Josh Schneider is one of the best repositories of plant knowledge you’ll ever find. As Principal at Cultivaris, he brings revolutionary new plants to the horticulture industry. As our client and friend, he introduces us to the cool new plants on the block and valiantly tries to keep our office plants alive.
I interviewed Josh as part of our 6 Questions feature: a series of one-on-one interviews with people we work with who’ve made us proud. We get very close to our clients and their brands during the brand development process, and when we see them doing great work and achieving great things, it’s very personal to us. They’re rocking their brands in exciting and innovative ways, taking the ideas we developed together and using them to grow their organizations. We find how a brand works out in the “real world” fascinating and hope you will, too.
Josh and I talked about the advantages to using an agency over an in-house team, how to show B2B business owners the value of marketing and a death-defying trip around a mountain cliff. Read on to learn more from this horticultural adventurer.
1. Josh, you’ve been in the horticulture industry for quite some time. What are the most exciting marketing innovations you’ve seen the hort industry adopt over the years, and why do you feel they are successful?
Greenhouse and nursery growers are a lot like manufacturers—they’re responsible for producing a product. But in many instances packaging and presentation decisions fall to them as well. Growers have focused more on the final consumer’s needs rather than just what’s convenient for getting the plants out the door. This has led to a much stronger focus on what the market—and the gardener—needs to be successful with the product. A greater emphasis on plant tags, QR codes and perhaps the most improved of all, good photography, have all helped the industry progress and become more profitable.
2. BatesMeron has worked with you on several brands over the years—new introductions like Kia Ora Flora®, BUZZ™ Butterfly Bush, Global Breadfruit™ and many more. Sometimes, we work with you on microbrands. This is a segment you had a big hand in helping BMSD develop. Tell us about your approach to microbranding, why is it valuable and how you determine an accurate value for your investment on these small, product-based brands.
Horticultural products can all look very similar to the untrained eye, which, let’s face it, is most of the people who are buying plants. The microbrand offers a way for multiple levels of consumers (growers, retailers and gardeners) to identify the plants with a little additional imaging and categorize them outside the mass of “everything else” that’s cluttering up their mental hard drive. For instance, on a crop like Pansy, there are more than 500 individual varieties. The same goes for Impatiens. These are two of the biggest sellers in horticulture and it’s very difficult to differentiate among them. Microbranding helps put a little bit of additional information about the products in the consumer’s mind and makes the product a bit more “sticky,” which can drive sales higher.
3. As a Partner in Cultivaris, a horticultural consultancy, you travel the globe finding new and exciting varieties of plants to help bring to market. One of your most exciting offerings is Global Breadfruit. With this product, you hope to “feed the world.” Tell us about this huge initiative.
Our work to develop new products led us to this exciting “new” plant, which has been a staple of Pacific Agroforestry food systems for more than 3,000 years. In order to be a successful commercial agricultural crop, a plant has to be easy to propagate or reproduce, and Breadfruit were always very slow to propagate and very difficult to multiply into a viable commercial orchard quantity. The work of my Cultivaris partners Dr. Axel Feldhoff and Garry Grueber in Germany allowed us to take the research that had already been done by the Breadfruit Institute and build on it. After several years of consistent failure, we solved the propagation issues and can now distribute trees globally.
The selected varieties we are now shipping to Haiti, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Ghana, Nigeria, Mozambique, Tanzania and Honduras have been growing rapidly. The tree works so well in the tropics and is up to five times more profitable than corn for farmers in the developing world. The trees begin to produce fruit after two to three years and will continue fruiting for more than 75 years. They produce a high quality and nutritious fruit that can be used like a potato and can be made into a flour that is gluten-free.
This exciting crop offers the developing world’s farmers a way to grow a profitable crop without many of the negative environmental difficulties associated with traditional grain farming—and be profitable at it. Breadfruit can help grow the developing world’s economies and lift people out of poverty, while giving them a product that has huge potential demand in the North American and European markets.
We’d love to have you follow our progress on Facebook at www.facebook.com/globalbreadfruit and on the page of some of our favorite partners at www.facebook.com/treesthatfeed and www.facebook.com/breadfruitinstitute
4. You were previously the Director of Sales and Marketing at EuroAmerican Propagators, one of the owners of the well-known brand Proven Winners® and one of the largest young plant producers in the country. You did amazing things for their brand in terms of marketing and helped position them to be a household name. You chose to keep your marketing in-house, using freelance creatives to aid in production of the work. Tell us why you chose BatesMeron when you left and started your own company.
When I work on marketing and branding projects, I always want to be closely involved in the creative process. Many of the products I work on are very specific and require a fairly advanced technical knowledge— especially since much of our marketing effort is B2B. In my previous position at EuroAmerican, we’d had an agency that did fairly boilerplate work and I wasn’t happy with it. What I wanted were excellent designers and strong copywriters to work with that could transform my ideas and concepts into strong marketing and branding tools.
Often I find that in-house designers are more focused on pleasing their direct supervisors rather than developing the best possible branding and marketing tools. The product suffers and then so does sales. The thing I love most about BatesMeron is that you are so adaptable: we can involve me, my clients and your team or perhaps just me and the key people on the BatesMeron team at various stages of the process. This model is a bit of an adaptation of what I’d done at Euro/PW but I think it works much better. BMSD brings all the benefits of an in-house marketing team without compromising the creative. This means we deliver excellent creative and superb execution on a whole range of products, from brochures and catalogs to websites and packaging designs.
5. You’ve literally traveled to the ends of the earth to find exciting plant varieties. From the jungles of Costa Rica to the wilds of New Zealand, you’ve been around! Tell us a harrowing story of new plant exploration.
The most harrowing situation was almost 15 years ago while hiking around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. After hiking all day, we decided to go all the way around the mountain at the very bottom of Africa. It was starting to get late and we reached a sign that said, “Halfway Point” and I thought, “Oh God, we are either going to die here or have to be rescued by Coast Guard off the face of this mountain.” We picked up the pace and managed to go hand over hand around the sheer cliff by hanging on to two sets of ropes, one to put your feet on and one to hold onto with your hands. We managed to make it just as the sun was setting. The whole experience was scary at the time, but it was a pretty magical moment to be in such a beautiful place surrounded by so many interesting plants.
6. You often consult on marketing with other companies, specifically horticulture. You’ve brought BatesMeron to the table with a lot of these teams (thank you!). What is the most important virtue you try to communicate to these B2B business owners to show how marketing will boost their bottom line? Translation: how do you make them believers?
We make them believers by getting them involved in our creative process from the beginning. I think most companies want to market their products and themselves more effectively but often don’t know how. In this kind of situation they often revert to what they know best and are comfortable with doing. This generally means they repeat many of the same mistakes they’ve made in the past.
When we work with them to develop a better process for marketing, they become invested in the process AND the finished product. In this way we find them more willing to take risks and think in a bigger and better (different) way about how to accomplish their goals. This enthusiasm can carry you a long way forward and keep them from pulling back just before we begin to see results. Obviously, they get excited about results, but by involving them in the process, they value and “own” the entire project more fully.
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