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How Future is growing its new gardening brand after a quick-fire launch

During lockdown, Future plc has been busy launching a number of brands following the completion of its acquisition of TI Media in April. We caught up with Jason Orme, Future’s Managing Director of Homes to find out how its new gardening brand has fared post-launch, how it plans to weather the winter months, and its long-term growth strategy.

Gardeningetc was something of a shotgun launch, having been pulled together from site development to launch in just five weeks. This left no time for hiring in new people and training them up, lockdown aside.

“What we relied on is cross-contamination of what we’ve done already in the business into the new brand,” said Jason Orme, Future’s Managing Director of Homes. “In Future, people have got their dedicated specialist areas, so we’ve got an audience team, we’ve got an eCommerce team, we’ve got all the playbooks we needed in terms of getting those kinds of mechanics right. Then, we just needed someone with an editor’s eye.”

Seconding staff from other home brands worked as a way to initially populate the site, and test out a content strategy ahead of a formal launch. Almost everyone on the home team contributed in some way to creating content for it, according to Orme.

But although the actual site and contributing team were pulled together very quickly, Future had been wanting to cover gardening for a few years. “The natural way a publisher would do that is by saying, ‘Let’s put a gardening channel on and hope for the best’. But especially with the TI Media acquisition, we were very keen to grow,” Orme explained.

“There was an urge to do something and an urge to launch websites, which we are doing, and gardening felt like an area that was always missing from our homes portfolio anyway.”

Gardeningetc’s launch happened to coincide with lockdown and a surge in interest in gardening; something Orme says was “pure luck”. “We knew that if we were going to launch it this year and have any traction, we would have to launch it in May rather than October,” he said. “So it’s part long-term planning, part strategic around [the TI Media acquisition], but also partly, we’ve got the time to do it now when we might not have the time to do it in three months. So let’s do it now.”

Branching out into new eCommerce opportunities

Future is well-known for its eCommerce prowess. Like many publishers, it saw a boost in eCommerce numbers during lockdown, with commissions on sales made through its online magazines and newsletters nearly doubling in the six months to the end of March when compared with the same period a year earlier, according to the FT.

The publisher’s eCommerce heartland has traditionally been tech, with sites like TechRadar and Tom’s Guide driving the majority of revenue. “But what Future is interested in now is what are the other opportunities around eCommerce in terms of growth, and identifying them tactically,” said Orme. This means looking beyond short-term spending trends and finding bigger patterns.

“The key for us strategically is to think bigger; there are people spending money online now in these areas, and therefore we need to develop some content around that,” he explained. “There are always emerging markets in eCommerce, and Future’s strategy is clearly to identify and be as strong in them as we can.” 

Lockdown has helped this immensely, especially for higher ticket items in the home and garden sectors, because people have been forced online. When physical stores have limited opening times and stock options, the willingness to buy items such as BBQs or even sofas from online stores increases, as does the desire to have options expertly curated.

The long SEO game

One challenge publishers always face with launching new sites, especially ones reliant on eCommerce, is ranking in search. Future has a tried and tested approach to building rankings quickly, and is aiming to have Gardeningetc well-established in search within the next few years.

“We’ve been tracking rankings on the site for over seven weeks around the critical terms that we have,” Orme explained. “We’re seeing week-on-week growth, and with probably around 20-25% of the target areas, we’re beginning to see rankings that are respectable.”

“The view was always going to be that this year we get some content and build it out with news and deals. Then by the time it’s February or March next year, hopefully we can get to the stage where the rankings are serious enough to deliver real traffic.”

Part of the strategy to achieve this involves having a “daily tempo” with putting content up, according to Orme. Putting one or two new pieces up a week just isn’t enough. Future’s established home brands often produce between 20 and 30 pieces a day, and although this is not something that Gardeningetc has the resources to match, the team are still aiming for at least 25 articles a week.

The title is also building up a newsletter audience to encourage loyalty and return visits. This is currently sent every Sunday, while people are at home relaxing and more likely to be thinking about their outdoor spaces.

Nurturing a younger demographic

Gardeningetc’s Instagram-esque aesthetic sets it apart from many other established gardening titles. The site’s title is a play on sister site Livingetc, which has a young, trendy audience interested in modern homes. Orme explained that the target audience for Gardeningetc is similar, leaning towards a younger audience less interested in gardening itself, and more interested in the garden as a living space, as an extension of the home space.

“The view was you can enjoy your garden as a space to live in, rather than necessarily to look at,” he outlined. “As a result, I think that we’re attracting a younger demographic that are probably less interested in plant tendering.”

“Our approach to it would be that if you’ve got a problem in the garden that you need to solve, then we can help. If you’ve got some blank areas that you need to fill quickly with some planting, then we can give you advice… What we are strong on is that we’re a brand for people who want to sit on a nice deck and have a barbeque on a Friday night, so how do you get that look.”

Betting on long-term trends

As colder weather approaches in the UK, Gardeningetc is anticipating a slow-down in interest from Brits in gardening, and instead is preparing its winter content strategy around Australian and Southwestern US states. “The content strategy is based around international audiences,” said Orme. “We’re making sure that we’re as relevant there as we are in our weak months as we are strong in our UK summer. That’s one of the benefits of globalisation.”

One question that remains with any trend which has been boosted by lockdown is the extent to which it will continue as life slowly returns to normal. Will interest in our own private outdoor living spaces continue, or will the newly-designed gardens be abandoned as soon as public spaces reopen?

Orme thinks that interest in gardens will stick post-pandemic. “With any big economic shocks like this, I think you see an acceleration of what was going to happen anyway,” he hypothesised. “I’m fairly sure that we’ll see a general abandonment of the city, and I think people will begin to value space more.” 

“I’m convinced actually that we will see people investing in their homes more widely, but also their gardens, because they’re the things they can actually control. Searches for homes with gardens in the countryside are way up, and lots of people are even investing in things like swimming pools in a way that they wouldn’t have two or three years ago.”

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