind, to the point, she suggests, that we've abandoned our innate ability and interest in taxonomy because science has told us it is wrong. So instead, we've allowed Madison Avenue substitute brands and logos in its place.

    The point being...the downward path of plant societies, and garden clubs, and independent nurseries, aligns with the loss of the umwelt, the loss of connection to the natural world. Can you really know, or love, something if you don't know its name? Can you even see it?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Some very valid comments and sobering thoughts about plant societies. I speak regularly to garden societies in the UK and the membership is nearly always 50+. I do fear that there will be none left in 10 or 20 years.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Outstanding post, particularly since I am about to assume the presidency of one of Atlanta's plant societies. We have been examining this very issue and discussing how to best serve the plant community without becoming a "dinosaur." I cannot wait to share your post with those on the Board and to generate a conversation around your observations. Thank you!

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  5. Thank you for this thoughtful addition to the ongoing conversation so many of us in the publishing world are having.

    Change is constant. You'd think as gardeners we'd know that above all else. And as "venerable" plant societies are finding, its not always comfortable either.

    If we use our heads and our hearts, and lead with beauty and respect for nature's systems, I'm quite certain that plant societies, publications, small independent nurseries and growers, and all the rest of us plant/design geeks will live to watch the next chapter play out.
    cheers,
    Lorene Edwards Forkner, editor Pacific Horticulture

    ReplyDelete

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