4x6 | iStockPHOTO

Professional pest control plays a crucial role in protecting the public’s health, food and property. But, are homeowners in agreement? And, do their thoughts about our industry vary by generation? To learn more about generational differences when it comes to purchasing professional pest control services, the Professional Pest Management Alliance (PPMA) conducted in-depth research to better understand similarities and differences across millennials (born 1981-1996), Gen Xers (1965-1980) and baby boomers (1946-1964).

The following is a snapshot of key findings and recommendations of how companies can apply them to future marketing endeavors.

WORKING WITH A PMP. Delving into what consumers look for in a pest control professional, many attributes came to mind, but there were three characteristics that rose to the top. All three generations noted that they look for experienced and trustworthy companies, and those that provide a work guarantee. Price was also of key importance to the millennial generation as this group may have less disposable income and is more cost conscious. The groups typically look for evidence of these qualities by reading through positive online reviews.

Looking at the pests that are most concerning, ants, mosquitoes and spiders top the list among all audiences, but what makes the phone ring? Pest control professionals are typically immediately called in for termites and bed bugs. More than 70 percent of respondents are also concerned about rodents, including mice and rats.

While all generations recognize the necessity of pest control, more millennial respondents (57 percent on average across pest categories) noted that they are most likely to initially call a pest control professional for help before trying to implement a do-it-yourself (DIY) method. They believe calling in a pro first will help save time and ensure it’s done right the first time. Gen Xers (55 percent on average across pest categories) also rely more on professionals than DIY measures, with some mentioning that they try to pursue natural remedies first, while 58 percent of baby boomers (on average) indicated the greatest likelihood to attempt DIY treatments initially, unless the problem is considered severe or from a pest of top concern (i.e., termites, cockroaches and bed bugs).

INFORMATION SOURCES. Online reviews are critical to the decision-making process across generations (millennials: 90 percent, Gen Xers: 89 percent, baby boomers: 83 percent) and oftentimes the first stop when researching a company. Word of mouth also holds weight. Perhaps not surprising, social media is more influential to younger consumers, specifically when it comes to asking for recommendations and looking at a company’s page on Facebook. Yelp, Google and Angie’s List are the top three most influential review sites for each generation — so keep an eye on your company’s reviews and work to cultivate positive ones.

PPMA pursued a line of questions related to how key audiences search for pest control companies online. Most respondents use general terms such as “pest control” or “exterminator” and often use locations of where they live to find a local company. When results appear on the page, more than half of respondents quickly scrolled past the top, paid position links and acknowledged that those are paid ads. They may circle back, but initially these are dismissed as consumers first seek out the top organic listings. Across the board, consumers are looking for professional websites with contact information that is clearly labeled and easy to find.

COMMUNICATION and TECHNOLOGY. Consumers do not feel an unmet need when it comes to technology in the pest control industry, but are open to new developments on the horizon. Think about how content consumers felt about technology as it related to mobile phones 15 or even 10 years ago. Mobile phones were used as entertainment and for keeping in touch while away from the home or office, but now they are our lifelines. Many people can’t imagine life without a smartphone now, where they work, play and communicate digitally. The findings from this particular discussion point shows that we have an audience across all three generation groups who may be content now, but will also be open and receptive to technological advancements and innovation in our field in the future.

When it comes to communication preferences, all generations still value a good old-fashioned telephone call and may find text reminders helpful — but exercise with caution. This outreach method (along with email) is only preferred by millennials and Gen Xers. Only six percent of baby boomers report that they are more receptive to email and text contact over other forms of communication.

Millennials find the convenience of booking appointments online and making payments online appealing. According to one millennial respondent, “Using technology gives me the confidence that a company is up-to-date, which means that their technology of extermination is also modern, so I know that they’re plugged in, so to speak.”

PUBLIC HEALTH. Protecting properties and homeowners from public health threats posed by pests is a top priority of the industry, but are homeowners making the correlation between pest control and public health? Across generations, there was a low affiliation between pest control and the words “public health”; however, once prompted, each generation easily made the connection. Mosquitoes and Zika virus are a top concern for millennials, while diseases posed by cockroaches and mice resonated most with Gen Xers and baby boomers. Mosquitoes were also a concern for boomers.

Among Gen Xers, mosquitoes and ticks are considered public health risks given heightened news coverage of the pests. According to one Gen X respondent, “Mosquitoes may cause the biggest concern, but it’s still sporadic in terms of people contracting these types of diseases, closer than you’d like to hear about them. You never know what they could contract and pass on to others.” While a baby boomer respondent stated, “Roaches can carry a lot of different kinds of bacteria. You really don’t want them running around on your countertops or on your floors.”

When looking at a list of pests, respondents were asked to indicate how much of a public health concern they felt toward each one. Notably, mosquitoes, ticks, bed bugs, mice and rats were considered a strong to severe threat, while flies, occasional invaders and ants were considered little to no threat. Side note: it’s interesting that ants fall to the bottom of the list here, but were a top concern across all generations when it came to pests within the home. When discussing concern around specific infectious diseases, Zika virus and West Nile virus create the greatest concern across all generations, while worsening of allergy and asthma symptoms due to pests generates the least amount of concern.

KEY TAKEAWAYS. So, what does this all mean for pest control companies when it comes to fine-tuning marketing efforts? Based on these findings and a stronger understanding of each target audience, here are five marketing tips for engaging with all three generations.

Focus Online. All generations are consuming and sharing information online — actively perusing company websites, searching for online reviews and engaging on social media. Update your website regularly and embrace social media. Keep content fresh, promote and share company news, post visuals and other engaging content, and share insights and advice that consumers will find valuable. With Facebook ranking as the top social media site for searching for company reviews, your company should most definitely be active on Facebook. If you already have a Company Page, ensure it’s regularly updated to keep content fresh and fans engaged.

Show Off Your Assets. Consumers all agreed that pest control professionals save them time, energy and money and they typically call for unfamiliar pest issues. Showcase that! In all marketing messaging, hone in on the convenience and time saving of hiring a professional with an emphasis on pests that respondents do not always think to call a pro for like ants, cockroaches, wasps and hornets.

Check-in with Customers. Millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers look for experienced, trustworthy professionals who provide a work guarantee, which is commonly communicated through positive online reviews or personal recommendations. Stay up-to-speed on your company’s online review rating on sites like Yelp and Angie’s List to make note of strengths and areas of improvement. Encourage customers to leave a review once services are being wrapped up, as quantity of reviews can be just as important as the content.

Be Timely. Strategically time out marketing efforts around specific pests that are most concerning (ants, mosquitoes and spiders) during the time of year when they are most prevalent in your region. This year, consider investing in PPMA for a marketing push during Termite Awareness Week (March 11-17), National Pest Management Month (April), Bed Bug Awareness Week (June 3-9) and Rodent Awareness Week (Oct. 21-27).

Spread the Public Health Message. The average consumer does not make the connection between pest control and public health on their own; however, when prompted, consumers are able to make the connection quickly. As we well know, the threats posed by pests can lead to serious health implications. Focus marketing efforts on educating customers about infectious diseases and health concerns triggered by pests. Share information on social media and with local media outlets, and upload fresh website content focused on these topics.

FINAL THOUGHTS. PPMA’s consumer research provides a great opportunity for companies to reflect on how their target audiences view pest control and how they’re communicating with each generation, along with new strategies and tips to integrate into marketing plans and everyday service calls.