Traditional or digital online marketing methods: what works in the landscape industry?
Remember the 90’s and how the Internet was the new ‘kid on the block’? It changed marketing forever with the possibilities for creating long-term digital relationships between company and customer. Fast track forward to the 2000s, and we now have multiple ways to connect with customers and each other – and be connected 24/7/365.
With access to social media no longer exclusive to companies with big budgets, it might seem that digital marketing is the only place to be. However, the landscape industry tends to balance both traditional and online methods.
As Paul Cowell, P.C. Landscapes, comments: ‘You’re always working on something, somewhere – it’s not like putting an advert in the newspaper anymore. It’s a more complex scenario than that now. There’s no one solution: it’s a mixture of social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Houzz, etc.), links to associations, such as BALI or SGD, and your own website, along with word-of-mouth, and recommendations (keeping in touch with clients and maintaining good relationships), and networking at events to contact people you want to work with.’
Marketing across a number of areas is also a successful approach taken by Peter Cunliffe, Northumbrian Landscaping, and one which brings results: ‘I have never really chased financial wealth and success, but rather tried to ensure that I avoid failure. This is as much for the sake of job security for my staff than for any personal reasoning; however, the contracts that we are now offered, or that we choose to be involved with, are of a much higher interest, and this is down solely to marketing.’
For Claudia de Yong, of Claudia de Yong Designs, marketing has ranged from promoting the company’s website to word-of-mouth and networking. She says: ‘I find several avenues help me in my business. When I first started with my design and build business, my website was the main way of presenting my work to a wider audience and I paid for Google ads to up my ranking. I am not sure how this helped in the long run, as I stopped doing this after a year or so. Word of mouth is definitely worth a great deal and you are really as good as your last job, but I tend to get referrals that way and recommendations.’
Anthony Paul Landscape Designs also depends on its company website, along with social media such as Pinterest, says Anthony Paul. He adds: ‘We use Instagram to show our projects; however, word-of mouth is the most reliable way we get our work.’
Marketing through the company website also works for Angelique Robb, Papillon Designs Landscaping: ‘Many people comment that this is how they find us, and like that we have lots of different photos. Currently, we don’t pay for any regular printed/digital ads as we’ve not found that they pay off. We did advertise in a magazine at a local garden centre, but found no clients through this method.’
A variety of marketing approaches has also been the experience of Ian Price, Ian Price Design. He says; ‘Firstly, I relied on word-of-mouth, as the lack of marketing budget was a huge factor (I didn’t even have a website). There were no sources of free listings or websites, nor Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Opportunities for business promotion were incredibly limited. A yellow pages listing was the main source for any business searches – the ‘yellow paper Google’. Now, the website is where the majority of my work comes from. I ask clients where they hear about me and delicately ask what they liked and disliked about it. There is no better form of feedback.’
He adds that he does not use leaflets, noting: ‘How many products or services do you purchase because you saw it in a flyer through your door?’
And yet, proving that different methods work for different landscape companies (and products), Michele Fitzsimmons, Edible Landscaping, comments that marketing ‘depends on what I’m trying to sell.’ For example, the company’s design work marketing is done through its website, word-of-mouth / past student recommendations – and flyers. Michele adds that she gets ‘practically no work as far as I can tell through social media for design work.’ For her courses, she finds marketing success comes through different routes, including via the university web site and booklet (as she teach courses through the local university, Facebook, word-of-mouth, Twitter, and the company’s website.
As Darren Taylor, BALI Marketing and Communications Manager, confirms: ‘Out of all the industries in the UK, landscaping organisations still prefer a balance of online and traditional print marketing methods. For example, our members see the value of placing adverts in BALI’s Landscape News quarterly journal, and our annual Who’s Who Directory, because those publications target specifiers and decision-makers in local authority and construction, to name just a few.’ He adds that it seems to be the larger landscape contractor and affiliate (supplier) members who are regularly active on social media, particularly Twitter: ‘Twitter is also a popular method of communication for Garden Designers, as the nature of their business and that they mostly work as individuals, means they share their personal work, achievements and successes on Twitter more than most. There are less organisations using Facebook, which we can only assume is down to the fact that most organisations are B2B focused.’
Of course, there’s another major factor at play here – it all takes time to do marketing successfully.
As Paul Cowell comments, marketing is something that you ‘constantly have to do’. He adds: ‘Digital marketing has increased a lot over the past few years. When you do the analytics it’s interesting, but you can spend a lot of time on it. Trying to optimise it for the best performance takes a lot of work, but it does work.’
Sometimes, it may pay to ask an expert in social media marketing. For Ian Price, the main focus of any advertising or marketing is the website, and he comments that it’s important to do the research and see what makes a good Google website: ‘Ask a verified, professional web designer and be prepared to pay for their services, as you would expect a client to pay for your expert knowledge. I’m a firm believer in asking those that know better for their advice and heeding it.’ He adds the website should ‘hit the right tone with the users – reflecting the style, look and feel of the gardens that I produce. It must be easy to use and be intuitive for everyone to use on every platform, including tablet, laptop, desktop, and mobile.’
And then there’s the time factor again:
‘The challenge is that landscape companies are already so busy doing the work involved in fulfilling contracts, that any additional marketing simply doesn’t get done – unless there’s an in-house or contract marketing person to do it,’ comments Denise Ewbank, PR Manager BALI.
That’s a viewpoint Claudia de Yong agrees with: ‘My website needs updating, and that’s the problem when you’re working and haven’t got time to do essential changes and update material.’
With such a wide combination of methods in use, marketing success also comes via different routes.
‘We market in every area that we can,’ says Peter Cunliffe. ‘Although it must be said there are certain areas that excel. Our website is probably one of the strongest tools, where we have gone to some length to ensure an attractive site that highlights our six BALI National Award successes. This also extends to emails, where a logo and an image dictating recent successes make for a good signature.
‘We have also made marketing mistakes, such as where we have paid through the nose for animated marketing positioned beside the score board of a local Rugby team. Although this potentially targets a quality client, you have to consider that it is the same market week in week out, so the return on investment is at best risky. If it wasn’t for my love of rugby and sponsoring a team I love, I would probably regret this decision entirely.
‘Linkedin is also a useful tool, where you can find a group and ask a leading question about a subject that you are involved with at present. This not only offers industry feedback, but generates some interest in a subject you’re trying to promote.’
Angelique Robb has seen success throughout the year with Google adwords to the company website, and Facebook posts. However, she comments that the company is now seeing more interest in Twitter and Instagram.
And Darren Taylor comments that more needs to be done in using applications, such as Instagram, Flickr and even Pinterest, to help reach new users that prefer more image-led content. He adds that ‘blogs are rarely used to market and promote products and services, most likely because the nature of a blog is to inform readers from a more personal stance; focusing on a journey or specific interest.’
Denise Ewbank comments that winning national awards offers an excellent marketing opportunity for a landscape company. ‘Winning an award consistently raises profiles, and then the types of contracts that companies are approached to do have higher values and are more prestigious – and that comes through exposure from winning the awards. For example, one company won a principal award for ground maintenance, and were subsequently ‘on the radar’.
Currently, Claudia de Yong uses Instagram and Pinterest, and writes for Houzz UK, and has got work through show gardens. For someone starting out in the business, Claudia suggests advertising in local Parish magazines or papers is a good start.
A stand at the Scottish home show in Aberdeen was a positive experience for Angelique Robb: ‘It has been an amazing way to inspire and add new clients as they get to meet us and see our portfolio.’
Doing RHS and other shows is a great way to directly talk to prospective clients, showcase work and interact with other professionals, agrees Ian Price. ‘Taking a stand at a large Irish trade show was also useful for me in the beginning, and while it was expensive, it did give me a chance to make meetings after talking to clients directly. I have also volunteered to offer garden design workshops in local garden centres and similar public businesses. Talking face to face with people is always the best way for the clients to get to know you.’
‘Connecting it all together, and making sure all the profiles tally, and the details tally, and the contact numbers tally, and the websites and pages tally… It all takes time,’ says Paul Cowell. And, as he adds: ‘It’s not billable time. It becomes part of your overheads, you just need to measure and track that time.’
For Peter Cunliffe, community projects go a long way to promote involvement in worthy causes. He says, ‘We completed a project for the Glenridding Hotel that suffered devastating flooding through storm “Desmond” in 2015. There was a great BALI initiative to restore the garden that gathered a great deal of positive press and also helped the hotel at the same time.’
Denise Ewbank believes that it really comes down to BALI members to make the best use of their opportunities: ‘some companies win an award and then don’t even send out a press release. You have to let people know when you’ve won these great awards. At BALI, we actively suggest members use the marketing opportunity (afforded through winning an award) by contacting the local press, or putting out their own press release.’ And Darren Taylor adds that BALI is focused on delivering strategic campaigns across social media this year, as part of its five-year marketing strategy.
Paul Cowell agrees that awards help to raise a company’s profile: ‘It’s twofold really, as an award raises team morale, and it’s nice when other people see your name, raising awareness – it adds to the overall marketing strategy for the year.’
He concludes: ‘You can see the traffic – it’s just making sure you can trace customer queries back to how/where someone got your number in the first place. That’s the difficult bit in some ways, trying to tie it all in together. It’s important to have systems in place to measure and record it, together with a planned strategy. If you’re investing in a certain social media, then you’re need to make sure it’s in the right direction.’
(Originally published in The Landscaper magazine)