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Money Bugs: Turning Invasive Pests into Recurring Revenue

October 12, 2021


Many people have seen the movie Moneyball starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. It’s about how Billy Beane made the Oakland Athletics competitive against larger market teams with larger payrolls in professional baseball. The language can be rough, but it’s an amazing movie. 

Spoiler alert: if you’ve never seen it, skip this paragraph. But, if you haven’t seen it, you’ve had a decade to do it, so that’s kind of on you, reader. The premise is this: what if you took guys who were “meh” at their respective positions but had great stats at something specific: on-base percentage, defense, earned run average through 2 innings – you get the gist – and put them on the same team. Then, you just put them on the field in situations where you’re playing to their strengths. For example, the guy who has a killer ERA in his first two innings pitched – make him a middle reliever instead of a starting pitcher and voilà – he’s a critical component to the team’s success. 

Similarly, you can take something pretty bad – like an invasive, non-native pest – and turn it into a stable, sustainable revenue stream for your lawn care or landscape business. Keep reading to see how these “money bugs” can be put to work for you!

1. Learn the biology and life cycle of the bug

What types of plants do they feed on? Do they need those same plants in order to complete their life cycle? Do they emerge at the same time every year? What growing degree days (GDD) do they hatch at? What’s easier to control – larvae, nymphs, adults, etc.?

Once you’ve answered those questions, you can start to formulate a treatment plan. Do some research into which pesticides are most effective against this bug and against the particular life stage you are trying to control. 

When developing this plan, please do it responsibly. Be aware of the potential impact on non-target organisms (other bugs than the one you’re trying to control). The last thing anyone wants to do is be known as “the company that killed the honeybees” or “the technician that killed the monarch butterflies.”  

Pro tip: When researching pesticides, see if there are any products available with a similar mode of action to the “established” treatment method that is a bit “greener.” Offering treatment to clients, especially in their garden, lawn, or landscape that is more eco-friendly, almost always plays well, no matter the market. 

2. Craft good messaging

When thinking about what to say to customers about why they should worry about this bug, remember – the sale should be about them. Make them the focus. You could have a laundry list of reasons you think they should buy a treatment or a program. They don’t care about your motives. They’re buying for their reasons. Consider that when crafting your messaging. And for more expensive marketing spend (we’ll discuss more below), stick to that single, customer-focused message. 

For example, if you do a lot of work in an area with tons of birch trees that have historical significance to the town where you live, and you’ve got wind of an infestation of bronze birch borers headed your way, your messaging might be about preserving the history and property values. Suppose you’re worried about a lawn-damaging pest (grubs, armyworms, etc.). In that case, your messaging might be about the time saving of treatment (they won’t have to invest time to re-establish the lawn later) or cost savings or preventative treatments. 

Pro tip: make at least some of your messaging educational. If clients understand the “why” behind what you’re asking them to do (that it benefits them and isn’t just an upsell), they’re more likely to buy your treatment or service. 

3. Start your messaging three-to-six weeks ahead of when you want to start treatments.

When I ran the marketing for a $13 million lawn care and landscape company, we had a couple of major invasive pests to deal with. Grubs (like most parts of the country), Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), and a new one – Spotted Lanternfly. Most people had heard of the Lanternfly but didn’t know what the big deal was or how it impacted them. 

I started messaging for grubs about three weeks before the label’s earliest treatment date for our area. Most people know in theory what grubs are, they know grubs can kill your lawn, and it was a single-treatment sale. Not as much pressure. 

With the Spotted Lanternfly, we had a TON of education to do – we wrote blogs, I went on local television a few times (some paid spots on lifestyle shows and a couple of local news spots), and we sent out emails to mailing lists. We wanted everyone to know what they were (a non-native, invasive pest) and why they should get their trees treated (because they feed in swarms and poop on everything, leaving sooty mold on your patio furniture). 

The point is this: tailor the timing of your messaging to the level of education you need to do before a purchase is made. 

Pro tip: The better you are at this, the less you’ll have to “fight” with your clients to buy. It goes from a completely “cold” ask to letting your messaging soften them up. 

4. Use multiple channels

You can’t send a single email six weeks before you want to start creating a new invasive pest and expect people just to buy it. In today’s increasingly complex marketing landscape, it’s estimated that most consumers need to see a message at least seven times before buying.

So, do your best to hit customers with a variety of messages. This could include lots of low-to-medium cost channels, like: 

  • Social media (organic posts and ads – this is a great, low-cost way to see which messaging resonates)
  • Geofencing (very inexpensive ads in a geographically targeted area)
  • Direct mail (most considerable expense by far – stick to one good message here!)
  • Email blasts (you can usually do several at only the cost of constructing the email)

There are lots of other channels, too, but they get more expensive. If you’ve got the budget, local lifestyle TV shows often offer spots to businesses where you get to craft the messaging, and they’ll send you an HD copy of the segment for you to use on your YouTube channel or Facebook page (or both). 

Radio ads are another option (yes, some people still listen to the radio on their commute). Ads on Spotify or Pandora might be an option if you know lots of people in your area stream their music. 

Billboards are expensive (usually several thousand dollars a month), so only those companies with huge marketing budgets should consider this option. But, if it’s in the budget, there’s some validity to this option. 

Pro tip: If you’re upselling to existing clients, that’s low-hanging fruit. They might still need some convincing, but less than a brand new client. They already have decided to trust you. If you’re not doing this, you’re leaving revenue on the table. Try a calling campaign to physically speak to your clients, explain the nature of the issue, and ask for the business. 

Also – with Facebook, you can usually add your existing client’s email addresses there and have specific messaging for existing clients. If you’re offering them an additional discount, or you just want to make sure they see another ad reminding them to buy, this is a great option!

5. Evaluate and adjust. 

This is simple. What worked well in your efforts? Do more of that!

What didn’t work very well? Do less of that, and shift some of those ad dollars to the stuff that did work. 

Base your plan for the next part of that bug’s life cycle (later that same year or the following season) on what performed during this marketing initiative. 

Pro tip: You need to do this every year. Do a post-mortem on every marketing campaign. Buyer’s habits change so rapidly in this environment that you can’t assume one fine-tuned campaign will work for 5-6 years. You need to evaluate and make tweaks to improve on a regular basis.