animate products have unique challenges

In this exemplar we continue our discussions on the total product [previously, we defined the total product as the sum of all efforts offered for sale – and we stated that from an organisational perspective a total product has product considerations, product layers, and product components].

Due to the variable situational factors [customer, organisation, market, and product – COMP] it is generally accepted that for every marketing theory – there will be an exception or exceptions. This exemplar puts forward the view that although there is a tendency to consider products as inanimate [non-living] objects, there are exceptions – sometimes – a product may be a living product – what marketers refer to as animate products. Furthermore, animate products have unique challenges.

In this exemplar, the animate product is the marketing of Australian grasstrees for domestic and commercial gardens. The information comes from discussions and observations with consumers and a family owned business that specialise in the rescue, rehabilitation, and transplanting of these iconic and ancient Australian plants.

Also, in this exemplar we discuss how many small-medium businesses, face the challenge of establishing value and how some consumers may not fully appreciate the expertise, time, effort, and costs that are involved in the delivery of an animate product.

The overall conclusion is that the marketing communication mix for many small-medium businesses is built on a number of marketing activities and a great deal of effort in order to communicate value for money to consumers.

The Xanthorea or Grass tree is a uniquely Australian plant. They are particularly beautiful just after a shower or rain.

The Xanthorea or grasstrees are endemic to Australia. They are an ancient plant and an iconic part of the Australian landscape. They grow in the coastal sands and are somewhat drought and frost hardy, although they like a well drained soil they will tolerate wet soil for a period of time. Initially, grasstrees resemble a clump of robust grass leaves; over time, and they are extremely slow growing, a trunk develops and on closer inspection the structure the trunk is composed of an accumulation of the bases of the old leaves.  Sometimes, grasstrees have one single trunk and others develop a trunk and branch structure. The composition of the trunk results in a tree that has adapted to the environment, however,grasstees are quite brittle and easily damaged.

Growing in the coastal sands is both bad and good. Bad because this area is the most densely populated and the urban sprawl destroys their environment. Good because the sandy coastal region enables specialist horticulturalists to rescue endangered grasstrees for relocation. Although, some home gardeners, in an attempt to save money, transplant grasstrees from the bush into a home garden – they rarely survive. Initially a transplanted grasstree will appear to survive, however, this is due to the ability of the grasstree to store nutrients and the robust leaf structure, however, within six months the amateur transplanted grasstree will often die from shock.

Specialist horticulturalists, such as Grasstrees Australia, have the equipment, processes, and expertise to greatly improve the chances of success. The time, effort, and costs involved in transplanting a grasstree means that they are not cheap, however, when you consider that many grasstrees are over 200 years old the price is without question extremely good value for money. One gardener stated that he had purchased two grasstrees a few years ago and they gave him such pleasure that he had returned to purchase two more. He felt, that the additional grasstrees would enhance the entrance of his home. Another, stated that he and his wife had purchased a grasstree a few years ago and it was with sadness that he could not take it to his new home.

Overseas visitors to Australia, who are interested in gardens, are often in awe when they first discover the beauty and antiquity.

Grasstrees being cultivated ready for purchase and transplanting into domestic and commercial gardens

What has this to do with marketing? Well everything really.

From a consumer perspective there are the obvious marketing considerations about needs and wants, the social status of owning an Australian icon and all the relationships with self and identity. From an organisation’s perspective there are the obvious challenges that face all organisation, however, there is the communication challenge of establishing value when many consumers perceive that they were just ‘dug out of the bush’ and something they perceived they could do themselves.

However, the work that Grasstree Australia do by rescuing a natural national treasure from the bulldozers, highlights that not all products are produced in a factory – not all products sit on a shelf until purchased. This product is a living product. Grasstrees require specialist horticultural care for considerable time, not just during the excavation stage but during the rehabilitation stage in a nursery and care after they have been transplanted into a home or commercial property.

Grasstrees Australia is a family owned business and their passion for rescuing and finding good homes for their living products is evident.

As a marketing scholar I am interested in exceptions and have caught up with this business on several occasions. The first time was at the annual Perth Garden Week. I was attracted by the professional black and green signage and logo. Their Garden Week display included grasstrees of all sizes and price ranges, however, particularly impressive were the giant specimens – hundreds of years old and healthy. Even after a long day of educating the public Justin Leeder and his son Tom were full of enthusiasm and willing to provide an informative summary of the work they undertake to rescue, rehabilitate, and relocate these plants.

Some of the majestic grasstrees at the Grasstrees Australia Nursery in Wattle Grove, Western Australia. Some must be several hundred years old as a grasstree will grow at around 25mm [1 inch] per year.

Running a small-medium business takes effort.

It would be easy to sit around waiting for customers, or, consider that social media and Google Adwords will populate a salespipeline. However, for this type of product a broader marketing communication action plan is required.

Sure, it is harder to load up a truck with grasstrees and get out and attend events – to talk with home gardeners, to meet with landscape architects, to quote professional landscapers and enthusiastically tell the same story over and over again. It is hard to stay enthusiastic amidst the persistence of bargain hunters who do not appreciate the specialist knowledge and environmentally beneficial work.

Regardless of the industry, being steadfast – holding the course – staying true to the unique product value proposition is an everyday task for thousands of small-medium business owners.

There is no silver bullet – sales success is sum of all marketing efforts – word of mouth is generally regarded as the main source of future business.


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