Quarantine Marketing: Getting Back to the Five Fundamentals

March 27, 2020
Category: Marketing Ideas

Your Marketing Strategy and Execution Are More Important Than Ever

When you sat down to form your marketing plans for 2020, you likely did not factor in a worldwide pandemic. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve all watched our country rapidly shut down, close doors and move to isolation– and small business owners are reeling.

However, there’s a silver lining for the food and agriculture industry: we fall under the “essentials” category according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Critical Infrastructure Workers Agriculture
Food and Agriculture is one of the 16 critical infrastructure sectors of our nation.

While our industry is considered “essential” on a federal level, each state and local government has different interpretations of that rule, so your best bet for being allowed to remain open is to stock plenty of consumable plants (like vegetables, herbs, seed, and feed). But just because we can stay open does not necessarily mean that customers will come.

That’s why we’d like to share FIVE fundamental marketing principles that are critical during this challenging season. (But that you already should be following year-round!)

#1 – Be the Guide – Make Yourself an Expert to Help Your Customers Succeed

If you’re already a Donald Miller StoryBrand fan, feel free to skip this section. If you’ve never heard of the idea, you really should visit his website. (After reading this article, that is.)

The premise of the book is that people see themselves in a story where they are the hero, but they need a guide to help them succeed. For the brand new home gardener, you’re the guide who can help them build a better flower bed or feed their family in a scary time. For the seasoned grower, you’re still the expert who curates the best cultivars and the best starters in your community.

Donald Miller's Storybrand
Donald Miller’s StoryBrand can change the way you think about marketing.

If you’re like me, you probably feel inadequate for that task–there’s just so much to know in the plant world! But a successful marketing plan demands that you share knowledge with your tribe.

If this is your first year, congratulations on picking a great first year to get in the business. But even you as a new business owner have a certain base of knowledge that is greater than many customers simply because you do this every day. So don’t sell yourself short–share what you know in a thoughtful, methodical way.

#2 – Be on Social Media Every Day

Now armed with your message of being that expert for people, you should be sharing something every single day. (I assume you have a business page–if you don’t have a business page, get one NOW. Here’s an easy tutorial on how to do that.)

Why? Your customers see a pattern of engagement, so they start to see you as an expert. Also, Facebook’s edge rating is weighted toward those who share content more frequently.

Generating this much content is not an easy task, and you’ll not get there haphazardly. You have to create a plan. Here are some things we do each week on our page to give you some starter ideas:

  • Create a weekly plan before the week begins of what content to share each day. (Mondays: reviews or feedback, Tuesdays: helpful articles, Wednesdays: our own blogs or videos, Thursdays: upcoming weekend specials, etc.)
  • Create content beforehand, during slow times, and schedule for later in the week.
  • Share outside content–your customers are looking for good curation. Don’t feel like you have to create something new with each post.
sample North Carolina Farms facebook
A simple share of helpful content can be one more connection point for customers to build trust in your business.
  • Create simple, relatable content. Remember that Facebook posts aren’t blog posts–just look for small ways to help your customers.
  • Choosing your photo is highly important, maybe more so than the content you create. People are scrolling so fast that they have to engage with your photo before they’ll stop and engage with your content.
  • Facebook ranks posts by engagement. If you have a post that’s more engaging, more of your followers will actually see it, so encourage people to respond in the comments. (Ask them to share photos of their newly planted garden, or ask them what their favorite bedding plant is for the front yard.)
  • Keep it human–a picture of a plant is nice, but a picture of a person with a plant is better. Remind customers that yours is a business made of people.
  • Periodically use good-natured humor–it connects with people and can give your page a boost. Think of it like salt: a little bit of it brings out the flavor, but too much of it drowns out the taste.
marketing humor
  • Remind your customers of important things: that you’re open, that both indoor and outdoor plants have benefits, and that they can beautify their space while stuck at home.
  • Offer sales and discounts to draw customers to your business.
  • List products on Facebook Marketplace where people are spending their quarantine scroll-shopping.

#3 – Clarify Your Marketing Content

Stay on message.

The best ad campaigns are the ones that have a central message and keep going back to it. So while it’s OK to post a picture of your cat up on a bench now and then, be sure that most of your content comes back to a main idea.

Walmart’s main message is low prices. Men’s Warehouse is that you’re going to like the way you look. AllState is known for protecting you from mayhem. Geico is 15 minutes or less can save you 20% on insurance. What these companies do is create varied content that reinforces a central message.

Some possible core messaging ideas to get you started:

  • Set up the customer as the hero
  • Celebrate being local
  • Emphasize environmental benefits
  • Know where your food comes from/Grow your own food

Once you figure out your core message, here are a few easy ways to put your core message to good use:

  • Helpful gardening tips: go live for five minutes every Tuesday to talk your customer through a helpful tip, like how to successfully grow tomatoes, or how to keep those petunias on the front porch looking great all spring. Think through the frequently asked questions that everyone seems to struggle with and create a piece of content around each one of those. Make sure that you either begin or end (or both!) with your core message.
  • Boil your main message down to a tag line of 3-6 words and include it in posts or in hashtags. (Some tag lines from the core messaging above might be “Making you a better gardener” or “Better plants for better living” or “Growing plants, growing gardeners” or “Grow your best garden yet.”)
  • Curate content that helps to reinforce your core message (like YouTube videos, blog posts, and articles from extension agencies).
    • If you’re helping people “have their best garden yet” you’ll want posts about planting dates, frost advisories (and what to do), crop rotations, fertilizer and irrigation requirements, drought alerts, etc.
    • If your tag line is “better plants for better living” and you’re primarily focused on ornamentals, you’d need to create and curate content that speaks to that customer base instead: when to deadhead your annuals, mulching instructions for perennials as the frost comes, where to plant certain varieties (full sun, partial shade), helping people to grow something in a difficult area (like a wet, shady environment).

As a special focus during this time of social distancing, you’ll also want to remind people that A) you’re open and B) you’re taking necessary precautions to keep them safe.

covid 19 marketing
Companies of all kinds are building customer trust by showing steps they’re taking to protect them.

Simply creating content does not necessarily communicate that you’re open–you’ll have to say it explicitly. Make sure your Facebook page has a phone number people can call, and be sure to say “we’re open for business and love serving our customers” in some way at least 2-3 times a week.

I’ve personally found it helpful when people have shared how their new policies and procedures are keeping me safe. If you’re no longer taking signatures in order to keep people from touching the machine, announce that. Are you doing extra disinfecting? Have you created more space in your store? Make sure people are aware.

Also, don’t be afraid to get creative by doing curbside pickups or electronic payments through PayPal, Venmo, or Facebook. Depending on your demographics, consider delivering custom orders to people’s doors–particularly for those most at risk.

#4 – Have a Clear Call to Action

With social media campaigns, you’re often giving out free content and trying to humanize your business, connecting with customers on an emotional level around a topic. But you’re also running a business and you need to convince customers to come and buy plants.

In marketing, we call this a call to action. It’s important that you don’t overwhelm people with calls to action, but you also can’t ignore it. This is what Gary Vaynerchuk calls the Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook (a great book if you like to read about marketing).

In the garden center world, it might look like this:

  • Day 1 – Video: How to grow a great tomato
  • Day 2 – Post: There’s a freeze warning tonight–be sure to cover your vulnerable plants.
  • Day 3 – Share feedback from a customer who appreciated curb-side service
  • Day 4 – Post: Free delivery on custom orders this weekend–Call now before slots are filled.
  • Day 5 – Article: University of Wherever trials hybrid cucumbers

In your social feeds, you probably only want two calls to action per week, but on other channels (email campaigns, ads, and your website) you absolutely must have a call to action every single time. (Read this blog. Call this number. Visit us today. Purchase now. Schedule an appointment.) On your website, your call to action should be clear and at the top right hand side of the page.

#5 – Make Easy Ads for a High ROI

Facebook ads are much simpler than you think. Here’s an easy tutorial on how to create an image ad that you can use for reference.

There are at least two approaches to consider here: getting people to like your page and getting people to come directly to your store. In our experience, image ads work best for this. It’s tempting to boost a post you’re really proud of, but we’ve never seen a return on that investment. We’d much rather spend money on a targeted ad.

Start with your call to action (Like us on Facebook, Call now, Click here for a coupon, Visit us today), and then create the image that “says” what you need the customer to know. (But don’t put text inside your image!) You can’t rely on your copy text to say it–your image needs to communicate the idea.

quarantine marketing example
Be sure your ad image says what you want to communicate before people have time to read your text.

If it’s Call Now, ideally you’d have a person on the phone in your garden center. The picture itself speaks for the ad. If it’s Visit Us Today, use a picture of your staff in the garden center helping customers. (From six feet away, that is!)

If you need pictures and are unable to take them yourself, iStockphoto is a great resource. You may also have some luck on free sites such as Pixabay or Pexels, but if you do look for free content, be sure it’s licensed for commercial use. (Don’t be one of those people.)

Make sure your ads have dedicated landing pages on your website– don’t just send people to the home page unless it has the content people expect to see based on the wording of the ad.

Visit Us Today should link to a page that has your address and phone number and plainly says your hours and what precautions you’re taking for social distancing. Link your address to Google maps to make it easy for people to find you.


Social media campaigns are really not that complex, they’re just difficult to execute consistently over time. With a good plan, you can do it effectively, and it will increase your sales. But not only that, it will empower you to create a tribe around you who need what you have to give.

If you like this content and would like to see more of it, please hop over to Facebook and let us know. We want to continue providing content that helps you grow your business.