Marketing Seeds: 7 Growth Lessons from My Grandfather’s Garden to Grow Your Business

February 22, 2021

Written by John Centofanti

John’s background spans the creative side of business, including content writing, branding, graphic design, and more. In 2006, John founded Creative Stream Marketing, serving national retailers, tech companies, and B2B companies across the US.

There is a waiting game in marketing not many talk about and sometimes refuse to acknowledge. Follow these gardening principles to reap a good business harvest.

My grandfather was born in 1900 in Italy. He came to America around 1930. By the time I was 10, he had moved from Youngstown, OH, to its suburbs and planted a large garden in his backyard. In fact, almost the entire backyard was a garden. There, he planted tomatoes, peppers, corn, potatoes, and other vegetables in abundance. My brother, sister, and I were kindly asked to work in that garden, although we didn’t really have a choice.

1. Preparing the Location

Soil:

You can’t plant seeds in hard, dry dirt, nor in soil that hasn’t been prepared with fertilizer. Are you trying to market a new solution to an existing audience? That comes with challenges. Even more difficult is marketing an existing service to an entirely new audience. It takes patience. In the same way soil has to be prepared to grow vegetables, so does your market. Tossing seeds on hard ground results in nothing. The idea of “if you build it, they will come,” only works in movies. In fact, “if you build it,” you and your team will celebrate, but the rest of the world won’t know or care.

Marketing that moves people to action is a process. You cannot circumvent the process and expect a harvest from a seed you planted yesterday. The time to plant seeds is not when you are hungry.

Sunlight

Most plants need direct sunlight to thrive, while others need indirect sunlight. Knowing the difference is key. Does your audience respond to no-obligation, nurturing messages, or is it easy for you to gain new business with in-your-face marketing campaigns? In marketing, you can’t show up to a new social platform and start posting the same content you post everywhere else without understanding the audience. Does the platform respond well to short posts that include links to elsewhere? Do the users prefer long-form content with supporting images, or more images than text content? Some social platforms tolerate a little self-promotion, but promoting yourself or your solution in most places is disastrous. In a similar way, you can’t attend a networking event designed around relationship-building and try to get a sale. Plant the right content seeds in the right place so they thrive.

2. Planting

Embarrassing but Proven Methods

While this might seem like a post about growing up Italian, it’s not. My grandparents took their garden seriously—they viewed it as survival. The principles they used to grow their garden are very similar to good marketing principles.

Pepper seeds are planted in the late winter, indoors. The timing seems inappropriate but is not. In the winter, my grandfather planted pepper seeds in a “hotbed,” essentially a set of small, wooden boxes, spanning five feet, covered with glass. To clarify, covered with glass means covered with old windows. These hotbeds were placed—true story—in my grandparents’ small living room in front of the window for maximum sunlight. Friends and relatives from their generation did the same and thought nothing of it, but I found it difficult to explain to friends why such a garden contraption was in the living room.

Your brand messaging and marketing messages need to be planted at the right time and in the right way. You and a competitor have both planted marketing seeds, like peppers in this case. You each will have different results if your process and your methods are different. While the experienced gardener is pulling out the hotbeds each winter to prepare for pepper plants, an inexperienced gardener is wondering how to give their seedlings enough warmth and sunlight or wondering when to plant. They have equal intentions, but not equal efforts. One way is ineffective. The other is both effective and embarrassing. While effective marketing wouldn’t be embarrassing, it does take much more behind-the-scenes effort to get strong results. Maybe you have a friend that ran some Facebook ads and her business seems to be booming from them. You won’t get the same results if the only similarity is the fact that you both ran social media ads. Running the same number of ads isn’t the same as equal effort. You would need to compare all of your marketing efforts against all of hers.

3. Watering

Working in the garden was never a “set it and forget it” proposition. Work in my grandfather’s garden was never done, much to my dismay. Eventually, every single neighbor around him planted a small garden because they admired the large amount of harvest and always enjoyed the benefits he gladly shared. The neighbors carefully listened to—but did not follow—my grandfather’s advice.

My grandfather was fiercely opposed to using what every American considered the most logical tool to water plants: a hose. We had to fill an empty Maxwell House coffee can to slowly pour water below the leaves and onto the roots for every plant, literally hundreds of them. With each coffee can of water, we watched our summers fading away.

We’d often watch the next-door neighbor watering his garden. He’d sit in a lawn chair, a beer in one hand and a hose in the other. It was his time to relax after work. That’s how he watered his garden, which according to my grandfather, was the wrong way. He said water on the leaves would attract the sun and burn the plants since they had no water at the roots. My grandfather’s neighbors knew smarter and faster ways than an old Italian man who spoke very broken English. Just how broken was his English? One of my friends who occasionally helped me in the garden once said, “I like going over your grandparents’ house because your grandmother feeds us good food, and I love hearing your grandfather speak Italian.” Hesitating, I explained, “That’s not Italian. That’s broken English.” I learned to listen carefully at an early age.

Spreading your message to your target audience works much the same way. It’s fine to send certain announcements or share key content with your entire database, but some content should be segmented. In other words, a chief marketing officer has different business interests than a CFO. In the same way, a big box retailer will respond to different content than a specialty retail chain. You can’t use a hose to grow your business. A pain? Yes. Effective? Yes.

4. Weeding & Nurturing

Identifying and removing weeds became an hours-long affair. We couldn’t just pull them from the ground by the stem and risk leaving the roots underground. We didn’t know weed killer existed, or that fact was possibly withheld from us. At that point in my life, my perceived hard labor in the sun made it difficult to tell the difference between a tomato leaf, a cucumber leaf, or a weed. They all looked the same to me. We’d get a lesson on how to know the difference between vegetables and weeds even if the plant was just a couple inches tall. We were then given small hand shovels to carefully dig out weeds while avoiding digging out vegetable roots.

Much of marketing and branding is not only creating a compelling story, but removing misperceptions. In our work with clients, we listen and learn the misperceptions about their business. Like them, maybe you have to prove to your prospects your company isn’t too small to serve them or overcome the reputation that your tech solution is too expensive. There are many ways to combat misperceptions. More importantly, marketing that moves isn’t only about a strong brand message. You need to pull the weeds of negative messages your prospects may have about your business.

5. Fertilizing

All of the neighbors fertilized their gardens with packaged fertilizer from the store, not the “real” fertilizer my grandfather used. I’ll let you figure that out. Let’s just say it involved going to an animal farm in the middle of nowhere to get the real stuff, and again, my participation was not optional. I’m grateful to be sitting at my desk at this moment, wearing clean clothes and not getting my hands dirty. There is no shovel in sight.

No one enjoys being the victim of high-pressure sales. There’s a better way. Years prior to Creative Stream Marketing, I worked for a small retail-tech company. A sales rep from a trade journal asked us to advertise, but we didn’t have the budget. For an entire year, he called me every three to four weeks to see how I was doing personally, asked about my challenges, and gave me unsolicited but valuable advice. That’s fertilizer. The end result was a series of expensive ad campaigns in his publication.

6. Harvesting

Harvesting your plants has to be timed right. Pick too early, and the vegetables haven’t reached their full size or flavor. Pick too late, and your vegetables can dry up or rot. The neighbors’ gardens produced less than half of my grandfather’s garden. Many of their plants died. Their tomatoes were small and few, but the weeds were plenty.

In the early years of Creative Stream Marketing, we had a client who exhibited at a trade show. For months, we planned together on how to reach the most prospects, how we would follow up, and more. After a successful show and some post-show marketing, my client explained that he was catching up after the show and wasn’t yet able to follow up personally on the leads. Months passed by when he finally shared, “I’m not really a phone call guy, so I’ve been avoiding making phone calls.” What? That’s letting your harvest rot.

More commonly, businesses want to harvest before the vegetables are ripe. So you’ve sent a series of campaigns and the recipients haven’t called you? Of course not. It doesn’t work that way. There are numerous efforts between planting and harvesting. Without the other efforts, and time, you’re picking a one-inch, green tomato and feeling disappointed. Your marketing efforts and your timing need to be right.

7. Consistency

A harvest of new business comes from consistency in tending to your marketing in numerous areas.

One email campaign won’t grow your business, and one press release won’t send prospects knocking at your door. These things are like small parts of a larger effort to grow a garden. How engaged is your audience? How many years have you been sending great content to them vs. pushing for a sale? Are you introducing a new tech solution and expecting your phone to ring after an email campaign?

We would never throw tomato seeds on hard soil and expect to pick tomatoes the next day. Yet, that’s what we do with marketing.

Follow the process; be patient, and you will see a harvest. There are no shortcuts. If you think you can get website traffic that converts to sales with PPC (Pay Per Click) and skip producing desirable content, your marketing budget and business will soon dry up. It takes planting in the right place at the right time, nurturing, weed pulling, and even manure. My grandfather’s neighbors did the same things my grandfather did, at least on the surface. When you look more closely, there’s an obvious difference between drinking beer on a lawn chair and shoveling manure. The process is different, so the results are different. It’s why two competing companies can attend the same event and have the same budget, but one gains more clients than the other. The difference is sometimes manure.

A friend once said he didn’t like tomatoes because they are essentially flavorless. I explained it was because he only had tomatoes from the grocery store. He never had a real one from an Italian garden. There’s a difference.

“Do not despise these small beginnings…” —Zechariah 4:10

 

Marketing Seeds Recap

  1. Good marketing takes time to grow new business
  2. Good marketing weathers storms
  3. Good marketing requires nurturing and rolling up your sleeves
  4. The amount you plant determines the size of the harvest
  5. How consistently you tend to your marketing affects the quality of the results
  6. The time to plant seeds is not when you are hungry
  7. Certain conditions must be met for marketing to result in a business harvest

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like…