Also in this issue...
FUQs part 1 of 6
| Gerry Giorgio
>> Published Date: 1/28/2013
Plant tags. They’re common and ubiquitous. They’re seen in nearly every pot, pack or container sold in America. They’re an extraordinarily common, but useful, item that most people, even non-gardeners, would recognize. Yet this very common item, like many things, can be more complex than they appear. I hear many questions about tags, so I’ll attempt to answer them honestly—sometimes frankly—with the hope that we can clear some of the mystery around this seemingly common, but valued, component of all horticulture products.
Where did the plastic horticultural tag originate?It was 1949. Plastics were finding their way into many consumer products. Horticultural plant tags were made of wood, a readily available and cheap source of material. It was difficult to write on them and they were inconsistent in their finish. While working in his hardware store, a German immigrant named Lou Schmidt was busy making a new fishing bobber line called Master Float. A local grower, Harry Weesies, asked Lou if a he could manufacture a plant tag out of the plastic used in his fishing bobbers. Lou obliged and the horticultural plastic tag was born. He formed a new company called MasterTag. To the best of our knowledge, these were the very first plastic horticultural tags to be used by flower growers in the U.S.
What do most gardeners do with the tags? How do they actually use them? Gardeners place a high value on plant tags. They rely on them for their primary information when purchasing plants. They also use them as both a marker in the garden and a reference that can be used to make a repeat purchase the following year. In fact, research shows that 66% of gardeners want to keep their tags after purchasing the plant.*
Is it a good idea to brand my retail store or greenhouse on a tag? There’s a common belief that if you put your logo or identity on your tag, people will connect the plant quality and their satisfaction with your company. They, in turn, will associate your company with the product and return again to ask for that same “brand.” But this may not actually be how people behave. It’s true many of us have an awareness and preference for a favorite consumer product brand. People buy Coke or Pepsi, Ford or Toyota, Bud or Coors, but brand awareness is a function of exposure over time. You can build a brand slowly over long periods of time or you can intensely saturate a market in a short period of time. Both require a significant investment to achieve. Further, many successful consumer product brands are in stores every day. In a seasonal business with low margins, it may not be practical for the average greenhouse business to invest in establishing a brand. So if selling your product is the objective here, one might be better to forfeit the brand message for a product or service value that can inspire a shopper right at the point of sale. Also, “branding” a plant tag takes up valuable space that would otherwise be available to provide gardeners more information that’s important to them. They care less about your brand than they do about what benefit they’ll receive from your product. So in the end, it might be a better decision for you to give up your identity and replace it with information or a message that’ll actually get shoppers to buy your product.
Big boxes put QR codes on their tags. Should everyone be doing this? This is a judgment call that might need you to consult a crystal ball (or maybe the Magic Eight Ball). This technology, while not new to manufacturing, is new in consumer products. Many are beginning to carry QR codes. When scanned with a smartphone, these codes will direct a person to a landing page containing images, text, video or coupons. But when one looks at QR codes you see more bad examples than good ones. It shows the infant stage this technology is in. And the fact is that another technology, like augmented reality, might surpass it before QR codes even get a foothold. Does this mean it’s okay to ignore QR codes? No, you probably shouldn’t. Smartphone use is accelerating quickly. The use of mobile devices will continue to expand. QR codes aren’t for every business, but the potential is certainly there to communicate good information. The question is really, how will you use it and how will it benefit your customers? If you do place a QR code on your tags, here are some tips to make your code relevant and useful:
• Offer new information that can’t be found on the tag.
• Make sure landing pages are mobile-ready for easy viewing on a smartphone.
• Keep your message short. People are moving and don’t have time.
• Consider a more visual message. Images are good. Video is better.
• Be sure you have sufficient signage directing people to scan the codes, as they might not be obvious at first.
What is the most effective way to design a tag? What information is most useful to gardeners?The possibilities are limitless when it comes to designing a good plant tag. Aesthetics, messaging, imagery and graphics all work together to create a great tag. However, market research demonstrates that gardeners place a relevant or hierarchal importance to the information they want to see on a tag.* So before you consider design, keep in mind the information that’s the primary value gardening shoppers place on a tag. In other words, begin with the information you want to communicate to gardeners and then build your tag design around that.
The most desired information to gardeners, in order of importance*:
• Watering instructions
• Annual/perennial classification
• Planting instructions
• Photo of plant at maturity
• General tips and care
• Hardiness zones
• Information on where to plant
Do icons help in communicating information on a tag?When icons are accompanied by simple text and pointer words, it enhances communication within a limited space area. Forty-four percent of gardeners prefer icons along with text.* Icons alone can be abstract. Too much text can be confusing or not read at all. Combine icons with brief descriptor text. Shoppers will experience a quick and easy-to-read overview of their plant’s requirements.
When a person looks at a tag or sign, what typically draws their attention?Research that tracks and records a person’s gaze as they look at a plant tag or sign consistently points to a few key behaviors that you should keep in mind. First, color contrast is what draws people’s attention. Important information would be well positioned if it were designed with high-contrasting colors. The second thing to keep in mind is that images will always win out over text. Images should be as large as possible and be placed in the upper two thirds of a plant tag. Overall, consider minimizing text to simple statements, increase image size as large as possible and use high-contrasting colors in the design around important information.
How can I use the information on a tag to set up a better display in my retail store?Gardeners place a huge amount of value on the information communicated. Where to plant (sun or shade), bloom time and color for perennials, as well as watering requirements are among the top concerns to garden center shoppers. They may not know what specific plant they want, but many know what colors they like or whether they need a plant for the sun or shade. The information on a plant tag can help retailers (and growers) organize their displays to be helpful in pointing shoppers to the plants that will make them successful. As an example, perennials can be displayed by bloom time or color. All plants can be organized to clearly indicate if they grow in sun or shade. Rather than display plants in an arbitrary way or set them out alphabetically, you can consider using the information on the plant to create a more effective retail
I don’t like the look of tags—they add too much plastic to the garden center and are distracting in the garden. What solutions are there to make tags more natural?Some may remember a day when plants were grown in clay pots and wooden flats. Tags were made of wood and a shopper’s plant purchase was wrapped in newspaper. We have obviously moved on from this now seemingly quaint practice, but you have to admit that it gave the garden center a very natural feel. Nostalgic as this may seem, plastics have brought efficiency and lower costs to plant production. But many consumers still expect a garden center to be a place that’s natural and consistent with the living products they carry.
It may not be practical to return to these more natural-looking elements once used in horticulture, but you can still have some sensitivity to creating a “package” that has the look of a less processed and more rustic-looking product. Here are some things you can do to make tags, signs and other merchandising elements more natural looking:
• Design tags and signs with natural and rich, yet muted, colors.
• Avoid white or garish colors when requesting a tag design.
• Incorporate natural textures, like burlap and fabric, into a design.
• Use more of the new, long-lasting, yet biodegradable, paper substrates for hang tags.
Next month, we’ll look at tags and signs and see how they can become an even more effective merchandising tool to convey your message and help gardeners. GT
*MasterTag Project #4343 ©Natural Marketing Institute, 2009
Gerry Giorgio is an artist, urban gardener and the Marketing Manager at MasterTag—a horticultural printing company.
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