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Landscapers who tell their story…


March 17, 2016
By Mike Jiggens

PROMOTING a brand by telling a story, using the power of content, can put a business over the top and have it stand out among its competitors, an audience of landscape contractors were told in January.

Speaking at Landscape Congress in Toronto, Jason Wilton and Raheela Nanji of Markham, Ont.-based Boundless Productions outlined the strategy involved in content creation and audience acquisition through to distribution methods, delivery and making a company’s message go viral.

The presentation was slanted toward the green industry even though Boundless Productions’ clientele includes businesses representing the financial, fashion and manufacturing fields. One of its clients is Clintar Landscape Management which was founded by Wilton’s father 41 years ago. Wilton had previously worked for his father as brand director for 12 years.

He took his experience in marketing to start Boundless Productions where he serves as creative director. Nanji is the company’s social media director.

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She said stories are the oldest form of communication and are a means for messages to be transported.

“People will remember more about you and more about your brand when you position everything you have to say in a story itself,” Nanji said.

To her, stories are about human-to-human engagement and human-to-human contact.

“Human connections are essentially the heart and soul of our businesses.”

Wilton said it is about taking a message, padding it with something that packs a wallop and is bound to spread, and then putting it all together. Everyone has a story, he said.

Several years ago, Clintar launched an “ice patrol” during the winter season. Crews would perform safety checks for potential slip-and-fall mishaps at customers’ properties. Competing companies offered their customers snow and ice services during the winter months, but didn’t include the value-added safety checks, giving Clintar a competitive advantage. The ice patrol service was a story that was promoted to the company’s benefit.

Nanji said sharing information with others is common. On Facebook, for example, people will frequently share information which, she said, makes them “look cool,” and they enjoy being the one who initiates the process.

She spoke about a Toronto restaurant which specialized in homemade hamburgers and had the ambience to make the customer feel special. After trying and enjoying her first visit, she called a friend and encouraged him to join her for a repeat visit. Upon arrival, the friend said he was going to order from the “secret menu” which Nanji knew nothing about. After being invited, the friend had researched the restaurant online and correctly answered a difficult question that entitled him to choose from the secret menu. The tactic made him feel special about himself while she said she felt silly for not knowing about the menu, especially when it was her idea they visit the restaurant together.

“That’s why people share things,” she said.

Wilton said people want to feel special and to feel included. They wish to be in the know because humans are emotional beings and everyone has a motivation for something. In marketing, if there is a connection at an emotional level with another human being, it will be a winner all the time, he said, citing Coca-Cola as a good example of effectively using the approach in its marketing.

Day after day, people tend to assume that when something is created it is intended to go viral with millions and millions of views, Nanji said.

“That’s not necessarily the case,” she said. “Being viral is actually just transporting information effectively.”
It all boils down to social clout, she added.

Wilton said digital marketing is still marketing. If a business has its own website, has a set of strategies and plans, knows what it is doing and has all its bases covered, there is only one thing left to do.

“People want to be entertained,” he said. “They need to be entertained.”

Wilton said it’s a content marketing world and people love to buy.

“We create messages to people in order for them to come to us and be loyal to our message and our brand.”

Content marketing, Nanji said, includes the means a company will use to promote itself, including websites, emails and offline measures to bring in customers.

There are various ways a company’s content can be presented, she said, asking what is the intention of the content being created. If it doesn’t fit in, a company is wasting its time. The idea is to draw potential customers to a company’s website.

“You can just say, ‘buy from me, buy from me, buy from me,’” she said, adding a company’s content is everything which directs people to its website, including email, social media and videos.

Wilton suggested that every time a Facebook post is made or a blog is entered or a discussion is conducted with a customer, to have a reason for the posts. He reiterated that nothing happens by accident in marketing. Everything is intentional and planned out.

Nanji said a good example of a simple and effective campaign was the ALS Challenge of 2014 in which people were urged to be videotaped while being splashed by a bucket of ice water. She said it was an easy campaign to pull off and it spread quickly because one person who was splashed would encourage three friends to follow suit, who would in turn each urge three others to do it. For each bucket of water poured over the participant’s head, a pledge was made to the ALS foundation. The bucket of ice water was chosen as the challenge’s tool because the symptoms of ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) are similar to that of being doused in ice-cold water.

Because of the strategy, it made it easier for people to understand the plight of those afflicted with ALS, “and that’s what made it work so well.”

Another example of how a story became an effective marketing tool was the rejuvenation of Old Spice deodorant. It had been perceived as a dying brand and younger men opted for brands aimed at youth, such as Axe. No one seemed interested in Old Spice anymore, Nanji said. It was determined that the purchases of shower gel in people’s homes were made mainly by women, and their husbands or boyfriends were also using these products for themselves. But they had a feminine fragrance. The Old Spice campaign suggested that men should smell like men and not women. The makers of Old Spice understood their audience was mainly women because they were doing most of the purchasing. The campaign’s message that men should smell like men got through to women which made it that much more powerful.

Wilton said it is important for companies to know who it is they are selling to, and this includes landscaping businesses. He said the strategy is to create a marketing plan and hire a professional agency. Before setting up a marketing plan, the first requirement is to establish a goal which might be getting 30 per cent of the market within the first five years.

Wilton warned that something simply can’t be put up online with the expectation that someone will automatically look at it, and it may not be relevant to everyone.

Nanji agreed, suggesting it’s like organizing a grand party yet if no one is invited, why bother with all the trouble?
“You need to let people know what you’re doing,” she said. “That comes down to really knowing what your target audience is, where is it that they play, who are they, how old are they…?”

It is important to know the target audience, she said, so that messages are made specific and are relevant. The audience may not be who we think they are, but who they actually are.

Nanji said distribution of the message can be done in many ways, and businesses may wonder if it’s best to be doing it on their websites, or through online communities, by leaflet distribution or perhaps by a physical drop of things.
“It’s all about getting your message out there and making that message work for you.”

Wilton said one single blog can have six or seven different impressions online, including Facebook or Twitter, which all link back to one website.

“It’s not a crazy process,” he said. “You take one piece of information and distribute it over all your channels.”

It comes down to having a strategy behind everything that is done, Nanji said, adding if a business doesn’t know where its content is going to go, it will have a problem and will struggle with it. Customers should be taken back to one point, which is the business’ website, she said, noting the best place for distribution is through social media.

“If you’re not spending two or three hours a day, seven days a week, on social media, you’re missing the mark,” Wilton said.

He added, however, that such dedication makes it at least a part-time job for someone to keep on top of it. The idea that social media is free, therefore, isn’t necessarily true, he said.

Everything has value, Nanji said, including one’s time, and a business must be mindful of the hours spent on social media.

She said the customer wants to feel that “you are their landscape company,” and being able to connect with that one person and doing something different that everyone else in the commercial world doesn’t do.

The biggest challenge in working with social media is the time factor, Nanji said. A landscape contractor can either manage social media and marketing himself or outsource parts of all of it out and stick with the things that fit his real skills. Doing it yourself will take time away from doing the things you are good at, such as sales, etc., she said.

Nanji said that depending on who a target audience is, the business owner needs to select a platform which works best and must consider both the platform—whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or another social media outlet—as well as the demographics. The time of day that clients and end users are apt to be in those places must also be considered. It boils down to the amount of research a company is willing to do when starting a campaign, she said.

“Without understanding exactly where it is they’re playing, you’re going to be putting your time and your effort ito the wrong places,” she said.

Nanji said that being different makes a difference. When using Facebook, for example, the content posted will be gauged in a different way, depending on the content. Posting video will provide a wider reach, she said, adding that companies can be smarter by using such little tricks that help them stand out from others.

Getting people to repeatedly return to a website is critical, she said, adding if the same content is always there and goes unchanged, online visitors won’t return.

“What you have on your website has be to updated frequently,” Nanji said.

One audience member said there are some landscape contractors which post information on their websites that could potentially turn customers away, such as using the word “luxury” to describe their services. The word could be construed as a synonym for “unaffordable,” the audience member suggested, saying the message might actually backfire.

Wilton said it is important for landscape contractors to be able to answer their telephones.

If it’s not possible to have someone handy to answer calls round the clock, hiring an answering service to do the job should be considered.