From Apples to Apps

Is digital technology reshaping the landscape? Digital trends influence the way we do business. It can be confusing. Ffion Llwyd-Jones talks to industry insiders who are using the technology, and gets their reactions.
Integrated, interactive digital applications are becoming commonplace. Many organisations, from SALTEX (Sports Amenity & Landscape Trade Exhibition), RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and BIGGA Turf Management Exhibition offer increasingly detailed options for their website visitors. Companies also provide their clients and customers with digital content, from apps to videos. That increasingly digital approach is often driven by industry feedback, recognising that both customers and clients want quick, easy access to product and service information.
The Industry
The British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI) sees varied levels of digital tool pickup across the industry. “There is huge potential for improving communication and response to clients and customer queries, although it depends on the type of business,” said a spokesperson for BALI “Smaller businesses, especially those operating mainly in the domestic market, may be relatively ‘low-tech’, while the more commercial-facing organisations, and those who work with local authorities, are constantly trying to find ways to engage with their clients and provide a platform from which to regularly interact with them.
“Age is a factor and some of BALI’s more senior members, especially in the domestic market, don’t necessarily see a need for digital tools.
“I think we’re in an industry where the take-up of digital tools may, up to now, have been relatively slow, other than by those companies operating in the sharper commercial sector. That said, there can only be a few Luddites who would deny the power of the internet and I’m not aware of any BALI members without a business website. The ubiquitous use of smart phones and apps may take a little longer.”
Digital Media in the Industry
Chris Bassett, managing Director at Fusion Media, says the company’s been monitoring digital media, including social media for its clients in the sportsturf and amenity industry for the past two to three years.
“Our research shows that our clients and potential customers want quick, comprehensive information on how products and services will help them meet their needs, “ he explains. “They also want assurance that companies are trustworthy, experienced and professional. Success stories tick the box.”
Chris remarks that Fusion Media’s digital media experience has won contracts over the past six months.
Apps – Positive Reactions
Apps (applications for mobile devices such as phones and tablets), are also increasingly used in the landscape industry. Huddersfield-based Marshalls, and Surrey-based Norris & Gardiner were both early introducers of industry-specific apps.
Marshalls’ ‘Garden Moodboard’ is described as a ‘digital moodboard to compose and inspire, use your iPad to bring all your garden thoughts, dreams and ideas to life.’ The can be downloaded from Marshalls’ website.
Norris & Gardiner’s constantly evolving commitment to client service includes meeting changes in legislation and developments in technology. The company’s app is designed to make their clients’ (mostly commercial contractors) lives easier by providing a range of easy communication channels. App Tools include: Plant Selector, Photo Submissions, Voice Notes, Blog, Comments Wall, Image Gallery and Messages. The Apple-approved app can be downloaded from the company’s website.
Richard Gardiner, the company’s Managing Director, admits that he wasn’t really certain of the apps benefits when he first got it. “We weren’t sure what it would do for us, but we did know the platform would be there to develop,” he says. “Customer reaction is positive, and it demonstrates that we are a forward-thinking company.
“At one point, we thought it would be useful for contractors to be able to dictate a voice memo and email from the smart phone app, save writing reports and notes. Problem was, that circumvented the contractor’s own system, and didn’t follow set procedures.”
He adds that the company now hopes to develop it for more use among the management team and staff, or where QR codes would show a history of each work site.
Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin
“The App is just one of the company’s communication channels,” continues Richard. “We also use blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and we have our own YouTube channel. We mention it in job tenders, and that gives the right signals.”
Online tools, such as Twitter and Facebook, can improve transparency and accountability and provide ‘personality’ for companies, remarks Chris Bassett.
“A professional attitude and a bit of common sense are generally all that are needed to avoid a mishap,” he adds. “For many senior staff, benefits such as visible leadership, improved communication and access to opinion and debate far outweigh the risks of social media use. One-third of global b2b buyers use social media to engage with their vendors, and 75% expect to use social media in future purchases processes.”
Paul Cowell, Managing Director at PC Landscaping says the company “has got all our social media buttons on our website, including Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter.” He adds that it was only after meeting someone who’s business had grown quite a bit through their Twitter account, that he realised how all the linking and retweeting could work. “All of a sudden you’re going out to audience of 80,000, and you go ah! I like that!”
He emphasises the importance of not getting carried away with it, and suggest delegating tasks such as retweeting.
“The value of Linkedin was mostly when I was BALI Chairman,” adds Paul. “It was useful for connecting to other industry people. At PC Landscaper, we get a lot of work through the internet. Some of it comes via the BALI website, where they click on our link, then follow that to Linkedin, and then make contact. We’ve also got Flickr (a photo image site), so they can see the different elements of what we do.”
Videos and YouTube
Paul is also considering using video and YouTube. “We’ve also thought about a time-lapse video, showing the various stages of projects,” he adds.
Chris Bassett says Fusion Media recently introduced video testimonials. “We include them in press releases, as well as uploading to YouTube, the individual company’s website and on the social media outlets,” he adds. “YouTube provides an excellent opportunity for a business to show off its expertise, market its products/services and connect with customers. A picture paints a thousand words, but a video shows a lot more. Many people prefer to watch a video rather than have to read lots of text.”
Integration is key
Brand presence can be driven by providing content that online users want to engage with, and generating that activity across social media and the wider web, such as the comment sections of online publications, according to Chris. “Without it, brands risk becoming obsolete online,” he comments. “Companies that demonstrably maintain their search rankings, while simultaneously improving their profile and positioning, have got it right. In addition to improving search results, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) PR can also benefit a brands’ online reputation by engaging with users.”
Richard Gardiner sees digital technology as “one more avenue of communication”. The company made its website more dynamic: “We went from a very stagnant website to one that is reasonably dynamic, with regularly changed content, video, and an app download. It’s forward-branding, so the format doesn’t change, just the content.” A password-restricted client area offers documents, cost and risk assessments, and industry presentations. “Clients are aware that we’re staying abreast of industry developments,” he says.
Regarding content, Chris Bassett adds: “Real stories about real people, seeking real solutions are believable – and more likely to be read and trusted as an information source. Thoughtful quotes, pictures and discussions provide the whole picture. Rather than simply humanizing a situation, a client’s case studies personalises a situation.”
And as Paul Cowell concludes: “I think it’s [digital technology] is a good thing – the more we can promote our industry, its professionalism, and complexities, the better.”
View from The Landscaper
The Landscaper web site is an ideal vehicle for reaching the industry. Last year over 26,000 unique visitors logged onto the site. Because the site has been developed over the last 8 years and is updated daily it now has over 2,800 stories on line. In the next few weeks the site will updated and improved so that it can be read easily on all mobile devices.
The Landscaper App is also rapidly increasing in popularity. The app is attracting readers to sign- up from all over the world, as well as the UK.
The magazine also sends out a fortnightly digital newsletter to over 5,000 recipients which has a higher than average high click through rate.
However the big advance over the last year has been the development of The Landscaper Multi Media Unit (MMU). Videos can be a very effective marketing tool because many potential customers would prefer to watch a short video than read written copy. The battle is to keep people on your web site and there is no doubt that video does the trick. MMU manager David Berman says, “Since the unit started we have produced around 120 videos. The big mistake people can make is that they produce a video clip themselves that does not look professional, this can reflects badly on their business. A production needs good planning, direction, lighting and sound for it to look professional.”
You can view some of the MMU productions by going to www.metropolismultimedia.co.uk


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