July 5 2018 11:29 AM

Landscape marketing experts help you go beyond your website to reach customers online.

What’s the best way to market my business? How do I optimize my social media/online business presence? All business owners know they should be asking these questions, but the answers aren’t always readily apparent.

“This business is about creating beautiful landscapes,” you may be saying. “Who said anything about needing to be technologically savvy?” Well, today, if you aren’t online then you probably aren’t reaching your growth potential. You can’t get by just by having a website anymore; it’s social media, it’s advertising, it’s ratings and reviews.

So where do you start? Judy Guido, chairwoman of Guido and Associates, Moorpark, California, helps companies develop their people and scale up for profitable growth. Recently inducted into the Green Industry Hall of Fame, she’s been in the landscape industry for 25 years. Before deciding on how and where to market, Guido says, “You need to have both an overarching strategy and a targeted business strategy that’s aligned with your core customers, core competencies and unique selling proposition.”

Chris Heiler, CEO of Landscape Leadership, an Austin, Texas-based sales and marketing agency for lawn and landscape industry companies, says businesses commonly make the mistake of not creating comprehensive marketing plans or annual marketing budgets. “Instead, they take a shotgun approach, throwing money here and there without much forethought. It’s pure spending without a strategy, and that approach doesn’t work.”

Understanding who your customer is requires time and effort. “You need to personify your customers,” says Guido. “It’s not about selling to B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer), it’s about selling to people — P2P (people to people)!” It means understanding their channels, learning what groups they belong to, where they get their information and how they buy. “Don’t try to guess,” says Guido. “Stay in close touch with your customers and ask them.”

When the customer has been personified, the business owner will know how to best reach out. “You have to know your audience and how they make decisions, what results they’re looking for and what drives them to buy,” says Jeff Carowitz, a consultant with Strategic Force Inc., Houston. “This will enable you to craft a message that appeals to the customer and stand out from lookalike contractors.”

Find what works for you

There is no one-size-fits-all or magic bullet when it comes to social media and an online presence, according to Guido. “It depends on what you are trying to accomplish and where your core customers are.”

The type of business you have is another factor to consider when determining where to focus your efforts online. “Because whether they are effective or not depends on the type of business you have,” notes Heiler.

One site that Guido is particularly enamored with is YouTube. “It offers great visuals and enables customers, prospective customers, employees and other key stakeholders the ability to really see inside your company and get a sense of its energy, capabilities and culture.” Other sites to consider include LinkedIn, Facebook and Pinterest. Guido notes that a number of her clients have also had success with blogging and/or vlogging.

Carowitz believes landscape business owners seeking residential clients should focus on online reviews. Reviews on sites such as Yelp, Google, HomeAdvisor and Nextdoor are influential, as it’s been noted that up to 70 percent of consumers pay attention to them. Negative reviews can be detrimental, and one cannot appeal to these sites to remove them.

“When you get a bad review, figure out who the customer is and reach out to him right away, offering to make it right,” says Carowitz. “Listen to the customer and make sure he feels heard.” While stressful in the moment, it can serve as a learning experience that will help your company improve in the long term.

When trying to find out information, including a reputable landscaper in the area, the first thing most of us do is go to Google. A quick search can turn up loads of helpful information. Google AdWords allows businesses to pay to display ads, product listings and video content on pages where Google thinks it’s relevant. Relevancy is based on keywords. “Google paid search advertising (AdWords) is the most important marketing tool for contractors looking for new work,” says Carowitz. “It’s the modern-day version of looking in the Yellow Pages.”

Help is out there

Some business owners might be left scratching their heads with all the advice that’s out there. They may throw their hands up in frustration and decide online marketing and social media are not worth the time. This, however, would be a mistake. “If you’re not investing online in the form of an up-to-date website, content marketing, digital advertising, etc., you’ve fallen behind, and it’s costing you hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost opportunities,” says Heiler.

With that in mind, what can a company do to get on the right track when it comes to marketing? Heiler suggests “hiring capable in-house help in the form of a marketing director or marketing coordinator, or hire an outside marketing agency familiar with their industry — or a combination of those.”

That could cost some big bucks, but there are other, more reasonably priced options. Landscape companies can turn to state and national associations, business books, Google search, YouTube, trade and business magazines and webinars.

Measuring success

After a business has determined its ideal customer and created a marketing strategy to reach him, there’s one more key step in the process: metrics. Measuring the success — or lack thereof — of marketing efforts enables a business to quickly adapt its strategy. However, it’s easy to get bogged down in the numbers as social media and other online tools provide a lot of metrics.

Dwelling too much on click statistics or the minutiae of online advertising can distract you from your goal. “It’s important to measure the right things,” says Carowitz. “To focus on achieving your company’s sales targets, track the number of sales leads, your close rate, and where the good leads that produce good orders are coming from. It’s the lifeblood of business.”

Guido recommends reviewing the following metrics: traffic, referrals, how long a person stays on your site or blog, conversion rate and search engine optimization words. She says, “Ultimately, it’s about reaching out, landing a meeting and getting a contract.”

“If you build it, they will come” — a paraphrase of the famous words uttered in the movie “Field of Dreams” — is not accurate when it comes to social media and your online presence. “Think about, ‘what content do I want people to see?’ then send links to let people know where you are,” says Guido. The same can be said if you’re looking to get reviews. “Provide a card at the end of service to invite the customer to review your company on different sites,” suggests Carowitz. “When customers have a good experience, they want to repay your kindness.”

The internet and social media are here to stay, and only getting more powerful with each passing moment. To think they don’t have a lasting and critical impact on any business is foolish. Investing in web now could mean you getting a call from a new customer instead of your competition.

Judy Guido’s video advice:

“It (YouTube) offers great visuals and enables customers, prospective customers, employees and other key stakeholders the ability to really see inside your company and get a sense of its energy, capabilities and culture.”

The author is a freelance writer who writes on various industry topics. He can be reached at larry@larrydbernstein.com.