With advancements in today’s technology, marketing opportunities have expanded and diversified. As a result, many businesses have changed their marketing strategies in an attempt to remain competitive in their industries. Though many pest management businesses have capitalized on the social media platforms that are often free to join and relatively low-cost to maintain, many are hesitant to invest in other marketing strategies that may have higher costs and uncertain payouts. One such investment is in mobile and tablet marketing. With the rise of smartphones and tablets, it is not only possible for consumers to interact with businesses through portable social platforms, but also through their own unique feature: the app.
Arizona Pest Control is one of the few pest management businesses that has ventured into the mobile marketing arena. One year ago, the company launched one of the first-ever pest identification apps called AZPest.com Pest ID Pro. “We chose to make an app because of the rapidly changing marketing environment. Being one of the first pest control companies with an application in the App Store would give us a great competitive advantage and we wanted to take advantage of that aspect,” said Caleb Tennenbaum, Arizona Pest Control’s marketing director.
Not only did they launch the app, but they had such positive feedback that, in March of this year, they released two new versions for iPhone and iPad users. So, what can Arizona Pest Control’s experience teach other pest management companies looking to enter the market?
Size doesn't matter. Arizona Pest Control is a family-owned business that operates out of Tucson, Ariz. With 18 technicians and annual revenues of $1 million, the company services most of Southern Arizona and treats for common desert pests, such as roaches, termites, scorpions and ants. Despite its large service area, the company is by no means the biggest service provider in the state.
A unique concept development matter. The Pest ID app allows consumers (from all over the United States, not just Arizona) to use their phone to take pictures of pests they find and want identified. When the user opens the application, the first screen asks for some basic contact information. When that’s entered, the user is then given the option of either taking a photo of the pest or uploading a photo from the device’s “photo library.” Once the desired image is selected, the user clicks the “ID My Bug” link, which will open the user’s email and allow the user to send the photo to Arizona Pest Control’s entomologist. The staff entomologist will review the image and send back the pest’s identification and some basic information on how Arizona Pest Control would treat for that specific pest. The average turnaround time is 24 hours. “I didn’t want to create an everyday app that wasn’t useful to people, like a game where the user squashes bugs. I wanted the app to be designed for the consumer, but I also wanted our staff to be able to utilize it,” said Tennenbaum, who came up with the initial concept.
Though not all apps will be as functional as Arizona Pest Control’s, this is one case where both staff and consumers have benefitted.
“Technicians have really warmed up to it. Though they’re all well-trained in field identifications, some are using it as a fail safe … [and] our sales force actively showcases the app in the field to awe our customers on a daily basis,” said Tennenbaum, who added that Arizona Pest Control’s service technicians are given priority response time when they submit pest identifications.
Choose a developer that fits your budget. For Arizona Pest Control, the choice of developer was an easy one. Prior to developing the app, Tennenbaum founded his own company, Marketing For The Future, which specializes in Internet marketing services. Due to contractual reasons, he could not share the exact amount Arizona Pest Control paid for their app development; however, he estimated that a standard fee for a basic application build would cost about $6,000 to $8,000, but warned that increased functionality and complexity would add to costs. Though the application development market is not as saturated with development companies as some other markets, there are enough options that Tennenbaum suggests shopping around for the best prices and packages.
In order to make a return on some development costs, some companies have also decided to charge a small fee for consumers to download their app. Though Arizona Pest Control’s Pest ID apps are currently free, the company also has considered the idea. “We feel the value of being able to provide that free service is worth our entomologist’s time to us,” Tennenbaum said. “However, we might be charging for it down the line. We might charge $4.99 to download it, but if you’re a customer and show us that Apple bill, we might deduct that from your invoice.” So far, Arizona Pest Control has made no such plans, but Tennenbaum is aware that these possibilities exist.
Know your timeline. Creating an app doesn’t happen overnight. Arizona Pest Control’s first Pest ID app took approximately three weeks to develop, equaling about 80 hours of actual development time. “Remember, every app can take a different amount of time to develop depending on the scope of the project, specs, etc.,” he said. The upgraded Pest ID app that Arizona Pest Control just released, for instance, took more than 200 hours of development time (about one month) because new, specialized versions were built for both iPhone and iPad devices. Even after the app is through development, the submission process also takes time, with companies like Apple often averaging a week from date of submission to date of approval.
Which market and operating system best fits your company? Once the app is built, the process of submitting it starts, which means it’s not only important to choose the right development company, but also the right operating market. Arizona Pest Control’s app, for instance, is currently only available for Apple device users, though they have plans to expand, hopefully, by the end of the year. “We don’t have the resources in house to be able to utilize the app on the Droid market as of yet,” said Tennenbaum, “The Droid market is so vast. We would probably get two to three times the bug submissions, which would mean we might have to bring another entomologist on staff.” Currently, from Apple users alone, Arizona Pest Control receives at least one pest inquiry a day, even in their slow season.
Furthermore, each market may have different demands for what is required in the app. “The Apple Store has strict requirements on what an application needs to have in order for Apple to approve it. Those specifics can be found on Apple’s developer website; [however,] as long as you have an IOS developer that knows what they are doing, the process of submission is fairly easy and painless,” Tennenbaum said.
Utilize the App. It may seem like common sense, but if the app isn’t promoted and incorporated into your project model, it may not offer worthwhile returns on the investment. Not only does Arizona Pest Control’s sales force showcase their app in the field, but the company also heavily promotes it through their social media channels. So far, their strategy has paid off. The first addition of the app has over 4,500 downloads and 50 ratings on the Apple iTunes store with an average rating of 5 stars (the highest rating an app can get). Tennenbaum explained that even though the majority of users only utilize the app once or twice, since launching the service, the company has seen a slight trend in increased sales.
“We’ve had a few cases where people have never heard of our company until they utilized the app,” he said. They have also had a handful of cases where users have called in asking for the treatments outlined in their pest identification response. In these cases, Tennenbaum says the app serves a dual purpose of allowing his technicians to prepare more accurately for the pests they will be treating when they arrive on site.
Collect feedback and update accordingly. In order to keep users engaged, it’s important to keep your app updated and operating smoothly. Even though the original Pest ID app received many positive reviews, it is the criticisms that helped shape the 2012 edition. “One specific example is when you input your information in the original app it didn’t save your information, so you would have to input it every time. In the new build it saves your information so you don’t have to type in the same info over and over,” said Tennenbaum.
The two big changes Arizona Pest Control made to its upgraded version are the addition of a pest gallery and an RSS feed so users can read the company’s blog directly from the app. The pest gallery, Tennenbaum said, is a scroll through of pest images. “Once they click on the pest, there will be a title with what the pest is and a description of how to prevent an infestation. That way, if they don’t want to send in a bug, they can just go to the gallery and try to identify it themselves,” he said. Along with the gallery, they have also changed many of the existing graphics to make the app more aesthetically pleasing.
So how much will it cost to maintain an app? “So long as you are doing a simple upgrade or change, companies will typically charge you by the hour … a good tip is to always know the terms in the contract for additional work performed on the app after the initial launch in the store,” said Tennenbaum. Arizona Pest Control’s newest version of their app, however, required a new back end (or operating system) for both the iPhone and iPad. In cases like this, explained Tennenbaum, one can expect a company to charge the same as if it is making an entirely new app.
In summary. Developing an app is an investment that should be weighed carefully, but, when done right, can provide a company new outlets for strategic marketing and growth. For Tennenbaum, Arizona Pest Control’s decision to create an app was not only a strategic marketing move, but also a great addition to consumer education. “When you receive some of these pictures with questions like ‘Is it deadly?’ you realize how many misconceptions there are about many of the pests people encounter on a daily basis. It has helped to enlighten us on the importance of educating our customers and people outside our service area to make sure proper pest control treatments are being applied.”
Bruce Tennenbaum, owner of Arizona Pest Control, added that the app has been a boost to business because “people are always amazed that a company of our size would have something in the Apple store. I think you’ve got to be on the edge of technology. Most of our leads today are Internet leads. We’re out of the phone book totally.” Out of the phone book…but into the phone.
The author is a PCT contributing writer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The AZPest.com Pest ID Pro app can be downloaded from the Apple Store at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/azpest-com-pest-id-pro/id428599647?mt=8 (Please note that this app is not for commercial use.)
For more information on Caleb Tennenbaum’s marketing services, Marketing For The Future, contact him at 520/245-3138 or visit www.mktg4thefuture.com.