Monday, April 7, 2014

Live Marketing

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who works for a landscape company without a maintenance division.  They'd tried it in the past, he told me, and found it was "too much work."  

Over the past several years their company has atrophied, continually losing construction clients as full service maintenance contractors took over their projects.  Since his company doesn't offer maintenance services, he continually finds the construction work they leave behind ages poorly.  With no one to maintain their work at a skilled level, their clients' homes look bad and their work is poorly represented.  But in an attempt to build their client base, they've devoted a large line item to slick marketing and promotional materials to make themselves look great in print.  His complaint:  their marketing pieces look better than their job sites. 

The end result of a landscaper's work is not a piece of paper, but a living, breathing place. We don't build a structure that is changeless over time, like the work of an architect or a home builder.  Our living spaces are dynamic; they age, mature, grow, live, and sometimes, die. Taking care of those places is a vital part of their continued success, well beyond their warranty period.  Maintaining a garden ensures the design intent is carried out over time, like an investment advisor coaching a professional from her early years into retirement.  

But it has the added benefit of earning a relationship with clients themselves. 

For years, University horticulture programs have seen declining enrollment as fewer and fewer young people find careers in the green industry attractive, or are drawn to the "sexier" roles of design or construction.  Societally, we elevate the designer, tolerate the builder, and denigrate the maintainer, but we conveniently forget the design left on paper is merely a guide to the place where we will eat, drink, and be merry.  It does not exist until it is built, and it will not last if it is uncared for.  

It's one of the reasons we place a high value on training and growing personal skill sets. One of our top foremen, Francisco, learned side by side with our company's owner for the first few seasons of his employment.  From his previous manufacturing background, he learned the horticultural best practices of pruning times and techniques, fertilization, and volumes more, and continues to steward and care for our clients with skill and precision.  Without a Francisco, it doesn't matter how nice the design or the construction is--a property needs to be cared for in order to age gracefully and have any longevity. 

Landscape maintenance is "service," and is a far better form of marketing a business than traditional advertising.  It is stewardship of a client's resources, it meets their needs seasonally, and maximizes a property's value by making it work for its owner's needs as they both mature.  More than an email blast or glossy brochure, live marketing benefits a landscape business by meeting a need and being capably available.  

A consultant from Houzz forwarded me a pair of articles this week on the power of compelling photography in generating design sales, which brought me back full circle to my friend's comment about his marketing materials looking better than their clients' properties.  Images used to convey an idea are great, but they'll quickly be found lacking if not backed up by the ability to construct or care for the real thing. 

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