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Business Observer Friday, Nov. 6, 2015 4 years ago

People first

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A successful marketing campaign does't require a rich budget. A $17 million landscape firm found that out with an innovative approach.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributing Writer

ArtisTree Landscape Maintenance & Design has an impressive portfolio of past work, an array of beautiful lawns and garden areas it has created and maintained for clients.

But when it comes to its latest marketing efforts, the focus has shifted from those pretty plantings to the folks doing the hard work. It's a counterintuitive move, off a tight budget in a low-margin industry, to gain new customers and notoriety. So far, it's working.

“When I came to the company about four-and-a-half years ago, it did very traditional, Florida-lifestyle type advertising,” says Debra Morrow, vice president of marketing for ArtisTree. “It was very elegant and well-written, but it was more about our product and not about our people. When I met all of the fabulous individuals here, I thought they needed to be the faces of ArtisTree.”

Launched earlier this year, the Venice-based company's latest marketing campaign, “Thank a Landscaper,” puts its employees front and center in multiple ways. It's designed to draw attention to the workers toiling under the sun to keep clients' lawns lush.

“We really are an invisible workforce, not just our company but all our competitors as well,” says Morrow. “We're trying to start conversations. It's not so much about us; it's the industry that we're trying to bring attention to. But when we do that it attracts attention to ArtisTree, too.”

The campaign has gotten national industry press and its website (thankalandscaper.com) features shout-outs from people locally and nationwide.

ArtisTree has seen several benefits from the campaign. It's helped with employee morale and retention, for example. “Everyone is so proud of this,” says Morrow. “Everyone just seems to stand taller and smile a little more. It's given us a big sense of pride.”

It also helps ArtisTree stand out. Morrow saw this firsthand recently at a local trade show attended by hundreds of property managers. Instead of just talking with them about services and prices, like other companies might, she used the Thank a Landscaper campaign to illustrate how ArtisTree is different.

“They remember us later,” she says. “They think, 'Oh, that's that company. They seem to have a little bit more depth to them.' It's so easy to get a conversation started when people know that you're not just selling to them. If you talk under a bigger umbrella about the industry, then you get that back-and-forth dialogue.”

This isn't the first time ArtisTree went creative on marketing. In 2014 it advertised the chance for seven winners to get a visit from the “Plant Fairy” and received about 150 entries detailing different gardening dilemmas. Since then the Plant Fairy (portrayed by ArtisTree project coordinator Jennifer Lassen) has made appearances at local nursing homes and a Venice Publix. She could pop up again around Thanksgiving.

While ArtisTree posted $17 million in revenues in 2014, Morrow operates with an annual marketing budget of less than $200,000. “We're getting into social media and not doing as much paid advertising,” she says. “We're doing more interactive things with our customers.”

ArtisTree also sends e-blasts to the company's database of about 800 property managers, interior decorators, real estate agents and other relevant contacts. The notes, including irrigation tips and other landscape stories, are another way ArtisTree highlights employees.

“We're a company of people with names and faces and families to support,” Morrow says. “Anybody can go out there and mow a lawn, but we bring all these other layers.”

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