Ever been in a home that seems to have colonies of every type of pest imaginable? Marketing today might feel a little similar. No one solution can serve the many needs of so many generations of customers today.
It can be a challenge to keep up as social media sites wax and wane and consumer preferences diverge. Even those who work full-time in marketing agree.
“As you look at marketing today, it’s very different than it was even 10 years ago,” said Kevin Laycock, marketing manager, professional solutions for FMC Global Specialty Solutions. “You have to have a fully integrated marketing and communications plan. You can’t ignore print. Social media is obviously becoming a much bigger role in marketing to customers. People interact with your company and brands in different ways.”
Completely ignoring one channel may mean you miss out totally on an entire generation. With at least four generations in the marketplace—and a fifth just starting to enter it—understanding the different nuances of each is important.
Laycock often brings his thoughts on generational differences to conferences, including at the recent PestWorld. He notes that each generation “has a different preference of communication. Some text. Some email. Some call. It’s sometimes the crux of what business leaders may feel are organizational challenges, when in reality, their communication styles and preferences are misaligned.”
Travis Aggson, executive vice president at American Pest Management and an at-large member of the NPMA Board of Directors, sees the same thing in his work with homeowners.
Social media is somehow the common denominator for at least three of the generations. Though based in Kansas, where “it seems like we’re a little behind the East and West Coast,” Aggson believes his company’s investments in social media have built a base of customers who are already familiar before they call.
“Our whole goal with any marketing strategy is to get in front of people, to show our professionalism so that they feel comfortable with us providing a service for them,” Aggson said. “Because of the great job that we’ve done with videos, client reviews and sharing our newsletter through social media, when we get into the homes, they already know us. We’re not selling. We’re there to take an order.”
Still, each generation has its own distinctions and must be approached individually.
SILENT GENERATION, BORN 1928-1945
Aggson doesn’t see this group as a large pool of potential new customers. But it’s important not to forget them. “We know who we have,” he said. “The way we market to them is as current clientele.” When the company celebrated its 40th anniversary earlier this year, it reached out to all clients who had been customers for a decade. “That generation is very loyal,” he said. “They’re the ones who show up to all of our outside events. While we don’t get a lot of new business, they’re some of our most valuable clients, and they’re big on referring people to us.”
Likewise, Laycock sees less potential in reaching these business leaders versus any other generation. “If they’re still in the working world, they’re generally removed from the daily decision-making process,” he said. “They are board members or have turned over the day-to-day operations. It’s not because they’re not important. They are, but they are less impacted by marketing messages.”
BABY BOOMERS, BORN 1946-1964
This cohort—one of the largest in American history before being overtaken by the Millennials—”responds to direct mail and postcards,” Aggson said. “But we can’t just rely on the postcards. It’s a multi-faceted approach. They’re active on social media, so we make sure that we’re targeting that group with our search engine optimization. But we’ll follow up in the mail for reinforcement.”
This group also can be reached through traditional forms of advertising. Aggson said his company has found news radio to be effective.
Laycock also sees the benefits of using print to reach Boomers. “If you completely get away from things that are tangible and physical, you’re not going to reach Baby Boomers,” he said. “They’re not scrolling through Twitter every hour. They get magazines and newspapers delivered.”
That extends to sales presentations, he said. “They want the leave-behind, the sales sheets and collateral,” he said. “Don’t send them an e-book to scroll through on their iPad.”
GENERATION X, BORN 1965-1980
A smaller generation nestled between the two larger ones, Gen Xers often get lumped in with Millennials. Distinguishing between the two larger generations that bookend them can be a challenge. “It’s almost like they are forgotten,” Laycock said. “Generation X is a relationship-focused generation. They place an incredibly high value on relationships, and they invest in them. Because of that, they are very brand loyal. Their preferred method of communication is e-mail. Targeted e-blasts are most impactful for Generation X.”
Aggson said they can be reached through the internet, but don’t underestimate the power of branded vehicles for all generations. “Every lead that comes in, we ask how they found us,” Aggson said. “It’s always internet, referrals and our trucks.”
MILLENNIALS, BORN 1981-1996
Because younger customers come to American Pest Management having done their research, the company began offering estimates and proposals over the phone. “Since they already know who we are, if we can express the value of the programs that we offer over the phone, we can get to them faster and provide service faster,” Aggson said.
That shift over the past two years has meant that a former outside salesperson now handles estimates inside. “She can pick up the telltale signs, when they’re not quite comfortable over the phone,” Aggson said. “When she senses that, she can move right in on education about how we’ll come out and do a free inspection of their home to determine what program or treatment is needed.”
However you communicate with Millennials, think short, Laycock said. He is a “Millennial by birthday, but has more Gen X tendencies,” he said. “Quick, short messages and repetitive short videos work very well. I’m talking 15 seconds or less. If I click on something and it’s longer than a minute, I’m not watching it.”
Millennials have a strong preference for the best and are more likely to prefer to work with a number of companies to get the best product for the situation, Laycock said. “Being targeted and specific is better. If you go broad, it doesn’t connect with them on a personal level. As the pest control industry moves forward, it’s going to become more fragmented from a product standpoint. They’ll be focused on, ‘this is the best ant product,’ ‘ that is the best cockroach product.’”
One message that will work with this generation is to be “on the forefront of revolutionary technology,” Laycock said.
GEN Z, BORN 1997-2012
With the older Gen Zs just graduating college, they will soon be entering the marketplace, bringing their own preferences for communication.
Some efforts to reach them are already underway. At American Pest Management, Aggson said a junior pest technician program is designed to educate kids about the role that bugs play in the ecosystem. They also provide information about the importance of pest control. “We move up through the high school level by participating at job fairs and informational fairs.”
But marketing directly to them—whether as homeowners or as purchasers at the corporate level—brings a lot of uncertainty.
“We’re still trying to figure it out,” Laycock said. He notes that this generation will be the first to be true digital natives. “You think Millennials are short in their communication? Wait until Gen Z comes into the world. It’s going to be interesting to see how that shakes out.”
Even if Gen Z ends up being relatively easy to figure out, there’s another generation just behind them. Generation Alpha, born starting in 2013, will be in the marketplace soon enough.
By Sandy Smith