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Your bottom line depends on reaching and serving millennials...the way they want you to! 

By Bert Wahlen, Founder/CEO of SmartPlant and Green Chip 

Millennials rely on their phones for everyday information. Phones tell them when to wake up, which route to take to work and where to get the best tacos. As it turns out, millennials spend on average, 4 hours each day on their phones, and 86% of smartphone users spend their time using apps.

It’s not breaking that people do their banking, socializing, and streaming with their smartphones. 

So, will this shift in society help or hurt the plant industry? 

It depends upon whether or not the industry adapts to meet the needs of their tech-savvy consumers. Many millennials haven’t memorized the Latin names of their plants, nor have they studied horticulture. Plant care information must be delivered to them through devices that they know and vocabulary that they understand. 

The primary means of communicating with millennials is via mobile apps, but not all apps are created equal.


Here are some things to consider when reaching out to millennials through technology:

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Company Apps vs. 3rd Party Apps

Within the plant industry, there are many apps that help customers identify plants, pests, take care of their lawns, or their plants in general. These apps have been primarily created by two different parties in order to connect with digitally-oriented customers. 

Company Apps are developed and marketed by corporate entities to promote their own sales.

User Pros

  • Typically free

  • Great if you already buy from that company for the potential discounts etc.

User Cons

  • Authority is tainted by company agenda

  • Only recommends products they sell

When plant/gardening apps are produced by the retailers or manufacturers, the information provided leans towards their own products that they sell, which in turn creates credibility issues and doubt in the minds of users. Today's savvy consumers prefer to be offered a large range of products from different brands and then make their own decisions.

3rd Party Apps are developed independently

User Pros

  • Possibly free

  • Wide variety of plants/products recommended 

  • Unbiased recommendations equals increased perception of credibility and authority

User Cons

  • May cost

The connected and engaged relationship that can be cultivated through an app between a consumer, a retailer and/or a grower needs to be genuine and giving. There’s a difference between pushing products on someone and making an unbiased recommendation, and millennials can detect the difference. Apps and websites that provide a large choice of products and brands are more highly valued by customers, Amazon's success partly comes from this kind of diversification. Consumers feel like they are offered a choice, and that they are provided with all the information they need to make a sound and confident decision themselves.

Automation vs. Human Beings

When calling a customer service line, most of us prefer to speak with a human rather than to an automated service. This is also true in the app world. There is a higher value awarded to expert care information from a live person vs. automated responses that may or may not apply to the context of a user’s exact situation. 

Automated Apps provide information automatically and instantaneously by using an existing database or facial recognition technology to identify plants.

User Pros

  • Fast, usually instant 

  • Often times free because once the technology is written there are few additional costs for the developer

User Cons

  • May cost

  • May not be tailored to location or precise needs

  • Can give the incorrect answer

  • No clarifying or qualifying follow up questions

  • Sometimes uses database information submitted by other app users (this typically means a lower quality photo)

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Human-Run Apps are either community-based or expert-run.

Community-based User Pros

  • Personalized information

  • Usually Free

  • Follow up chats allow for clarification

Community-based User Cons

  • Unsure of the level of expertise or experience of the people responding to your inquiry

  • Credibility issues

  • Human error

  • Not instant

Expert-Run User Pos

  • A live person with pre-qualified expertise is personally looking at your query and providing the response

  • Wide variety of product recommendations 

  • Personalized information

  • Higher accuracy

  • Accounts for regional and circumstantial specificity

  • Follow up chats allow for clarification

Expert-Run User Cons

  • Human error

  • Not Instant 

  • May cost, due to employee costs for the developers

The reason most companies naturally lean towards automation is of the financial burden associated with employing experts or customer support team members, but consumers do value personalized services and quality customer support. Those two aspects can be a real competitive advantage that will attract and retain customers in the long-run.

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Mobile Apps vs. Desktops 

It turns out that the most successful apps in the world also function on a desktop and mirror the user’s activity on the app. Facebook, Amazon, Spotify, and YouTube.

An August 2017 article in Forbes showed that of the top 10 most used apps of 18-34-year-olds, 100% of them have active desktop versions.

This may be a big clue for how to successfully meet the desires of millennial plant lovers when trying to connect with them via technology. 

One study has shown that across a wide range of businesses, a 5% increase in customer retention produced more than a 25% increase in profit for the companies (Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Company). Therefore, it is crucial to master the communication style of the millennial plant lover.


Once the industry shifts the way it delivers information to its customers, using a different channel from the one that’s been used for the past 50 years, there will be an increase in engagement and a chance to foster a long-term relationship with customers based on trust.

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