What’s the word on the street about your business – and what are you doing about it? Marketing dollars are often the first to go when a company is running a tight budget. But money spent on targeted, consistent messaging to qualified prospects and existing customers can help preserve and grow sales and increase visibility.
This month, Lawn & Landscape spoke with three firms that are testing the radio waves, printing testimonials and doing face-time during prime-time television. (They’re also remembering to keep it local and community spirited.) Learn from their marketing hits and misses.
Working a calendar
Consistency and timing is the key to building a marketing plan that gets the phones ringing. That’s why Elite Landscaping Co. has a marketing calendar that outlines how its $18,000 advertising budget will be spent.
“You have to pick a direction and stick to it, otherwise you can’t quantify your results,” says Taylor Milliken, owner of the Henderson, Tenn.-based firm.
Consistency in audience, messaging and brand look and feel ensure that prospects really “get” your company. And timing campaigns so they align with the season and service push helps truly promote sales efforts. Milliken instituted a marketing calendar that outlines the who, what, when, where and how. Who will be the audience, what is the promotion, when will the reward or message be distributed, and how will customers and prospects receive the message.
“I am a firm believer in planning, and I’m very numbers oriented, so I like to have a budget,” Milliken says, noting that he earmarks 1-1.5 percent of projected gross sales toward marketing and advertising.
Milliken’s marketing efforts fall into several main categories: email outreach to existing customers via electronic invoice stuffers; targeted direct mail; referral rewards; an online presence and community awareness. The marketing calendar specifies which services throughout the season are promoted across all of these categories.
For example, in January, a dormant oil shrub protectant was advertised in invoice stuffers and on Facebook. In February, the focus is pre-emergence fertilizer. “A bit of (the promotion) is education, but it’s driven toward filling in (sales) voids we have for current services,” Milliken says.
Existing customers are the easiest sell, so account managers are reminded to do on-site walk-throughs when they can review enhancement opportunities with clients and discuss upcoming services for each season. The invoice “stuffers” are actually footer notes with a graphic or attachments to emailed bills. And when existing customers refer a new client, Milliken refers to the company’s customer relationship management (CRM) software to find out how to treat that loyal customer for sending Elite Landscape Co. new business.
“Customers get discounts on services or gift cards to their favorite restaurants,” he says.
“Saying thank you is great, but giving a property manager a gift card to the spa is really appreciated.”
Targeted efforts pay off. Milliken learned this after a postcard campaign bombed last year. Mailers were sent to homeowners in three counties, and the home value was a reach. “We have found that until you have a big name, the phone will not ring too much (from postcards),” Milliken says.
So this year, Milliken pushed down the home value target to $250,000 and focused on only the county where people know his name. The same homeowners will receive eight mailers, with messaging that correlates with the marketing calendar.
“I’ve heard that it takes something like seven times for people to see your name before they make a phone call,” Milliken says. “I don’t know if seven is the magic number, but it’s about consistency and timing, and we have to hit the homeowners when they are planning (to buy services).”
The first postcard mailed in February, and the second at the end of March. “The (target audience) is more dense and we are finding our sweet spot now,” Milliken says. The phone is ringing, and he knows it’s from the postcards because his sales and marketing coordinator tracks those calls.
Making a name
Branding became a name game after merging two established companies than adding a reputed irrigation firm to the mix. Who were customers going to call for service? Rather, what were customers going to call the “new” company that had been servicing their lawns for many years?
That’s the marketing charge for Columbia LandCare, formerly known as Columbia Turf & Landscape, then previously known as separate companies Columbia Turf and Missouri Mowing. Jed Taylor founded his business Missouri Mowing in 1996, the same year that Bill McWilliams started his company, Columbia Turf.
The two joined forces in 2002, and that’s when the first naming discussion surfaced. The decision was easy.
“Missouri Mowing was not conducive to our services at that time,” says Taylor, president of the new company Columbia LandCare, and director of the design/build and snow divisions.
Even prior to 2009 when the firm merged, Missouri Mowing was more design than maintenance. “It was pretty easy to give up the Missouri Mowing name and go to Columbia Turf & Landscaping,” Taylor says.
But a reprise of name-that-company came around when the entity added an irrigation company to its mix last year. “We wanted to hit home that we are not just a turf company, and we are not just mowing,” Taylor says. “We are trying to get away from that (image). We do so much more than cut and fertilizer your grass. So that was a big message we needed to get across.”
McWilliams suggested the name Columbia LandCare, and it stuck. Taylor’s wife, who helped run his business for years and headed the marketing campaigns (her specialty) pulled together taglines, graphics and a more cohesive plan for the diversified company.
The tagline: Keeping it green and growing. Branding the four service buckets gives each division an identity while maintaining consistency across the brand. So there are slightly different logos painted on trucks that service each of the grounds maintenance, design/build, irrigation service and installation and snow and ice management.
“If you glance at a Columbia Turf truck versus a Columbia Irrigation truck and didn’t look closely, you would think it’s the same, but it gets the point across that they are separate division and they are operating that way,” Taylor says.
To make this point loud and clear, the company advertises on the radio. The humorous ads aren’t flashy, but they’re clever. “We are trying to communicate that our guys are accredited and educated, and to build value in what we do,” Taylor says, adding that the name change is the primary focus of campaigns this year.
One radio ad is a play on political advertising. McWilliams talks about the name change, running through the titles of each Columbia LandCare division. To close the segment, a commentator says, “Columbia LandCare approves this message.”
“We want to keep our name in people’s minds so they are thinking about us when they think about landscaping and lawn care,” Taylor says.
Other successful efforts include the company’s print advertising campaign, which include customer/property pictures with testimonials. “It’s a picture of what we are doing for the customer, a picture of the customer, and a quote from that person about their experience working with our company,” Taylor says. “That stuff speaks for itself.”
Broadcasting for business
Over the years, Green Earth Services had built a strong reputation in the Columbia, S.C., community as a quality provider of commercial and industrial grounds maintenance services. But president David Livingston wants folks to know, “We’re not just a commercial company.”
The business has increased its residential design/build division in the last five years, and that’s largely because of public awareness marketing campaigns on radio and television. Advertising is necessary to gain market share in this segment, says Livingston, who admits he never did much advertising prior to this. Now, he spends up to 5 percent of annual revenues on marketing.
“We focus on messages that emphasize the quality and integrity of our company – the fact that we have been around as long as we have, our national certification – and we put a personal spin on it,” Livingston says, summing up the brand message.
Radio is a successful format for Green Earth. Livingston gives a daily one-minute landscape tip (he records them en masse so the producer can run them daily).
The tips are broadcast at the same time every day: during drive time. Also, a few times each year, the radio host invites Livingston to participate in a call-in show where he answers gardening and landscaping questions. “People say, I heard you on the radio, I saw your trucks – it just kind of clicks, it’s building the brand,” Livingston says.
And it’s working. When the administrator at Green Earth answers the phone call of a new customer, she always asks how the person found out about the company.
Usually, they say television, radio or from a friend or neighbor.
“We do book-end commercials on TV where we give a 15-second message that is followed by other commercials, then we close out the segment with our message,” Livingston says.
Generally, these commercials include photographs of completed design/build projects and a voiceover by Livingston.
“I have gotten lot of feedback from people I run into who say, ‘You’re the guy on T.V.,’” Livingston says, adding that all this goes toward building recognition. “You know, people talk. Our commercials run in the morning during The Today Show and in afternoon during Dr. Phil or Oprah.”
The author is a frequent contributor to Lawn & Landscape.