Two floral heavyweights go head-to-head in direct marketing comparison

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Two floral heavyweights go head-to-head in direct marketing comparison
Two floral heavyweights go head-to-head in direct marketing comparison

ProFlowers.com
Founded 1998; Private company

part of Provide Commerce

1-800-Flowers.com
Founded 1976; NASDAQ FLWS

$667.7 M annual revenue

Many Americans turn to their local deli or grocery store to choose a floral bouquet for special occasions like Mother's Day or a colleague's retirement, but there are two leading direct marketing companies that will let them “say it with flowers” by phone or Web: 1-800-Flowers.com and ProFlowers.com.

These leading brands use distinct operating models, but share the same goal of cultivating a repeat customer. ProFlowers operates on a direct fulfillment model. They take their flower product from suppliers straight to the customer's door. 1-800-Flowers takes the third-party route, relying on local florist networks to fulfill orders.

Both exhibit different sales approaches as well. 

“If you know what you want relatively quickly, 1-800-Flowers is excellent on a more transactional basis,” says Tim Searcy, CEO of the American Teleservices Association, which represents the call center industry. “If you are not certain of what you want, but you may have a budget and you want someone to help guide you through the process, ProFlowers has a better reputation for that.”

Like most direct marketers today, both companies operate loyalty programs. 1-800-Flowers has a formalized program, called “Fresh Rewards,” which is clearly distinguished on its website. Fresh Rewards allows people to earn discounts that can be used across all of its brands. Kelly Hlavinka, managing partner at Colloquy, a consultant and research company focused on loyalty marketing, says the program is attractive because it offers tiered rewards “and puts some of the juiciest rewards in the top tiers.” 

ProFlowers opts to partner with companies, like American Express and Marriott, to offer rewards points.

“If you're looking for corporate customers, why not partner with American Express membership rewards where they specialize in issuing cards for travel and entertainment for corporate travelers,” adds Hlavinka. “Reaching that audience to acquire new customers is not a bad idea.”

The differences in their loyalty programs demonstrates another operational difference between the two competitors. ProFlowers makes a concentrated effort to cater to corporate clients, while 1-800-Flowers builds relationships with consumers. ProFlowers has a dedicated corporate page on its website and provides a separate 800 number. 

“It does seem like you've got two companies with very different priorities — and priorities in terms of their top objectives,” says Hlavinka. “That's reflected in their go-to market strategy with their loyalty programs.” 

ProFlowers and 1-800-Flowers declined requests for comment.

E-mail marketing prevails as an effective direct marketing tactic for both organizations, including cross-selling in transactional e-mails, special offers and discount rewards designed to reactivate lapsed customers, according to a sampling of recent e-mail messages, which were examined by Direct Marketing News (DMN). 

Chris Wells, CRM manager at Critical Mass, which does not work with ProFlowers, penned a recent blog post praising the company's  strategy, where it allows customers to sign up for alerts about a friend's birthday or other important events. 

“The e-mail reminder service offered by ProFlowers.com provides a very useful customer utility benefit that likely resonates well with customers with very busy lifestyles and hectic schedules,” Wells told DMN. “A reminder e-mail sent at just the right time can serve as a key loyalty driver for customers who meet this profile.” 

In social media marketing, 1-800-Flowers.com outruns its competitor. As of October 7, it had an impressive 47,157 fans on Facebook, while ProFlowers had amassed 4,057. It is a similar story on Twitter. 1-800-Flowers.com has 6,669 followers while ProFlowers.com has 992. Number of fans, of course, doesn't tell the whole story.

It's often more important how companies make use of the social networking sites and it's here that 1-800-Flowers does stand out as the stronger marketer, says Deb Durig, account director at Atmosphere Proximity, an Omnicom-owned agency.* 

“1-800-Flowers updates their Facebook page content frequently. They're currently running a sweepstakes; they have weekly giveaways and offer a 20% discount when you become a fan of the page, and they used the page to promote their recent ‘America's most celebrated birthday' event in New York City,” says Durig. “They even have a Guy's Guide to Flowers tab. All reasons for fans to keep coming back to the page and to keep 1-800-Flowers top of mind.”

While ProFlowers does make use of its Facebook page by offering discount codes around holidays and some free downloadable items, Durig points out in early October that the last time it had updated any content was on July 29.

When it comes to how each uses Twitter, Durig says there is no comparison. “1-800-Flowers tweets on a regular basis — on some days, multiple times a day,” she says. “ProFlowers tends to use their Twitter page as a customer service page to help resolve customer complaints and issues. Its last tweet was in May.”

Both brands, though, are experimenting with new technologies to better reach customers. This year, ProFlowers.com ran a Mother's Day promotion on Farmville, letting users earn virtual cash if they accepted an offer to send real flowers. 1-800-Flowers also allows customers to place orders through Facebook, and it has m-commerce in place with Blackberry, iPhone and Android applications.

Eric Best, chairman and CEO of Mercent Corporation, an online marketing technology and services company notes that 1-800-Flowers was one of the first to provide e-commerce to consumers on Facebook. “It was a very high-profile initiative, and I think it has served them well,” he says. “They have been very aggressive in these two high-growth areas.” 

In terms of branding, 1-800-Flowers' name trumps Proflowers.

“First of all, they make it easy for you to pick up the phone or to go to a website. It's baked into their name,” says Scott Markman, president of The Monogram Group, an advertising and branding agency. “Their brand identity as executed through every touch point that I have seen — their website, an e-mailer, social media – is extraordinarily consistent, attractive and sophisticated, and the communications are clear.”

ProFlowers isn't one to be left behind, though. The Nielsen Company's August 2010 rankings of top online retailers based on the number of purchases placed ProFlowers.com at No. 62, ahead of 1-800-Flowers which ranked in 80th place. Consumer-facing TopTenReviews, though, picked 1-800-Flowers as its top online flower provider in terms customer service, product variety, delivery and price, ahead of the No. 3 ProFlowers.

Brand Champion

There isn't a large divide separating the two floral companies' direct marketing efforts, because both are making use of both classic and new tenets of the field. Yet, 1-800-Flowers appears more willing to aggressively embrace the newer mobile and social techniques. Its loyalty program and “mobile” flowers resonate well. ProFlowers.com tends to fly further under the radar, yet clearly resonates with customers. Still, in terms of marketing and branding prowess, 1-800-Flowers is edging its younger competitor out of the way.

*Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to Atmosphere Proximity as a BBDO-owned agency. Atmosphere Proximity is part of the BBDO network and both are owned by Omnicom. We regret the error.

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