The Fine Art of Positioning (or, How to Differentiate Yourself From All the Generalists in the Lawn & Landscape Industry)

Are you differentiating your company from your competitors?I recently outlined three steps to take when opportunity for growth exceeds your company’s capacity for production. Take a look around the lawn and landscape industry (or in the mirror) and you know what a problem this has become.

The third step involved the critically important – but mostly overlooked – strategy of “positioning”.

In this article we’ll dive deeper into positioning and how to go about applying this principal to your lawn and landscape industry business.

Keep in mind, positioning applies to all companies, whether you offer lawn care services to homeowners or landscape maintenance services to commercial property owners and managers.

First, I’ll try my best to offer a simple, practical definition of positioning:

Positioning is how you differentiate your company from your competitors in the mind of your prospects and customers.

The second part of my definition – “in the mind of your prospects and customers” – is important. Positioning isn’t about how you perceive yourself to be different from your competitors. Only when your prospects and customers perceive you to be different in the exact same way, do you have solid “positioning”.

You might say, “Chris, we’re known for our awesome customer service. No one treats our customers like we do.”

If I ask 10 of your customers how your company is different than others they have worked with, or what makes you stand out, do you honestly think the majority of them would say your “awesome customer service”? Of course not. Awesome customer service is something to strive for but it is not a way to effectively position your company in the minds of your prospects and customers.

“We offer the highest quality… We are award winning…”. There are others you would recognize. These are cliches. This is not “positioning”.

The specialist vs generalist

Are you different?The majority of companies in the lawn and landscape industry have a very weak positioning strategy, or none at all. Getting this right for your own company puts you at a distinct advantage.

The opposite of a strong position is to have the strategy of a “generalist”: the company who is all things to all people.

The “generalist” likes to sell, sell, sell and grow, grow, grow. They chase after every opportunity. The well-positioned firm is more disciplined.

I consider ourselves here at Landscape Leadership to be a well-positioned marketing agency. We offer inbound marketing services to companies like yours in the lawn and landscape industry. That’s it. We don’t sniff at opportunities outside this industry and don’t offer a “full-menu” of services like market research, brand identity, event promotion, etc, etc.

I know we have a strong position based on the fact prospects continually tell us what they appreciate most about us is that we only work with companies like them.

My old landscape design firm, Fountainhead Gardens, had its own distinct positioning: We only worked on homes with interesting, period-style architecture. 80% of this was renovation work (compared to new construction).

I believe every company can create their own unique position in their marketplace.

Horizontal vs vertical positioning

There are two ways you can position your company: horizontal or vertical.

To position your company horizontally is to specialize in a specific service or product (Ex- organic lawn care) or serve a unique demographic (Ex- Hispanics, baby boomers) or geographic area (Ex- metro-Atlanta, the northeast).

To position your company vertically is to focus on a specific industry or audience. We’ve gone this route at Landscape Leadership by focusing on the lawn and landscape industry.

You can combine these by narrowing your focus to create an even stronger position. Examples could include:

  • Organic lawn care (horizontal) for the metro-Atlanta area (horizontal)
  • Landscape maintenance services (horizontal) for hospitals and other healthcare systems (vertical)
  • Landscape maintenance services (horizontal) for homeowners associations (vertical) in the Houston-metro area (horizontal)

A word of caution when it comes to positioning: You must understand the demand for your offerings in your unique marketplace. You cannot narrow your focus to the point where there is limited or no demand for your type of work.

There’s plenty of HOAs in Houston to support a landscape maintenance company focused on serving solely that audience. The same can be said about Nashville and their hospital and healthcare industry. I’d be out of business if I took this same narrow approach in rural northern Michigan.

The benefits of positioning

boxwood_balls_02.jpgSome will say, “Chris, why in the world would we want to limit the services we offer? Or who we offer them to? Why would we turn away work?”

For the lawn and landscape industry in particular, there are five primary reasons why you want to create a strong position, and thus, move away from being just another “generalist”.

1. There can be more variety in your work

As an example, if your positioning was based on your specialization in “organic lawn care”, you could more successfully market and sell these services to a wider audience – municipalities, hospitals and healthcare systems, HOAs, etc. – beyond just homeowners.

If you focus on commercial landscape maintenance, you could have the opportunity to serve a vast variety of property types: retail, office, industrial, medical, municipalities, etc.

2. You are more immune to economic downturn

You are never fully resistant to an epic downturn in the economy like we faced only a few years ago. But, with a strong positioning in your marketplace, you will weather the storms much better than a generalist could.

3. It is easier to find your clients

This is one of the biggest benefits that comes with finding your focus.

At Landscape Leadership, I know exactly who our prospective customers are, and therefore, know exactly where and how to reach them. Time and dollars are better spent with a strong focus and positioning.

4. Word about you and your services spreads easier

It’s much easier for your customers to talk about you when you have built a strong position in their minds.

We’ve gotten most of our work and clients from referrals. Companies in this industry watch what each other are doing. They openly talk about what they do.

It’s the same in most industries. Professionals openly talk about and refer their best providers. If you do a great job within an industry word will quickly spread.

5. You can charge higher rates

If you have specialized knowledge and expertise you can charge more for it.

One reason there is so much price competition and a race to the bottom in the lawn and landscape industry is because there is rarely significant differentiation between companies. Can we please just admit this?

To our prospects, we’re all the same: Everyone is a generalist.

It requires strong positioning to place yourself above the pricing wars and get the margins you deserve.

Next steps

How do you know if you already have strong positioning? Ask yourself this: Can you purchase a contact list of prospects? If not, you probably don’t have strong positioning.

For example, at Landscape Leadership we could easily purchase prospect lists of multi-million dollar green industry companies from multiple sources if we wanted. We know exactly who our audience is. That’s strong positioning.

If your positioning – or big differentiator – is “superior customer service”, can you purchase a list of prospects who are interested in this? Doubtful…

I think one of your smartest first steps in creating a stronger position is choosing between which audience you will serve: commercial or residential. You don’t have to work for everyone.

Figure out exactly where you will and will not offer your services. You don’t have to go everywhere.

What are you good at? What are you not good at? What do you actually make money on? If you aren’t good at landscape lighting and don’t make much money on it then why on earth are you offering it as a service? You don’t have to do everything your client’s ask you for.

Stop chasing every opportunity as a generalist and instead create a strong position in the mind of your prospects and customers.

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