Documenting Hardscape Projects
Properly documenting hardscape projects gives hardscape design and construction companies excellent marketing materials they can use to win new contracts. However, without a full understanding of the techniques available and how to use them, the task can seem very intimidating. The reality is actually much different.
Although documentation definitely requires care and effort, it’s not difficult to pick up and implement a few best practices. Use them to create compelling stories throughout the content creation and distribution process, and you should begin to see an uptick in ROI for your efforts.
DON’T JUST DOCUMENT. ENGAGE YOUR AUDIENCE.
Documenting hardscapes should strive to engage homeowners (and contractors, if you’re a dealer or manufacturer) in a way that builds a personal connection with them. Using professional photography and videography techniques can provide you with more engaging content than only taking a photo or two of completed work immediately after you complete a job.
Use your phone camera wisely
Many contractors use their phones to document jobs, and there is nothing inherently wrong with this.
One good best practice is to use it to take daily photos in order to record the progression of your work throughout the length of the project, and even after it’s completed. Another good best practice is to do your best to have your photos frame the work in the context of the property’s overall aesthetic.
A practical example of these two practices in action would be that instead of taking a photo of an empty patio when a project is completed in March, you can come back in June and take a much more engaging one of the patio hosting a summer barbecue.
Invest in a professional photographer
Although quick and easy and effective in some situations, phone cameras do have limitations. It is often a good idea to supplement their use with additional photos and videos taken by professional landscape photographers and videographers (especially drone!).
Even more professional methods can often create content that will engage your audience more than photos taken on a mobile device in several ways:
More detailed photographs and video
Mobile device cameras can take good pictures, but the clarity of the image can still be improved by the cameras used by professionals. You can use professional high-resolution photos to engage homeowners or contractors in the functional or aesthetic details of your work — such as hardscape jointing or material texture — that your iPhone or Android might not be able to fully capture. A best practice is to check professional trade magazines and websites to see what is in the high-resolution photos they publish and promote, and have a professional take similar shots of your own work.
By taking overhead shots, drones allow you to engage your audience beyond the limited scope of the on-the-ground photos you can take with a mobile device or even a regular camera. Drones can take pictures at interesting angles that set the hardscape within the context the entire layout of the property, or even the entire neighborhood.
Although it’s possible to take your own drone photos (depending on your state’s and country’s regulations), it is not recommended. In addition, there is steep learning curve with operating a drone, whether its for video or still footage. Think of it like landscape design - anyone can buy software to design landscapes, but to understand how to use the software, the materials, the space, and so much more, you need a professional!
Time-lapse videos engage your audience by showing the progression of a project from beginning to end by systematically filming a job as it progresses over time, and then condensing it within a given time frame while also possibly adding music or other effects to the footage.
You can do a basic one yourself by setting up a tripod and using your mobile camera to record the same spot every day. Make sure to choose a timelapse camera that can handle various weather conditions and has a long battery life (long enough to handle the duration of your project!).
Share this footage with a professional so that they can use their knowledge of visual storytelling to weave multiple aspects of a project — such as the daily routine of individual workers, the progression of the construction of key design elements, and the look of the landscaping surrounding the hardscape after completion — together into a single narrative and combine it with other footage.
FRIENDS DON’T LET FRIENDS DOCUMENT ALONE. CONSIDER PARTNERING WITH MANUFACTURERS.
Hardscape contractors don’t need to create engaging content alone. Manufacturers help their contractor (and dealer) network document their jobs in a number of ways. Taking advantage of these opportunities can not only help you document your work more effectively for your audience, but sometimes also do so at a lower cost.
Manufacturer rewards and awards for product use
High-quality manufacturers sometimes give contractors and dealers discounts as well as rewards to promote use of their products. Manufacturers can also offer co-op discounts to contractors and dealers for mentioning their product by name.
Check with the manufacturers whose products you frequently use, as well as other high-quality brands in the industry, and ask about any promotions offers or awards they run to reward you for documenting work done with their products.
If you’re a manufacturer that doesn’t currently offer any rewards or perks for your dealers and contractors to take photos and videos - consider including this in your programs. Related read: SHIFTING SEARCH BEHAVIOR MEANS MANUFACTURER BRANDS MUST OPTIMIZE ACROSS THE CUSTOMER OR BUYER JOURNEY
Manufacturer assistance in providing footage
Many manufacturers have footage from diverse contractors documenting the quality work done with their products. The interests of manufacturers, dealers, and contractors align in using this footage to tell engaging documentary stories. All of them have the same goal!
Manufacturers benefit when contractors perform good work using their products, and they are very often willing to tell their own customers about it.
Send manufacturers photos and videos of your best looking jobs using their products. Give your permission to have your visual content featured in the manufacturer’s own marketing materials in exchange for being credited prominently. The increased name recognition in the market will increase the ROI of every dollar you spend creating engaging documentation.
USE YOUR PHOTOS AND VIDEOS TO CREATE ONLINE ENGAGEMENT.
Whether you produce engaging photo and video content alone or in partnership with manufacturers, it won’t drive ROI if you don’t use it properly for your target audience. Online distribution channels like Facebook, Instagram, and your own website give you the opportunity to use your video to a number of things that will help showcase your work.
Create videos that answer your audience’s most commonly asked questions
Homeowners want to know the hardscape contractor they welcome to work on their home is knowledgeable. Use video to answer commonly asked questions about design choices, the different types of materials available, and proper maintenance techniques. By demonstrating your expertise, this kind of video establishes you as a expert.
For example, you can create a time-lapse video showing the installation process for different types of concrete pavers and natural stone, and then combine that footage with a video interview, explaining the differences.
Use video to establish trust in your brand
Homeowners that hire you to do a hardscaping job invite you to make changes to their most private and personal space. Use video to show a personal, human side of your brand that will be worthy of that trust.
There is a temptation to exclusively create videos that only focus on the finished hardscape work itself. A better idea is to add a personal touch that will gain trust by including footage of your team at work, or even talking directly to the camera explaining what they are doing while they are on the job. Today, relationships begin online. Embrace that by showing the behind-the-scenes.
Use video to entertain your audience and gain more organic exposure
Internet users have short attention spans (if you made it this far in the article, we are honored!) Use videos to create entertaining content that can help your brand to be visible on social media. There is also an added benefit to content your audience enjoys watching — they will share it with their friends and family, giving you additional exposure without having to pay for it. For example, you can add music, funny sound effects, or even humorous subtitles during the video editing process.
But whatever specific techniques you end up using to document your hardscape projects, if you remember to try and tell compelling stories, you’ll be well on your way to doing so in a way that drives ROI from the relationships you will help created.