The Essential Marketing Tools for a Successful Hardscaping Business
Business success almost always comes down to effective marketing. Word of mouth around the neighbourhood you’ve served will only get you so far. As noted management guru Peter Drucker famously proclaimed, “The purpose of a business is to create a customer”—and marketing helps move that creation along. It was an insight made well before the existence of the internet, which is helping hardscaping contractors land the right customers more than any other marketing tool they’ve had in their arsenal.
In fact, 2019 is full of marketing tools you can grab hold of and spend time and effort on as you square away your plan for corralling quality leads. We’re going to help you focus on only the most effective tools—the essential components that should be included in your marketing plan this year. These are the essentials for reinforcing the awareness of your company in your area and generating access and exposure to the right customers and optimal jobs for your business. You’ve already established the basics—you’ve got a mobile-first website, some online customer reviews, and a presence on the major social media platforms. Now it’s time to take your marketing efforts to the next level—to see a payoff with prospects coming to you, to learn more about your business and how you can help them improve their outdoor living spaces.
Effective Marketing Is in Constant Flux
The opportunity to punch well above your weight, in a marketing sense, has never been greater, but the best ways to go about it frequently change. For one, many experts have noted that social media’s current level of affordability has ended. Companies need to now spend money on social media advertising to reach their target audience rather than simply set up a business page—but the return on investment is clearer than ever. As larger corporations transition from their long-time addiction to television advertising, there’s a strong likelihood that the price per view of online advertising will rise. For another, the days of advertising to mass audiences hoping to reach the small demographic relevant to your local business is long over. More effective targeting is made possible by Google ads.
The power of marketing tools to find you the right customers has never been more accessible. By concentrating on a few solid principles, and focusing on only a few key platforms, you can maximize your exposure and boost your business in ways never before possible.
Why Market a Local Business on the Internet?
At first, the world-wide web didn’t seem to offer tangible value for the regionally focused small business owner. That’s all changed with social media, focused marketing tools, analytical software, and the proliferation of mobile phones. You can reach prospects where they are and where they’re searching. You can even figure out what they’re searching for and target your information right to them.
Indeed, for hardscape contractors, digital marketing can make all the difference in high quality leads, sales, and the bottom line. But that’s not because of the sheer number of people you can reach. After all, your market is all located in your corner of the world. It’s more about the capability to personalize your marketing, and to find the kinds of projects and customers that are right in your sweet spot. Even though prospects are concentrated in your local 30-mile-or-so radius, you’ll find that it’s most effective to reach many of them where they’re congregating virtually.
No matter the state of your current marketing and online presence, there are some simple things you can do before the weather clears and job cycle hits to spruce it up for the new year, especially by leveraging the tools available in the digital world.
Before delving into the marketing tools you’ll be putting into play this year, figure out what you’re hoping to achieve this year. Are you looking to expand into another town? Are you trying to minimize the number of lower margin jobs you take on? Or are you hoping to attract a particular demographic? Sample goals could include:
- Bolster brand identity
- Increase the ratio of preferred project types by 30%
- Increase the number of pre-qualified leads by 20%
These figures will help you as you decide what your business has time for and how it goes about folding in new marketing tools.
Outline Your Strategy
Take a look at your marketing strategy to date and whether it could use some sprucing up. Your strategy should involve engagement, tracking and capturing, and targeting.
Are you attracting and maintaining the attention of your potential client base? You could already be doing this through regular posts on Facebook and responding with prospects on Instagram. You should also be questioning whether you are effective in your engagement efforts—are people following up through phone calls or direct messages, or are they turned off by posts that appear to be too sales rather than informative?
Track and Capture
You need to know what’s working and what isn’t. Social media platforms have developed some excellent tools for tracking the click-through-rate (CTR) and general effectiveness of advertising. Build your list of marketing contacts, their demographics, and how you came to know them. Every interaction with your social media account or website should be captured.
Build and Target
The power of digital marketing is its ability to find the right, tightly defined prospects, like homeowners who make more than $150,000, live in your geographic area, and spend time browsing landscaping sites. Ads you build can directly fill their desire for a local, quality contractor.
Choose Your Tools or Upgrade What You Have
Effective digital marketing is always a multi-pronged approach using tools across complementary platforms, with plenty of synergy among them. Using the available tools effectively means aligning your marketing strategy with business outcomes.
What constitutes an effective website is always evolving. Your site is at the core of your online presence, and people expect to access it from their phone or tablet as well as their PC. That means a responsive design, one that adjusts its format based on the device, allows navigation with swipes and gestures, and features familiar and conventional navigation that lets visitors get around quickly.
Your site is still about content and engagement, but content won’t matter if it’s unusable on the visitor’s device, and that’s a judgment most web users will make within seconds of landing there. The wrong first impression typically means there’s no second chance.
The bottom line is, if your prospects have made the journey from your social media pages or ads, and landed on your website, they’re already prequalified, and your marketing strategy has successfully captured a likely qualified lead. Make sure you offer a call to action, a free estimate, or direct contact options. As we’ll see later on, you can track your visitor’s journey, and retarget them with ads that help close their business.
The keys? Engaging content, mobile-responsive, and clean, uncluttered design. And, of course, offering an obvious next step, and a call to action for serious buyers.
Photography and Videography of Projects
Speaking of content, it’s a fact of business in the digital age that imagery, and video in particular, are powerful sellers on the web. A few years ago, video was just a nice way to add sizzle to ads and posts. These days it’s expected. In fact, companies using video enjoy 41% more web traffic from search than non-video users in 2018, according to Aberdeen.com.
As part of your digital marketing strategy, you should be building content, video content especially, as a regular habit in your daily routine. That could mean quick videos from your most interesting job sites. You may not need professional equipment necessarily, especially for video that’s intended for a quick post. A good iPhone or Android camera put to thoughtful use could suffice for some social media content.
Be sure to humanize your visual content, and avoid videos dominated by your talking head. That outdoor entertaining area you just completed gets even more compelling if it includes a happy customer beaming back at the camera, or party-goers breaking it in with a first barbecue.
Photos of successful jobs are fine, especially with a text overlay, but think about visual impact. A time-lapse video of a job from start to finish can inspire prospects by animating the before and after transformation. If you use 3D design tools like Uvision for your jobs, consider incorporating the dramatic effect of a fly-through in the software, coupling that with video of the actual job in progress.
Whatever your content, just don’t be boring. If you’re building a pool deck, cut to jobsite activity, get close-ups of the detailed vibrant colors in the pavers, and ask the homeowner to comment on the job. A solid 30 seconds of interesting content beats three minutes of talking-head video every time.
The keys? Visually alluring content, regular posts of new material, useful content, and educational. The idea is to keep your brand in play, and add text to both videos and photos using Facebook tools, or free video editing sites.
SEO: Helping the Search Engines Find You
Search engine optimization has long been a staple of digital marketing, and the page-ranking algorithms used by Google and others are becoming evermore sophisticated and nuanced. Gone are the days when you could game them with metawords and flooding. To some it may seem like a black art. And while it still an art, it can be supplemented with significant support from online tools. Online tools, such as Keywordtool.io, can help you adjust keyword placement.
You’ll want to know what your target customer base is searching for and be sure that your website provides some answers. This is where you can master some of the mystery of how search engines devour and crunch to decide which sites sit atop the results for any given search string. Be sure your site offers helpful, quality information about your key services, from paver patios to water features.
Active Social Media Profiles: Facebook and Instagram
Social media is all about engagement. That means not only providing valuable content, but doing it consistently, and building a following. You want to build a following on your chosen platform, an engaged following. Sheer number of followers are meaningless unless they’re engaged. And posts are rarely an effective way to market directly. That’s what ads are for.
None of that means posting isn’t a part of your digital marketing strategy. It’s the organic way to build a following by providing value that’s related to your business and community, without a direct sales pitch. Posts can be short and sweet, but if you’re not directly posting about your business, what are you posting about? To be engaging, consider rotating through a regime of different kinds of posts—personal, perhaps business and industry-related, and educational.
Educational posts are a hugely effective way to build engagement. By providing tangible value, people are more likely to flock to your content. According to Google, searches for “how to…” continue to increase 70% year on year. Take advantage of that proven consumer interest—quick videos on What’s new in outdoor living, DIY repair and maintenance tips for pavers, new techniques and materials are a way to sell without advertising. It’s part of both offering something of value, and solidifying your reputation as a subject matter expert.
Google Ads for Focused Services
You don’t have to choose between pay-per-click advertising and SEO, or social media ads. Google Ads offers an extensive and easy to use toolset that lets you bid on and specify keywords that target your audience to bolster your ranking in a Google search. You can set an upper daily spending limit, and you only pay when someone uses your words.
Google Ads has built-in tools to help you understand how certain keywords and phrases will do in the marketplace. Even so, here’s an important tip: There are great third-party tools that offer more insight into keyword performance, and many are free. Take a look at:
- Keywords Everywhere
- Wordtracker Scout
- AdWord & SEO Keyword Permutation Generator
The key point here is Google Ads offer a budget-friendly way to reach your customer base, in your area, targeting their interests. You can play around to see what works most effectively.
Social Media Ads: Facebook Ads/Instagram Ads
While posting engaging content, and maintaining a compelling bio are the baseline for your social media presence, paid ads will target your sweet spot to the right demographic and the most likely to be actively looking for the exact services you provide. Local landscape contractors can no longer rely solely on posting and engagement. You have to go after business, and that means ads are no longer just a nice to have option.
Successful ads on social media are about the effective iteration between designing, posting, and tracking. Facebook offers excellent marketing tools for honing your target demographic, tools to build ads, and tools to measure the performance of your ads. Owned by Facebook, Instagram tends to appeal to a slightly younger audience, but the platform is “aging-up” every year.
Instagram is more about engagement, sharing content, and building relationships. Users tend to be more responsive, and it can be a successful first touch-point for prospects. But once you have an attentive audience, Facebook ads generally produce higher conversion rates.
Many marketers see them as two channels on the same platform. A cohesive marketing strategy that plays to the strengths of each platform—using Instagram for engagement, then retargeting engaged followers with Facebook ads—is far more likely to be successful than using either platform in isolation.
The Facebook Ad Manager offers step-by-step tools that guide you from setting your marketing goals, through ad creation, posting, and tracking. It lets you define your target audience and building advertising especially for them. You can limit spending on your ad to a specific dollar amount, then go back to the tracking tools, measure the effectiveness of your ad, and make informed adjustments.
Facebook’s tracking tools help you understand the effectiveness of your ads, and the online behavior of customers and prospects. They can tell you what sites people visit, and even where they’ve been on your site.
For tracking site visits, Facebook offers a powerful feature called pixels. They’re little snippets of code that you can insert into your own website to help track visitors and their behavior. Pixels can tell who visited, which pages they saw, and how long they stayed on each page. With that kind of tracking set up on your site, you can then use the Facebook Business Manager to target ads directly to people based on their activity and how they used your site, like those who have looked at your job portfolio page, or stayed on your services page. Combined with Facebook demographic data, you can target only people who live locally, only homeowners, and restrict your audience further to any age group.
The great thing about pixels is that Instagram ads can be targeted using that data too.
The key points here are using the strengths of each platform: Instagram for engagement and building relationships, Facebook for conversion. Also, run ads through your niche fan page, not necessarily your homepage, and use Facebook’s content scheduling feature so you can have more than one ad, video, or post ready to go, and automatically publish each separately on the desired day and time.
Point of Sale: High-Quality Brochures
People still like something tangible to take away, something they don’t have to go online to read. With all the hype around digital marketing, the value high-quality glossies that sit on a table around the house is still a vital component of a well-rounded marketing plan. Think more magazine than tri-fold here.
Make sure your brochures include addresses for your social media pages in addition to your website. Make it even easier, and take it to the next level by including QR-codes for prospects to scan with their smart phones and go directly to your website or social media pages.
QR-codes, those Rorschach-looking, scannable square jumbles of black and white dots, can be created free online, and included in your tri-fold or sell sheet layouts. See www.qrstuff.com, or search “qr code free” for more options.
Review Gathering: Active Review Software/Process
Human psychology makes us more comfortable doing things we know other have done. Even in a digital world, personal recommendations remain a driver of sales. According to Forrester Research, 84% of U.S. adults read reviews when they research products and services online.
Good reviews trigger a deeply-human psychological response that tells buyers you’re okay, and that by choosing your business, they won’t be the first. It’s important to read reviews frequently, and respond to as many as possible, especially the negative ones. People who leave negative feedback often just want to be heard, and a polite, professional response can often win them over. Just as importantly, you should actively solicit feedback. There’s a need to understand perceptions that may affect your business, and some customers will have valuable insights.
Notes on Execution
People rarely take a purely linear journey when they’re shopping online. Make sure you use data from tools like pixels to capture traffic that viewed your call to action page, then those didn’t click through, and those that did. Retarget the members of each of those groups, at least those who fit your demographic, and do it with an ad designed specifically for their behavior, and what it implies about their position in the sales funnel.
If you’re comfortable creating and tracking your advertising on social media, take things to the next level. Start experimenting with even tighter market segments, focusing on just millennials, new home buyers, or prospects with higher net worth, for example. Just as important, avoid spending your marketing dollars on customers that your competition didn’t want. Set your demographic preferences so that your ideal customers are always a marketing priority. Also, create specific landing pages on your website for each ad or customer segment you’re targeting.
Nothing online stays static, so review the effectiveness of your ads frequently. Do a Google search daily for contractors in your area. How well does your site rank next to your competitors? Check out what your competition, or similar businesses across the internet are up to in the way they reach out to prospects. What do they do well?
It’s true that word of mouth continues to be one of the most powerful marketing tools. But a great way to generate word-of-mouth endorsements besides quality hardscape projects? A digital presence that leverages social media engagement, online advertising, and compelling images and video.
Remember some of the keys to success,
- Cover the key action points: Engage, track and capture, build and target, and repeat.
- Invest in video: Video content makes a huge difference in the effectiveness of your posts and ads. Make quick videos on the job site or even family videos to share as posts. Just be genuine. People want to connect with people, not ads.
- Be patient: It’s all too easy to become discouraged when you’re trying to build a following. It rarely happens right away.
Align your marketing strategy with business outcomes. Your strategy should be connecting the dots and guiding high-quality prospects through the sales funnel—from initial engagement through to your website and conversion.
Is digital marketing time-consuming? It can be. But done right, it’s a shift from wasting time with numerous weak prospects to focusing on real, more lucrative business. By spending more time using online tools correctly, you’ll be spending less time with under-qualified leads, and grow your revenue in the process.