The "quantified self" is about to encounter the "connected yard" as Scotts Miracle-Gro, the prohibitive leader in lawn-and-garden products, bets people will link their smartphones to soil sensors and other gadgets to automate and optimize yardwork.
Lawn and garden products have been a tough sell for millennials – which motivated the latest ad campaign for Scotts aiming to inspire a generation that's been slow to buy homes and even slower to get concerned about manicured lawns. Yet one sign of green shoots is emerging from the generational indifference: Scotts Miracle-Gro has topped 500,000 downloads for its apps. Those include MyLawn for lawn care, now in its second year, and Gro, entering the home stretch of its first season.
The latter has been drawing interest since its March launch at SWSW despite relying heavily on interface with expensive gadgets such as soil sensors priced around $70 or up, or even pricier automated home sprinkler systems.
That half million is still less than 1% of the 80 million plus single-family homes in the U.S., but it's a number Scotts will keep growing into the millions as it pushes its vision of the "connected yard," said Patti Ziegler, chief digital and marketing services officer of Scotts Miracle-Gro.
Nor is Scotts limiting itself simply to homes with lawns or single-family dwellings. The newer app Gro aims at people living in apartments or other multifamily housing who may only be interested in gardening on patios or decks or even growing hops in community gardens for home brewing, Ms. Ziegler said. So far one of the most popular uses of the app has been people seeking advice on cocktail gardens and container gardens, including gardens to make ingredients for cole slaw or pizza.
She acknowledges that Scotts has faced challenges reaching millennial consumers, primarily because they've delayed home ownership more than prior generations.
So the apps may not even be for the biggest Scotts Miracle-Gro consumers today – suburban homeowners. But given trends toward urbanization and a larger portion of single-family homes being rented rather than owned in the post-housing-bubble era, the apps, especially Gro, do help the company target an emerging market. Among the more than 12 million households headed by people under 30 in the U.S., more than three quarters are rental properties, according to the 2014 American Community Survey. Among the 46 million households headed by people age 45-to-64, more than 70% are owner occupied. Clearly, Scotts Miracle-Gro needs to win with renters and urban dwellers to grow with millennials.
"If you look at the phenomenon of the quantified life, everyone cares about how many steps they take or hours of REM sleep and all those things," Ms. Ziegler said. "That led us to the place that if mother nature were talking to you, you'd listen, so how can we humanize all the natural benefits of home and garden to get them more engaged?"
Realistically, as the by far the biggest player with the broadest product lines in lawn and garden, Scotts Miracle-Gro is the only company with the scale and interest to make a major foray into lawn and garden apps or an internet of things in the yard. And its plans go beyond just creating apps to working with makers of lawn soil moisture sensors or sprinkler automation systems to plan long-term product development on the "internet of things" front, Ms. Ziegler said.
"In the future, with different sensors tied into the app, people can know if you need to water this area more than that area, based on what part of the yard gets more sun," she said. "We look ahead to one day where the app could be lighting pools and all kinds of things, and Scotts is planning to be at the center of that."
The apps also have obvious potential to drive e-commerce – such as suggesting in-app purchases of organic fertilizer (or weed killers and bug sprays, depending on your proclivities) – based on what's happening in your yard, or even auto-replenishment based on product usage. Scotts has begun to incorporate some of those capabilities into the apps and plans to do more over time, she said.
But a big part of the push, and an early potential benefit for Scotts Miracle-Gro, is simply adding an element of automated planning to a process that for many people is random or grounded more in habit than horticultural science. Early indications are that people welcome the guidance. Scotts initially hoped half of people who downloaded the MyLawn app would create lawn-care plans, but nearly 90% have so far, Ms. Ziegler said.
Marketing for the apps largely has been digital and locally targeted, Ms. Ziegler said, with development of the apps and the marketing led by agencies Prolific and Context and design by Eight and a Half.
Even though soil sensors or automated irrigation systems might let people take full advantage of the connected yard, Ms. Ziegler said, "We are not targeting this to a sophisticated, high-end gardener. It's actually to get a beginning gardener into the category and plant that first patio garden for an urban consumer. The sweet spot is the entry-level homeowner, but also an urban consumer."