How DTC plant companies are educating newbies with video
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Toilet paper. Sourdough starter. Houseplants. These are the domestic items we’ll remember as staples of the early pandemic.
If you were fortunate enough to experience boredom as your main affliction in 2020, you may be one of thousands of people who mastered the art of bread baking or learned how to nurture a Monstera deliciosa—both soothing spring activities that followed all the toilet paper hoarding in March.
Catastrophic global events have an uncanny ability to disrupt industries more than any one visionary possibly could.
During World War II, for example, the beauty industry made a killing on “liquid stockings” when nylons were rationed for the war effort. And who could have predicted that women would use eyebrow pencil to fake a stocking seam down the back of their legs?
Houseplants as beacons of 2020 self-care
The houseplant industry will be similarly remembered as one of the benefactors of early-2020s chaos—specifically direct-to-consumer houseplant companies.
TrendHunter has marked the DTC plant industry as “hot”, and it’s not hard to see why. Whereas before the pandemic you may have visited a plant nursery at a department store or small shop, quarantine forced many plant newbies and veterans to shop and learn online.
The houseplant industry as a whole exploded in popularity in 2020. According to Greenhouse Management magazine’s 2020 State of the Industry report, 71% of North American greenhouses saw sales increases in 2020, and 67% felt confident that the trend would continue in 2021.
But the transition to a direct-to-consumer model for houseplants was happening even before the pandemic. The Sill, for example, has been selling houseplant subscription boxes since 2012. And Bloomscape, which launched in March 2018, raised a $7.5 million Series A in 2019—followed only a year later by a $15 million Series B during the pandemic.
The Sill’s online subscription model took some of the burden off their retail stores during the pandemic.
So what’s the actual mechanism driving this industry growth? To acquire new customers, most DTC houseplant companies are doing one thing well: making it as easy as possible for beginners to get started.
Education as an acquisition and retention strategy—what houseplant companies and B2C fintech have in common
Gardening may have been a great hobby for previous generations, but these days you’d be hard-pressed to find an urban millennial with a yard of any kind, let alone the type of garden your parents may have had.
So it’s no surprise that tons of millennials don’t know $#!& about plants.
But they want to! When you’re a typical millennial burdened with tons of debt, skyrocketing housing costs, and stressful jobs that don’t pay enough to keep up with it all, caring for houseplants may be the the kind of #selfcare you need to unwind after a long day.
DTC houseplant companies understand what an aging millennial wants: an easy beginner’s guide to caring for the plants we just want to enjoy … and post on Instagram.
The Stem offers video plant care guides for the basics of plant care.
That’s why DTC plant companies are doubling down on education as an acquisition and retention strategy for customers. They understand their product: a living thing that could die without proper care. If you think you’ll kill a plant, you’re a lot less likely to buy it.
But when you can’t control the rolling eruptions of bad news throughout the world, the idea of playing god and nurturing life is a benefit with particular relevance for millennials that are aging into domestic life at this particular time in history.
The thing is, plant care is hard—even for plants that are difficult to kill, you need to understand their individual needs and what to do if they’re not flourishing. There’s a lot to know about equipment, fertilizer, light, nutrients, etc.
So it’s no surprise that education strategies for DTC plant companies look a lot like the personal finance education push from B2C fintech companies like Wealthsimple, Robinhood, and Questrade. Your investments are like your plants—if you don’t take care of them, they’ll stagnate and ultimately won’t grow.
DTC plant companies and B2C fintech companies have one thing in common: a strong education arm. Credit: Wealthsimple magazine
But where each industry diverges from one another is medium: DTC plant companies are mastering the art of bite-sized video tutorials, whereas B2C fintech companies are focused mainly on text and infographics.
And it makes sense—we buy plants largely for their aesthetic, and we’d much rather see repotting techniques than read about them on a blog. Every company, however, places their own emphasis on what they teach and how—which is what we’re breaking down here.
User-generated content from the community and creators—the “Grow-How Gang”—and tips from “Plant Mom”, a Bloomscape ambassador who could be your gardening guru grandmother.
While many houseplant companies focus on plant care education, Bloomscape also educates customers on plants as decor. Their “Green Living” section on their website provides “inspiration and ideas for creating an inviting space with plants.”
Bloomscape wants you to understand how plants can transform your home, which is why they developed a short makeover series called “Decked Out”. The company partnered with Leaf + Lolo plant creator Lindsay Wallstrum to give people patio makeovers with Bloomscape plants—a great move for showing potential customers what’s possible with houseplants as a home decor feature.
Lessons and takeaways
- Kill two birds with one stone: source user-generated video content to educate potential customers and foster a community
- Partner with expert creators to attract a larger audience for content that costs more to produce
The Sill’s education strategy is more product focused than other DTC houseplant companies—but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
The Sill has done a great job developing meaningful partnerships with other DTC brands in the domesticity space, such as Canopy and Blueland. Each content partnership is developed with plant education in mind, whether it’s about plant humidity and humidifiers or soil clean up and sustainable cleaning products.
Education partnerships are a clever way to teach potential customers about how adjacent products can work together to create a benefit, while increasing reach beyond owned channels.
“Plants Make People Happy” has been The Sill’s signature tagline almost since day one.
The Sill’s messaging is aspirational: fill your home with plants, and you’ll have a better, more fulfilling life. Their #PlantsMakePeopleHappy 30-second spots highlight the experience of receiving and caring for plants as a part of one’s identity, from the “plant dad” to the “morning person” who’s really not a morning person without her plant friend.
The Sill’s Plants Make People Happy series on their YouTube channel.
Lessons and takeaways
- Develop content partnerships with adjacent companies to expand reach and communicate product benefits from a fresh angle
- Strive for educational content that’s also aspirational, to show potential customers the life they could be leading
Modern Sprout loves a good set up video—they want to make it easy for a plant newbie to unbox and set up a planter when they don’t know anything about plant care.
“Keep it simple” seems to be the company’s education mandate, with one goal in mind: educate the person who doesn’t know where to begin with plant care. The plant space can be overwhelming, and Modern Sprout wants to simplify it for people who might want to dip their toes in before committing to full #plantdad life.
Modern Sprout’s simple video aesthetic is beautiful and minimalist—true to their overall education strategy focused on simplicity. Their video repertoire is sparse on Instagram, with a focus on quality over quantity. You can browse their set up videos without feeling overwhelmed.
Lessons and takeaways
- Build from the basics—if you know your audience aren’t aficionados, it’s okay to start with the foundations and work your way up
The Stem understands the step-by-step journey of plant care, and they mimic that journey with their bite-sized video guides. Delivered by plant experts and digital creators Stu and Georgette, each video tackles a different stage of the plant care process, from choosing the right plants for your home to repotting your plants.
The Stem’s educational content is curated, consistent, concise, and comprehensive—a dream for plant enthusiasts of all levels. More so than most other DTC plant companies, The Stem leverages the power of the Instagram reel to give their audiences valuable step-by-step plant tutorials that teach real skills in plant care without the fluff.
Lessons and takeaways
- Don’t sleep on Instagram Reels for great how-to content—at least for now, the platform is prioritizing Reels, so you can count on your content being seen if you double down on the channel
- Listen to your audience’s pain points and map your education strategy accordingly
If you’re new to the world of plant care, follow any of these companies and you’ll learn a ton—there have never been this many accessible resources to learn about the art of houseplants so you can have the zen home garden of your dreams.