Scotts Works to Grow Markets, Not Just Share

Under Watch of New CMO Jim Lyski, Company Invests in Consumer Education, Stepping up Digital and Social

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The Scotts Miracle-Gro Co.'s new CMO, Jim Lyski, has plenty of experience as top dog: He spent 12 years at FedEx, holding the post of VP-marketing, but he's also had experience working on turnarounds with Cigna Healthcare and looking up at bigger and bigger-spending competitors the past four years as CMO at Nationwide.

Now, after joining Scotts last month, Mr. Lyski again leads marketing for a dominant player, with market share ranging up to 70% or more in some categories. And he's shifting gears again, urging Scotts marketers to move from focusing on market share to focusing on growing their categories. To that end, Mr. Lyski plans to increase the share of the marketing budget Scotts devotes to consumer education efforts tenfold to around 20% and hike spending on such things as revamping a smartphone app for lawns to make it truly interactive.

Jim Lyski
Jim Lyski

For many years, Scotts has used heavy spot and weather-triggered radio advertising, because weather plays a crucial role in its market, and spring fertilizer season can be over in Florida at a time when snow is still falling in Chicago. Overall, Scotts spent almost $93 million in measured media last year, up 11%. Most was on TV, but more than half was on spot or local TV and radio, according to Kantar Media.

Now, however, Mr. Lyski wants to go from regional and weather-based targeting to a far more individualized communication plan, stepping up digital, social and educational spending to address his campaign to grow markets, not just share.

In a recent interview with Ad Age , Mr. Lyski explained how his challenge at Scotts differs from that at previous company, Nationwide, and shared insights about how Scotts must work to leverage its role as an expert in its industry -- and in so doing, educate consumers and "connect with their passion points."

Ad Age : Just prior to Scotts, you were at Nationwide. How has that "World's Greatest Spokesperson in the World" campaign done?

Mr. Lyski: It's done remarkably well. They were doing "Life Comes at You Fast." And that 's great if you want to advertise the category. But when you're the No. 4 player, advertising the category I think is putting money in State Farm's and Geico's and Progressive 's pocket. So we needed to get to something that was more unique to Nationwide.

Ad Age : What's your challenge at Scotts and how is it different?

Mr. Lyski: For the last decade plus , the company has done very well by leveraging its superiority of distribution. It got on with the big boxes in the grow years when Home Depot was putting up a store a day and Lowe 's and Walmart were expanding. If you look at the market shares of the company, it's evidence of how good that strategy was. But those big boxes are not growing, so how do you grow the category now that distribution is not the trump card that it used to be? For a brand with 50%, 60% sometimes 70% market share, you've got to grow the category.

Ad Age : How does that change your approach?

Mr. Lyski: I don't think Scotts has taken advantage of the fact that we're the experts in this industry. We can educate the consumer and get the consumer to have much better results than they ever had before and really connect with their passion points. A great example is edible gardening. It's part of this trend of localization. We can really aid that and make edible gardening something you have a high success rate at and you feel good about what you're growing. And then it also connects with another passion point of cooking and turning raw ingredients into wonderful meals. Those kinds of things are an opportunity for Scotts Miracle-Gro that they really weren't focused on because they were riding the big-box growth wave. I spent 12 years at FedEx and we had almost a 50% market share of the express industry. You behave differently when you're market dominant. We can influence this category more than all of our competitors combined. When I talk to the marketers here, I say take advantage of your market share, not to command more margin.

Ad Age : How much are you investing in education and how are you going about it?

Mr. Lyski: We're moving from about 2% of our brand investment to probably 10 times that [on education] over the next two years. One part is Scotts as the expert. But the other is that there are a lot of third-party experts that have a lot of credibility with our consumers, so we're looking to partner with them. One category we're in is wild-bird food -- protecting the habitat and attracting birds. How do we leverage a great organization like the National Wildlife Federation and reach all their members?

Social and internet-based and more one-to-one-oriented activities give us a much greater likelihood of success than pure mass. And I'm not down on mass advertising. Believe me, it's a good way to build a brand. But once your brand is built, you put it at [maintenance] levels and really focus on how to build the category.

Ad Age : How do you think you're doing at communications in terms of sustainability issues?

Mr. Lyski: We just announced we'll eliminate all phosphorus from our fertilizer other than our grass-seed starter by next year. NGOs and environmental groups have applauded this move, and we've gotten a lot of coverage for it, including front page, above-the-fold coverage in the St. Petersburg Times.

Ad Age : How is the market as a whole doing?

Mr. Lyski: New store openings have slowed, but it's not that Walmart and Lowe's and Home Depot aren't growing. We're seeing year-over-year increases in certain product lines of 30%. You see that in mulch, for example; growing soils and potting mixes [are] growing in double digits. So taking care of your yard and investing in real estate and getting into things like edible gardening, all those trends are continuing on. People are really looking to make the most of what they have.

Ad Age : What do see as the key emerging media at this point?

Mr. Lyski: Social in these passion categories of gardening and lawn care is a great medium. It's just technology-enabled word-of -mouth, which we all know is the strongest marketing tactic. You're going to see us take full leverage of that . [And] dialog-based marketing is a trend you'll see Scotts take advantage of . We're going to roll out a new app for "My Scotts Lawn." The new app for your iPhone or Android will let you take a picture of your lawn and we'll reply back with, "Hey, you have a dollar weed, and the best way to kill that is the following." We really want to make it a dialog.

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