Landscaping is the most service-oriented business in horticulture. Service industries are growing. Increases in consumer disposable income and discretionary buying power, an emphasis on leisure time, consumers having less time to “do it themselves” and an increased emphasis on family values are all positive points for promoting services. In concept, marketing goods and marketing services are essentially the same. In each case, you, the marketer, must select and analyze the target markets. Then you must develop a marketing plan around the marketing mix (the 4 Ps of marketing): the Product (goods or services), the Price structure, the Place (distribution or delivery system) and the Promotional program. However, some distinct characteristics that differentiate services from goods often create special challenges and opportunities for marketing service businesses such as landscaping firms. The strategies and tactics used in conventional goods marketing frequently are inappropriate for services marketing, and it typically leads to a quite different marketing program.
CHARACTERISTICS OF SERVICES
Services are intangible. It is impossible for customers to sample — taste, feel, see, hear or smell — your service before they buy it. Therefore, a your promotional program must communicate the benefits they will derive from the service, rather than emphasizing the service itself. Some promotional strategies you can use to suggest benefits and make your landscape service tangible in customers' minds are:Visualization
For example, Master Card tapped into the emotional benefits of family value with ads that show people using Master Card to create a wonderful occasion for their family (a perfect anniversary for the wife, a ball game with the son, a tour to the homeland for the mother, etc.). You can depict the benefits of your landscaping service by showing people relaxing in their beautiful garden, having a cookout with their friends and family on a perfect lawn, or saving time to do something more “fun” and “important” to them by using your service.Association
A CUSTOMER FOR LIFE
Connect the service with a tangible good, person, object or place. Many businesses use spokespersons to promote and build confidence in their businesses. You can establish your business as an expert in the field by making yourself or someone from your business available to answer landscaping questions for the media, donating your landscaping service for a popular public area in your town or sponsoring programs with local organizations.Physical representation
For a landscaping business, your crew, equipment and vehicles often are the only physical items people see. Creating a distinct logo to be displayed on everything representing your business, dressing your crew in clean, distinctive uniforms to stress visibility and dependability, and keeping your equipment and vehicles clean are things you can do to establish a good image. Moreover, establishing a display garden with clearly labeled plantings can demonstrate your expertise and give your customers a pleasant place to visit and conduct business with you.Documentation
Mutual fund companies cite facts and figures in their ads to support claims of dependability and performance. Do not be shy about celebrating your history, heritage, awards and customer testimony.
Services are created and consumed simultaneously. Service typically cannot be separated from the creator-seller of the service. Customers' opinions regarding a service frequently are formed through contacts with the production/marketing personnel and impressions of the physical surroundings in the “factory.” Therefore, building personal relationships and trust with customers is vital for your service business. Too often, the contact personnel (your landscaping crew) think of themselves as producers of a job rather than marketers of a service. Training your employees to interact with customers, or designating a foreman who is knowledgeable, courteous and willing to go the extra mile to answer customer's needs is very important to marketing your services.
Services are impossible to standardize. Because the final product of a service depends on the person who performed the service, each “unit” of the service is somewhat different from other “units” of the same service. However, to build trust in the company, customers need consistency. Therefore, you should pay special attention to product planning. You must do all you can to build a protocol for performing jobs to ensure consistent quality and maintain high levels of quality control on the service performed.
Services are highly perishable and cannot be stored, and the demand for services often fluctuates considerably by season. The combination of perishability and fluctuating demand presents challenges in product planning, pricing, and promotional to service companies. Keeping your presence in front of customers throughout the off-season will help you market your services later on. Developing new uses for idle capacity during your off-season, providing newsletters with landscaping tips throughout the year and offering specialty services or events to your best customers are things you can do to even out cash flow and improve customer retention.
Target-market analysis. As marketers of services, you should understand the demographic factors (i.e., population and income) in your market area because they affect the market for the service. Moreover, the psychological determinants of buying behavior, such as attitudes, perceptions and personality, are more important when marketing services rather than goods because of the intangibility of a service.
Sociological factors of social-class structure and small-group influences are important market determinants for services, and trends also carry considerable influence in the marketing of services. Therefore, knowing this information will help you determine why customers in each market segment buy your service. It will also demonstrate their buying patterns, including when, where and how customers buy, who does the buying and who makes the buying decisions.
Planning of Product (your services). The fluctuating demand and inability to store services make product planning critically important to service marketers. You will need to be able to determine what services you will offer, how you will position the services and what attributes (such as branding, images and service quality) the service will have.
Because physical packages, colors and labels are non-existent in services, it presents greater challenges to branding — a brand name cannot be physically attached to a label or to the product itself. Your goal should be to create an effective brand or business image. To reach this goal, a key strategy is to develop a total image theme that includes more than just a brand name. Some tactics that you can employ to achieve this are: include a tangible good as part of the brand image, such as the umbrella of Travelers Insurance; tie in a slogan with the brand, such as “Fly the friendly skies of United;” and use a distinctive color scheme, such as Avis's red or Hertz's black and gold.
Also, in service marketing, management of the service quality is critical to a firm's success. Quality is defined by the consumer, not by the producer-seller of a service. It is imperative that you strive to maintain consistent service quality at or above the level of consumer expectations. Standardization training with your employees is a key step.
Pricing of services. In the marketing of services, nowhere is there a greater need for managerial creativity and skill than in the area of pricing. Services are extremely perishable, cannot be stored and demand for them often fluctuates considerably. All of these features carry significant pricing implications. To further complicate the situation, customers may consider performing some services themselves when comparing prices with the level of service they might receive. These considerations suggest that you should carefully consider the elasticity (price sensitivity) of demand for your service when setting prices. Moreover, most services are highly differentiated. Therefore, it is possible for a seller to use a market segmentation strategy to target different market segments or geographic areas at different prices. Nevertheless, in recent years, price competition in many areas of services, including landscaping, has increased considerably.
Channel of distribution for services. Traditionally, most services have been sold directly from producer to consumer or business user. Moreover, the geographic markets that you can reach are often limited due to the fact that landscape services are created and consumed simultaneously. This also enables you to personalize the service and get direct, detailed customer feedback.
You can broaden distribution considerably by adopting creative service-delivery strategies. Make it convenient and easy for customers to inquire about your services, such as offering no-cost job evaluations; make it easy for people to learn about your services through the Internet and other convenient locations; arrange tie-in sales with other local, related businesses, (i.e., garden centers, florists, etc.).
Promoting a service. Among all the promotional activities used in services marketing, personal selling plays the dominant role. Any employee who comes into contact with a customer is, in effect, part of your business's marketing force. When using advertising and sales promotion, direct promotion of the service is often ineffective, and point-of-purchase displays of services are often impossible. Displays of the results of using your service can be a more successful strategy. Service businesses also can benefit considerably from indirect types of promotion including publicity (newspapers, radio and television) and community involvement.
Because customers often form opinions of a company and its services on the basis of service encounters, a crucial step to successfully marketing your landscape service business is to provide sales and service training for contact personnel and impress upon them the importance of their role. New technology has opened new service opportunities. Your employees need to be good at what they do with land, plants and with people as well. Customers are not just buying your service to have a landscape, they are buying the benefits from your service, such as having a beautiful garden to relax in and show off, saving time and having good experiences. Think like your customers. Consumers want reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy from your service, including everyone on your staff. If you can market and deliver that, you have the customer for life.
Wen-fei Uva, Ph.D., is a senior extension associate in the Department of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University (Ithaca, N.Y.).
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