Promoting your business is important.

That’s common sense.

But not all marketing efforts work.

Take this example: A well-known coffee company did what many brands have done to increase their social media reach – offer a coupon or free sample for following them on Facebook or Twitter. Unfortunately, this coffee company offered more than it could deliver, depleting its supply of free coffee after only three days.

Two weeks later, they sent out a message saying it was first come, first served.

That’s a marketing failure, to say the least.

Let’s assume every company markets its products or services in some form. What’s the best way to do so? The answers are wide-ranging. But one aspect is crystal clear: Successful marketing plans and strategies are absolutely essential in running a profitable business.

Decisions, decisions

In the tree care industry, companies large and small use different methods to market their services.

There are the traditional lawn signs, promotional materials mailed to customers, advertising and branding on trucks, referral programs and good ol’ word-of-mouth.

There’s no shortage of technology-friendly methods, such as email marketing, promotion on your website, customer review-based websites like Angie’s List and Yelp, and even more advanced methods like search engine optimization (SEO) and Google AdWords.

There are many possible avenues to take when choosing and budgeting for your marketing portfolio.

Tim Bruchez, owner of Princeton Tree Care in Princeton, New Jersey, said his company uses lawn signs along with doorknob hangers, Angie’s List, Facebook, Google AdWords, SEO and direct mailers.

“Marketing is a vital part of your business. Having a diversified marketing portfolio helps your future customers find you,” Bruchez said.

Judy Macauley, marketing manager for Blooma Tree Experts in Seattle, said her company also employs a variety of marketing tactics, but there’s a common denominator.

“It’s important to set yourself apart from the competition,” Macauley explained. “Some companies rely on cheap price, some rely on quick turnaround, whatever it is, you should have something that is unique to your company that will make you rise above the crowd.”

For example, she said, “We have at least one ISA [International Society of Arboriculture] Certified Arborist at all times on the job site, and we emphasize that in all of our marketing.”

Rising above the crowd is the most important reason to have a solid marketing plan, according to Pete Shamlian, CEO of AdMark’s Bear Marketing, which does marketing work for tree care companies.

“The importance of a good marketing strategy cannot be overstated,” Shamlian said. “Fewer customers have money to spend for maintenance, and others are waiting until their problems cannot be ignored any longer. Customers may need to look for a new tree service, or they may be making decisions based not on long-term relationships, but on cost. This means that you need to have a presence … you want the opportunity to bid on all the work in your market. The question is how to do it.”

Technology everywhere

Successful businesses, tree care companies included, utilize the Internet, email and search engines like Google to market and reach new customers.

“[Online marketing] is becoming more important all the time,” said Kate Meurer, manager of Meurer Brothers Tree Care in Belleville, Illinois. “I am our typical customer, so I always think about how much I use the Web to research a company before I commit. It’s becoming second nature to buyers today.”

Just how important is online marketing to your business? According to WebDAM Solutions, a company that monitors marketing trends and statistics, $135 billion will be spent this year on creating new digital marketing collateral. That’s not chump change.

So, where is all of that money being spent?

Facebook: Social media markets are expected to double in the next five years. Twenty-three percent of Facebook users in 2013 checked their account more than five times per day. As of January 2014, Facebook had 1.23 billion active users. In other words: Your company needs to be on Facebook if it’s not already.

“We saw the true benefit of the Facebook ‘Share’ recently,” Meurer said. “A small tornado came through and wreaked havoc on some trees and homes. Having photos of our crews and equipment working up on Facebook later that day capitalized on the ‘news of the moment,’ and thousands of new potential customers were reached.”

  • 25 Percent of the entire ad market will be made up by Internet advertising in 2015.
  • 33 Percent of traffic from Google’s organic search results go to the first item listed.
  • 52 Percent of marketers found a customer via Facebook in 2013.
  • 55 Percent of marketers worldwide increased their digital marketing budget in 2013.
  • 65 Percent of the general marketing audience are visual learners.

That’s free, effective marketing at its best and simplest.

Facebook allows companies to create pages that can include general company information, company history, contact links and photos. And it allows customers to post reviews of your company and share your page with other users – a modern-day, digital “go-tell-a-friend” method. Contests and other incentives for “Liking” your company page can also be implemented.

Your website: For many customers, the search for a tree care company to remove that pesky stump starts online. Oftentimes the first impression a customer has of your company is your website.

So it’s important that your website contains the information customers need: contact information, a section about your company (history, experience, certifications, etc.), the services provided, pictures of your work and customer testimonials.

“Look at it this way, once you have someone’s interest they are immediately starved for information,” Shamlian said. “The answer is the website. If you are doing it right, you are spending some money on the site.”

What exactly is SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a Web page in a search engine’s “natural” or unpaid (“organic”) search results. In general, the earlier (or higher ranked on the search results page), and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine’s users. SEO may target different kinds of searches, including image search, local search, video search and industry-specific vertical search engines.

As an Internet marketing strategy, SEO considers how search engines like Google work, what people search for, the actual search terms or keywords typed into the search engines, and which search engines are preferred by their targeted audience. (Search engine) Optimizing a website involves editing its content, HTML and associated coding to both increase its relevance to specific keywords and to remove barriers to the way the search engine indexes activities of the search.

For additional information, search ‘SEO’ on Google or visit http://searchengineland.com/guide/what-is-seo

To create a good website, it’s not just about spending money.

“You are [also] being thoughtful about content,” Shamlian added. “Unfortunately, many tree service owners opt for the basic one-page site which they either build themselves or spend the minimum on. This is not in their best interest. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer; include what is important to them. [Also] be sure that your site is built to conform to any [mobile] device.”

Katie Blizzard, director of marketing and business development for Four Seasons Tree Care in Vista, California, said her company puts a premium on keeping its website constantly updated with fresh content and videos to attract and appeal to customers.

“The wonderful thing about today’s technological landscape is that it provides a huge variety of ways for a company to market itself,” Blizzard said. “This can seem daunting, but there is also an enormous amount of creativity that can be unlocked in the process.”

Search engine optimization: SEO ensures that a website can be found in search engines, like Google, for words and phrases relevant to what the site is offering. In general, the earlier (or higher ranked on the search results page), and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine’s users.

Marketing ideas your company can use

  • Be different. Take your cue from big advertisers and brands: Find something that distinguishes you from your competitors, and then promote the difference.
  • Talk to your customers. Ask them for feedback. Ask them what you can do to better serve their needs. If you see a trend act on it.
  • Put your business on the Web. If you haven’t already done so.
  • Get listed in Google Places. Make it easy for people to find and contact you.
  • Fill out social media profiles. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest. Provide as much detail as you can, being sure to include website links and products.
  • Use direct mail to reach your customers. Yes, it’s an oldfashioned technique in an always-on world, but it still works.
  • Send a card or a postcard. Send something to customers to remind them when you need to go back to perform a service or inspection.
  • Use local keywords. List the name of your city or county on your Web pages and in title tags to help people find you online.
  • Use email to stay in touch with your customers. Contact them regularly with special offers, industry information or other content.
  • Make the telephone number on your website a click-to-call link. This makes it easy for customers using smartphones to call you.
  • Advertise. Try weekly shoppers and the classified section of local weekly papers if your business is local. Ask for a discount to put your ad in both the print and online editions of the publication.
  • Be proactive and be persistent. You have to keep at it until you find what works for you. Then, to continue your momentum, you have to keep on marketing.

COURTESY OF BUSINESSKNOWHOW.COM

In many respects it’s quality control for websites. Why have a website if it can’t be found?

Monitoring SEO can be done in conjunction with Google AdWords, an online advertising service that places advertising copy at the top, bottom or beside the list of search results Google displays for a particular search query.

Many companies, like Blooma Tree Experts, realize the importance of SEO and hire outside companies to make sure their website shows up at the top of Google search results.

“SEO is a huge field, and it’s important to let an expert do that,” Macauley stated. “Online marketing is the most important kind of marketing we do, and we definitely can see a direct correlation between how much work we have and how much we spend on Google AdWords.”

Need proof having good SEO matters? According to the Search Engine Journal, 75 percent of users never scroll past the first page of search results.

“In today’s marketplace, if you aren’t visible online, you do not exist,” Bruchez said.

Other online methods: Email can be used to communicate with past customers or to reach new ones.

“We use Constant Contact to send out a newsletter focused on educating the reader about some aspect of tree care,” Blizzard noted. “These emails do lead to bid opportunities, but on a larger scale they reinforce our brand as a company.”

Third-party customer review websites, such as Yelp or Angie’s List, can bring in a considerable amount of business. This depends, of course, on your company having a reputation for doing satisfactory work.

Yelp, where companies can utilize a free profile or pay to have a “highlighted” ad on relevant searches, boasts over 67 million local reviews. Angie’s List, a subscription-supported website containing crowd-sourced reviews of local businesses that pay to be listed, claims that members conduct more than 700,000 unique searches for top-rated professionals each month.

But beware, customer review-based websites can pose problems as well.

“Feedback is a double-edged sword,” Shamlian said. “Positive reviews are helpful but may have validation issues. The problem with negative reviews is obvious. The tree service business justifiably carries the aura of a rough, tough, brawling sort of business. It attracts people with the pioneering spirit. These folks have no time for nonsense and do not suffer fools lightly. Yet, in the end, tree service is also a retail business … so it’s a combination with inherent friction.”

Better luck next time

The following are failed marketing attempts made by tree care companies surveyed for this issue:

“We did a promotion with a radio station for Valentine’s Day. It was the harebrained scheme of someone at the radio station, and we ended up standing outside in the cold for three hours with very little happening. We got [no customers] out of it.”

“The local home show was worked [by our company] last year and it [was] considered not successful. There were people there looking for freebies and we did not generate business. Our trucks generate more business than the home show did.”

“Failed efforts usually end up being individual events that had low attendance, or the support of an association whose membership is faltering.”

“No. 1 [failure] is metro bus advertising. We did this for two months and on several buses and we received one phone call.”

NAMES OF COMPANIES WERE KEPT ANONYMOUS

Paper, ink and postage

Even though our society is becoming increasingly reliant on technology, there’s still a place for marketing via printed materials.

Shamlian’s primary focus is direct mail marketing, which encompasses a variety of printed materials, including brochures, catalogs, postcards and newsletters.

“Our focus is on direct mail, old-school, postcards in the mail,” Shamlian said. “It’s not cheap these days, but it works. It’s the tip of the spear, the item that ends up in the desk drawer for that rainy day, or on the fridge where it’s seen every day by the homeowner right in their kitchen.”

Traditional marketing methods can work for companies on a tight marketing budget, or ones that aren’t. Examples are door-hanger campaigns on streets where your company has worked and lawn signs, as long as your customer doesn’t mind. Bruchez at Princeton Tree Care noted that signs on exit ramps of local highways can also attract customers.

Get the word out

Make no mistake, word-of-mouth, referrals and face-to-face interaction with the community still matter.

“We put a lot of value on retaining customers and building new business through existing clients,” Blizzard said.

At Blooma Tree Experts, $25 gift cards are given out when a satisfied customer refers someone and it leads to a job. But a gift card by itself isn’t reason for customers to refer the business. You have to do good work to back that up.

Being involved in the community can also go a long way toward building customer relationships.

An example of community involvement is a program Four Seasons Tree Care does with local golf courses.

“We participate as a tee box sponsor in select charity golf tournaments. We choose a theme and then create a scene near the tee box where golfers, many of whom are potential customers, can have fun and meet our team in a low-pressure setting,” Blizzard explained. “This type of marketing both reinforces our support of the association hosting the tournament and provides an opportunity to create relationships with potential customers.”