Let’s start at the beginning—pre-social-distancing, pre-everyone-wearing-sweatpants-every-day—back in November 2019.
Each year around that time, we begin work with Pacific Plug & Liner (PP&L), a wholesale supplier of perennial plant plugs and liners, to develop a theme and accompanying marketing campaign for the California Spring Trials (CAST). One of horticulture’s biggest events in the US, CAST is an annual week-long affair in late March to early April. Companies like PP&L vie for the most valuable prize: time. You see, horticulture industry professionals (read: BUYERS) travel all along the central to northern California coast to be wowed by the latest varieties of plants on the market.
It’s the prime opportunity for major retailers like Home Depot, Walmart, Lowe’s and more to scout out the products that will fill their store shelves the coming season. In many ways, it’s one of the biggest opportunities for California growers to drive revenue—which means standing out as a top-notch destination is essential.
As part of our annual efforts together, we work with April Herring Murray, Marketing Director of PP&L to develop an attention-grabbing, memorable theme to entice and amaze CAST attendees. This year, we rallied our efforts around the idea of a campy 1980s ski resort, brought to life through DayGlo, totally tubular slang and a gnarly name to top it off: Perennial Ridge Ski Lodge.
In a word, we were stoked. The client was thrilled with the chosen theme, look and feel, and the BatesMeron team was having a radical time working marketing magic on our end. By mid-February, rollout for the promotion of the event began.
The CAST 2020 landing page had gone live through the PP&L website, with a countdown timer to the event itself. PP&L social media pages were updated with on-theme profile and header images. Announcement posts were crafted and published.
The direct mail invitations for the event, made to resemble a ski resort map, were hot off the press. Each of the four emails in the marketing campaign, containing details on everything PP&L had in store for CAST, were designed and scheduled to send to potential attendees.
Event signage had just gone to print, and rental prop skis and ski lifts were reserved for use.
Even PP&L’s swag giveaway items, custom DayGlo fanny packs, were screen-printed and ready for action, on their way to the facility in Watsonville, California.
And then, well, you know.
On March 12th, CAST was officially canceled due to the coronavirus. Its vendors, Pacific Plug & Liner included, were left with one big question: What now?
Unlike many other industries, there was no option for postponing CAST (when the merchandise is live plants, you’re running on their schedule). But there was also no protocol for how vendors should move forward in sharing their products with the industry. It was every supplier for themselves—and we could almost hear the sound of each of them typing up their offerings into an unengaging, lengthy PowerPoint presentation to present over Zoom. Gag me with a spoon.
Our suspicions were confirmed when a number of CAST participants hosted their virtual events online, snooze-fest PowerPoints and all. (Sorry, not sorry) But luckily for PP&L, our team had already anticipated that a simple deck just wouldn’t cut it. We understood that it wasn’t just CAST that had gone virtual—everything had. The PP&L team, their competitors at CAST, all of the planned attendees and (literally) everyone else were now stuck inside behind our screens, and that meant there was one thing we would all soon be craving: entertainment.
Thinking on our feet, we had some decisions to make. How would we maintain the Perennial Ridge Ski Lodge theme in a virtual setting? How would we make PP&L’s plant varieties stand out from the competition’s digitally? And how could we adapt fast enough to meet the needs of an industry running on nature’s schedule?
First, we took stock of the what we had to work with: a really fun theme, tons of creative content and perhaps most importantly, a personality like April Herring Murray’s. With the web as our new platform, and maximum engagement as our goal, these tools translated perfectly to the idea of a fun and informative video series.
It wasn’t just the fact that companies using video content see an 157% increase in organic traffic from search engines, or that social video generates 1200% more shares than text and images combined, or even the staggering truth that four times as many consumers would rather watch a video about a product than read about it. One of the biggest reasons video was the right choice for this campaign was the fact that April’s charm would shine on screen.
To be candid (we always are), not everyone can do video. It’s not enough to be poised and articulate. You have to have someone with charisma. Especially to pull off a theme this outlandish. And you can’t go too far overboard…or you end up like this:
The idea was actually quite simple: embody an old school, 80s TV station broadcast by Perennial Ridge Ski Lodge. Each episode features April walking viewers through the ins and outs of their different plant varieties. Each variety gets its own episode, along with an email blast and social media posts to share it with our audience.
April made quick work of filming some short, informative bites of info that create an interactive experience between her and the customers. Channeling our inner Max Headroom, BatesMeron added in some high-quality VHS magic along with our graphic flair, and a star was born. Just kidding. A campaign was born, but that’s really rad too!
Not for nothing, but one third of all online activity is spent watching video, and 51% of marketers cite video as the content that earns the biggest ROI. That means that while we lost an opportunity to sell to CAST attendees in person, we gained an opportunity to reel them in even more effectively online.
Next up, we had to provide a solid platform for the message to get out and decide what to do with loads of boxes of DayGlo fanny packs still left untouched at the PP&L facility.
Nothing would go to waste!
Knowing that video on a landing page can increase conversions by 80% or more, with a few tweaks, the existing CAST 2020 landing page became home to the full season of Perennial Ridge TV. It’s where viewers could learn more about PP&L, CAST and each variety available (and where we could easily track ROI on our virtual campaign).
As a digital replacement of a physical event, we were also highly aware of the fact that getting to see and feel these plants firsthand was a vital component of selling them. So, we also worked with PP&L to create sample packages for customers: a pot of the plant of their choosing, along with the plant’s accompanying brochure and a complimentary Perennial Ridge fanny pack. (You want one. Admit it.)
“When CAST was first canceled, I was disappointed, as we were so close to the finish line and so many hours had been poured into the event already, plus I was super stoked about the theme. The biggest hurdle for me was how we could create digital content that would actually engage the audience; There is so much coming at people these days it can be hard to stand out in the crowd,” April expressed to us.
“This is where BatesMeron stepped in. The videos went from plain, rookie-recorded cell phone videos to awesome 80s-themed ski videos with music and graphic overlays, very professional and fun at the same time. BatesMeron did a great job of making the digital content interesting, a much different approach from other companies producing digital content for CAST. I think this has really helped PP&L shine.”
You may wonder what this did to the budget, and that’s a totally fair question. Events aren’t known for coming cheap and backpedaling when one is canceled isn’t exactly easy, either. Lucky for our team and April, we acted quickly enough to address that issue head on.
As April put it, “Extra cost was not a concern as we had recovered some costs back from the show, so overall marketing spend for the event was down. The important thing was getting the message out on the exciting new products we had planned to showcase at the event. My biggest concern was making sure we had deliverables close to the same timeline as the original show dates, to keep the audience engaged as many other companies were releasing digital content at that time. This project was a bit more squeezed for time, but the team at BatesMeron made it happen.”
And make it happen we did. With the campaign still underway and going strong, we’re already seeing positive qualitative and quantitative results. The average Perennial Ridge TV viewer watches 1:12 seconds of each video, meaning most of our audience watches each video through to the end. And for qualitative? The feedback April has received speaks for itself:
While the BMSD team is always up for a creative challenge, at the end of the day, especially in times like these, the true satisfaction for us is knowing that our creativity helped transform a tough situation into an exciting, memorable and profitable one for our client. And that’s the lesson we want to pass on to you.
Now is not the time to turn to lackluster PDFs, boring email campaigns or stale PowerPoint presentations. Don’t look at our collective situation in the simplest terms and most convenient definitions. Look at it for what it can be: the time to be more engaging, more invested and of course, more creative, than ever before.
And when you do take that opportunity, you know who to call.