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Marketing is everywhere in contemporary America. Advertising is a branch of pop culture, and especially creative campaigns can dominate the public conversation alongside the latest TV and movie hits. The Super Bowl is now almost as much a showcase for the best in marketing as it is the pinnacle of football. But even these big-budget showpieces can miss the mark.

Professionals with experience in other areas of business often want to get involved with marketing because it seems easy and fun. While these professionals mean well, they can be susceptible to common marketing myths that can lead to wasteful spending. In my 13 years of consulting with CEOs and more than 30 years in marketing across many business categories, including lawn care, I’ve seen these same misconceptions.

Myth #1:

Beautiful pictures plus attention-grabbing copy equal successful marketing.

Busted:

Effective marketing is driven by research and strategy.

Creating the right marketing materials is important, but without research and strategic thinking behind them, they’re basically a form of gambling. Most companies think only in terms of the product they are trying to sell instead of focusing on the need that a customer is trying to meet. To paraphrase economist Theodore Levitt, “You might be selling quarter-inch drill bits, but your customer is buying quarter-inch holes.”

In the lawn care industry, every website will promise you healthy, green and weed-free grass. With spring, a new crop of lawn care ads will burst into bloom. How do consumers make choices? They’ll choose the company that leaves a lasting positive impression.

Here’s how we conducted this process with Arbor-Nomics Turf in Atlanta, a very competitive market for lawn care. Over the course of 100 phone conversations with customers, we learned that customers loved the Arbor-Nomics lawn care specialists. Why?

First, the company prioritized sending the same tech to a property. As customers got to know their techs, trust was built. Second, as customers asked questions about weeds, they learned how knowledgeable and trained the techs were. From there, it was a short step to positioning that focus on the techs and their ongoing training.

The creative execution features a gnome who lives in Atlanta lawns and loves the Arbor-Nomics techs who take care of his home. After seven years of this campaign, no one confuses “the gnome company” with its rivals. So, before diving into the fun, creative stuff, like images and copy, you need to nail down positioning that is:

  • Unique – Difficult for other companies in your category to duplicate.
  • Emotional – Focused on what the customer is buying, not on the benefits and value of your category.
  • Accessible – Easily understood by anyone.
  • Feasible – Practical and achievable.
Before diving into fun creative work, determine your company’s focus.
Myth #2:

Once you’ve built a website, you can sit back and watch the customers roll in.

Busted:

With over a billion websites, how will prospects find yours?

Every company needs a website. In addition to providing information about your business, it can serve as the marketplace for your products and services. Yet we’ve all seen shoddy sites that do little to appeal to new customers. Here are some proactive ways to boost your online presence.

Customer referrals – People who have no time for traditional advertising are far more willing to act on a referral from a friend or relative. Even if you offer incentives to encourage customers to spread the word, these referrals are among the most cost-effective sources of new business. You can publicize a referral program through an email list, invoices or other printed materials delivered by techs.

Get your URL in front of prospects – Your choices here include direct mail, pay-per-click campaigns and email blasts to name a few. A marketing professional can test the options you choose to learn, which will offer the best return on investment.

Search engine optimization (SEO) – SEO increases the chances that your website will appear in the list of results when a potential customer searches in your category. Here’s a snapshot of SEO tactics:

  • Add new content frequently, and keep it relevant. Make sure your site map automatically updates when new content is added.
  • Use strong metatags and image names. These are snippets of text that are invisible to website visitors but strongly influence your presence and ranking among search results.
  • Ensure that every page of your site is named with a short description. These snippets of text are read by search engines.
  • Incorporate keywords used in your industry into the site. “Lawn care,” “lawn treatment,” and “lawn service” are obvious examples. This process must be managed carefully. Google, for one, may penalize you if its bots determine that search terms make up a high percentage of the text on your site.
  • When you’re naming your company, try to incorporate an industry keyword. Weed Slayer Lawn Care (URL weedslayerlawncare) includes several of these. This small step can help you rank higher than your competition.

Above all, make sure that your site loads quickly. A second or two of churn means that your prospects are already looking at another company’s page.

Make sure your site loads quickly, or else prospective customers may move on.
Myth #3:

I’m not getting as many new customers because I’ve been using the same ads too long.

Busted:

Before you start a new ad campaign, you need a marketing plan and a strategy.

When a CEO tells me, “I need a new ad,” I always ask, “What is your marketing strategy?” In most cases none exists. Without a strategy, it’s impossible to predict whether a new ad (or any new marketing effort) will accomplish the company’s goals. It certainly might work, but it might also be a waste of time and money.

To construct a strategy, start by identifying the result you want. Then you can determine how to achieve that result. The company’s goal might be increasing sales by 10 percent. For this example, we’ll stick to two scenarios.

Scenario 1 – Targeting New Customers: 75 percent of the sales increase will come from new customers, and 25 percent from current customers increasing their purchases.

Scenario 2 – Targeting Existing Customers: 75 percent of sales growth will come from increased business from existing customers, and 25 percent from attracting new customers.

Although these two scenarios are designed to achieve the same result, their different primary targets suggest different objectives that require different approaches.

If the primary target is new customers (scenario 1), you need to increase the number of potential customers who are aware of your product or service. The appropriate means would be public relations, direct mail, email blasts and ads addressed to people who are interested in your category but not very familiar with your company. Another path to consider is encouraging customer referrals.

This would require a different approach: You are trying to attract new customers, but you are “speaking” to your current customers.

In scenario 2, in which the target is your current customers, there’s no need to introduce yourself. Instead, you might offer information about new products and services. You could also promote add-ons and upgrades. Direct mail is appropriate here as well, along with e-newsletters. An ad would not help you to achieve this goal.

Truth be told.

Marketing is a mix of science and art, advancing through trial and error. It can definitely be fun, but it’s rarely easy, and no one is born knowing how to do it. It’s also extremely important for any growing company, and knowledge and experience greatly increase the chances of success.

Sue Silva is the owner of Superus Marketing in Georgia.