Marketing Turfgrass Under Quarantine

Justin Wallace, Executive Marketing Manager
Sod Solutions, Inc.

 

A global pandemic can throw a kink into a well-thought-out marketing strategy.  2020 has been a year of rethinking and reallocating on the marketing front for CitraBlue™ St. Augustine. The University of Florida’s new turfgrass release is a big deal, so the objective for this year is discovering new ways to get its brand and its message out to the general public. Changing tactics and adapting became essential. (See Dr. Kevin Kenworthy talk about CitraBlue here.)

The timeline for CitraBlue’s readiness has been building to this particular year. CitraBlue’s release was “approaching the horizon” in 2018. In 2019, a few sample jobs were completed and there was very limited acreage as producers expanded. 2020 is the year for CitraBlue opportunities to be at full throttle with acreage in the ground that is ready for sale and more availability coming online in the fall. CitraBlue St. Augustine is now commercially available. Although the message and the audience remain the same, methods of delivering that message are being reconstructed due to a new set of constraints. The solutions was to use technology to strategically connect with our target audience and become increasingly digital.

Sod Solutions marketing was sending out digital CitraBlue content in the form of e-newsletters and blogs before the global pandemic occurred. As the situational constraints altered with Covid-19, we began delivering content on a bi-weekly and more recently, a weekly schedule of CitraBlue messaging and updates via our online blog for professionals called Turf Talk. These highlight relevant CitraBlue topics so that our audience of landscapers, specifiers and Florida extension agents located throughout each county in the state can begin discussing the new turfgrass variety. We wanted them to be able to speak about CitraBlue from a knowledgeable perspective when calls and inquiries come in. CitraBlue content included the turfgrass’s origins, its breeder and information covering each improved attribute of the new grass: its color, its disease and weed resistance, its reduced mowing…etc. These updates were then delivered via e-newsletters on a weekly basis.

The next objective was to provide program growers what they may need to be successful as CitraBlue gains popularity. This became difficult with the limited face to face interaction due to our global circumstances, so, in May, a CitraBlue Zoom meeting was scheduled with producers, Sod Solutions staff and Dr. Kevin Kenworthy. During the video call, we discussed marketing strategies and fielded questions on pricing and other topics. We also shared an online marketing tool kit for producers with graphics, email templates, banner ads, homeowner maintenance guides, current photos and other items to assist CitraBlue growers with making a sale.

In June, as more acreage become available, we distributed a CitraBlue news release throughout the state to highlight availability numbers and promote the features of the grass, augmented by online video “Lunch & Learn” presentations around the state. To date, the presentations have focused on landscape architect firms, but we’re actively expanding these to include homebuilders and other specifiers.

What comes next?  For 2020, it’s still a moving target. Fall typically brings two of the most high-profile trade shows of the year for CitraBlue: The Landscape Show in Orlando in September and the NationalAssociation of Landscape Architects conference set for early October in Miami. Both of these shows have played an important role in the release of CitraBlue over the past few years (in fact, CitraBlue is scheduled once again to have its own booth at The Landscape Show manned by university staff and Dr. Kenworthy). Currently, both shows plan on proceeding unless a further shutdown prohibits it.  But perhaps the more pressing question is: will people attend? We can only wait and watch through the summer.

As with all of our businesses, adapting and pivoting during this challenging time is critical. The silver lining is that many of these business and marketing practices will serve us well into the future, even when things get “back to normal”.

Of course, the best marketing tool is seeing the grass in a neighborhood landscape.  At that point, the grass will do its own marketing. Until then, we’ll press forward in 2020 to bring UF’s newest variety to the public’s attention through all means at our disposal.