John D. Duff of P. Duff and Sons applied for the first boxed cake mix patent on December 10, 1930.
His mix required bakers to add only water.
The mixes became popular during the Great Depression because they allowed families to have a treat when money for eggs and milk was scarce.
“Betty Crocker,” our favorite fictional baker, debuted in 1947 as other companies jumped on the boxed cake bandwagon.
Sales went up, up, up until. . .
General Mills, a producer of boxed mixes, hired psychologist Ernest Dichter to determine why sales had slowed.
What he found was that “just add water” was TOO easy for the purchasers. They didn’t feel like they were actually baking.
Mixes were reformulated, requiring an egg and some oil. Maybe some milk. Decorating was encouraged.
Sales rose again.
In 2020 an estimated 186 million people in the United States used boxed cake mixes.
A few weeks ago we were testing requiring shoppers to use a coupon code vs. just putting certain categories on sale so we could put “NO CODE NEEDED” when we sent SMS marketing messages.
I was surprised. Our Attentive rep was not.
“Oh, the code wins every time,” he said.
“It’s an activity!” said Kelly, the Email Manager for that client.
“Kelly! Genius! I’m going to make that a newsletter.”
I remembered the story of cake mixes and though it might relate.
A week or so ago, I Zoomed with my friend Katie to talk fundraising. I mentioned the coupon code story.
“It’s like at the grocery store. They always want to type in my phone number, but I like to wait until the ends and watch all the money come off the total,” she said.
“AHA! I’m going to put that in my newsletter.”
It’s an activity.
(The moral of the story here is that if you so much as breathe near me, you might end up in the newsletter.)
In preparation for writing this newsletter, I did a deep dive into podcasts about extreme couponing. And intermediate couponing.
One of the hosts asked the couponer if the time (10-20 hours a week) was worth it.
“I mean, I net about $1,000 in product, but it’s really a high to walk out of the store with something for free.”
It’s an activity.
My birthday is Monday, and in addition to planning a party with collaborative mural painting, I bought myself a box of rocks. Specifically the “Mine Boss Mix.” It is, essentially, a 25 pound box of granite pieces with rose quartz, amethyst, aventurine, tigereye, garnets, etc. etc. sprinkled in.
It came on Monday and each day I grab a handful, run it under water, and pick out the gemstones.
Why not just buy the polished stones at Redix on the beach? They have a whole rock bin.
Say it with me:
IT’S AN ACTIVITY!
In 2020, U-Pick farms were absolutely OVERRUN.
Last month, one of my clients was OVERRUN. (They had u-pick tulips at a beautiful farm.)
IT’S AN ACTIVITY!
Why pay $10 for a bag of apples, when you can spend $50 and 2 hours picking them?
For as much time as we all spend thinking about making things EASY for customers, there’s something to be said about getting them involved and engaged.
One reason I like to sketch when I’m out and about is that I create a double memory. The memory of the place, and the memory of my time sketching it. Each time I sketch, I’ll remember the experience.
Why do you think The Mustard Seed Market in Blowing Rock is one of my favorite garden centers? In part, because I sketched it.
Sketching downtown Wilmington from Battleship Park with Joe. As the sun went down we started getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. I remember being excited the lights were coming on so I could use my gold paint and the rainbow that appeared briefly over the church.
Sketching during a picnic lunch in the Blue Ridge mountains with the Digging In group. I remember listening to them talk to each other, so happy to have found a community of others doing the same thing they were. I remember not feeling so alone as a small business owner because the members were discussing many of the same issues and opportunities I have in my own business.
When I’m involved, using my brains and my senses, to sketch, hunt for rocks, stir a cake mix, put in my own phone number at checkout, I’m more engaged.
Being more engaged means I’m more likely to re-engage.
I like activities. So do most people.
They want to feel they put a little stamp on whatever it is, whether it’s choosing an outfit, choosing a pot/plant combo, or choosing some little clay mushroom picks to put in their terrariums to personalize them.
How can you “activitize” your products or services?
Activity Rating: Moderate
If you go hiking at any mountain, the trails are rated, from easy to advanced.
Your activities can be, too. Here are some examples with container gardening (ratings for customers, not you – nothing is easy as a business owner).
- Drop in container gardens: Offer 3 styles. The customer picks the style.
- Host a container garden workshop or drop-in planting day for customers.
- Sell “kits”: Merchandise the plants, right-sized pots, and soil to complete the kit together. (I mark this as advanced because they’re still self-instructing.)
I wrote this newsletter sitting at Spoonfed, one of my favorite cafes in town. On their menu they offer pancakes: plain, with chocolate chips, and with blueberries. That’s an EASY activity. I got to pick out my topping. Blueberries!
- “Toppers” for houseplants at the cashwrap
- Coupon codes
- “Build a collection/ build a bundle” product opportunities (10 stems for $25, build your own bouquet, Build your own bracelet stack)
- Selfie stations
- Mini demos during talks (with audience participation)
- Asking audiences questions
Activitizing the Lawn Crew
You don’t have to activitize everything. And some things you might not think of as activities, in fact, are.
I consider it an activity to drive to the strawberry farm, pick up rather than pick strawberries, eat some ice cream, and look at the plants.
So is going to buy local flowers, or even stroll the Farmers’ market.
Some products, by virtue of what they are — in particular, anything local — ARE activities.
I challenged myself to think about how having my stellar lawn crew mow for me is an activity for ME.
That leads to a core principle of marketing, which is, when you’re selling your “done for you” products and services, such as lawn care, you’re selling the RESULT.
After the lawn crew comes, I go outside and enjoy the freshly mown grass.
As Maria Zampini says, “Facts tell. Benefits sell.”
Wired for New
It turns out that we’re wired for novelty, or new things.
To me, that explains why we naturally like experiences and activities.
Amanda Thomsen calls all of this “Low Stakes Fun,” and scratches this itch for all of us with frequent Instagram tours of her store, Aster Gardens.
There’s PLENTY of chitter-chat about ethical pricing, sales vs no sales, psychological manipulation, and so forth when it comes to business, and for good reason.
Credit card companies all kinds of online businesses exploit this tendency, sending people into needless debt.
Nobody I do business with is trying to do that. Especially not garden people. We don’t need to worry about it.
“Katie, no matter what size the house is, how old or new, everyone plants a few flowers,” said my mom.
And we should remember that.
Our industry is an activity. It makes people FEEL GOOD about themselves to place their hanging baskets or plant their own hanging baskets.
What we offer makes people happy.
Sometimes, we can be a bit more obvious about it.
Learn to Activitize
Much of the Cultivate ’23 retail track is about the “Third Space” and turning your garden center into a community gathering space.
There are a bunch of reasons to do this, and one is neatly explained in this podcast.
I’m excited to co-lead the roving Retail Merchandising workshop with Clint, Katie, Joe, and some other awesome folks.
We’ll have a panel with the owners of Sullivan’s Home & Garden, Aster Gardens, and Groovy Plants Ranch, as well.
Articles out the Yinyang
Where have I been? Writing articles and finishing website builds. You might of missed these and I might be biased, but I think they have some good info! Click on the picture to read online.
Each newsletter always has a mix of fun and functional links.
There are new ADA guidelines coming out in May. We will be auditing our clients’ emails and websites. In the meantime, color is a HUGE accessibility issue, so our links focus on that this week.
Book: The Secret Lives of Color
My favorite “Seeing Color” Instagram Feed
TL;DR: If you have red or orange text or buttons on top of green, color blind people CANNOT READ IT. Please fix. (I get industry newsletters with this combo. Give yours a once over.)
I’m out Monday, April 24 for my birthday.
Federal Holidays: The Garden of Words is closed on all US Federal holidays.
Fridays: Most of the team is out on Fridays, as well. (Vi and Wendy have intermittent hours on Fridays. Katie and Heather are out.)
Need help? We are available for some projects and connecting industry businesses with trusted providers for others. Grab a call slot here.
How can you or do you activitize your offerings? I want to know! Email me.
PS: Enjoyed this blog post? Subscribe to my newsletter here.