Tips on how to build your brand identity
July 7, 2021
July 7, 2021
For 83 years and counting, image has been a big deal at Truly Nolen Pest Control. Tracing the family’s pest control roots to Pest Management Professional Hall of Famer Truly Wheatfield Nolen (Class of 2006) and taken to new heights by the late Truly David Nolen, his son, this brand is known worldwide for its signature bright yellow color.
Behind the scenes, of course, there’s a lot of work creating and maintaining that image for the Tucson, Ariz.-based company.
“The marketing team handles every request for a logo or creative asset directly, so we can keep the consistency of the look as well as marketing direction,” explains Mike Vialpando, a Truly Nolen brand and marketing strategist. “We feel this is a faster way to get managers, publications or sponsors what they need in the format they need, while saving time for all of us.”
Truly Nolen’s marketing department develops and enforces brand guidelines for more than 75 domestic, company-owned service offices and more than 40 franchised offices. But those guidelines need to be flexible and evolve with the times, too. Case in point: Truly Nolen’s famous “mouse cars.” These typically are Volkswagen Beetles customized with eyes, ears, mouth and tail, butVolkswagen ended Beetle production in 2019, so the company is transitioning to other compact car models.
STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD
Bobby Leon vividly recalls his dad, Martin, driving a mouse car in the early 1970s as a Truly Nolen technician. When the younger Leon founded Akita Pest Control in 2006, he was keenly aware he had to set himself apart from the competition. Trial and error have made the Lancaster, Pa.-based company what it is today, and Leon admits necessity sometimes was the mother of his inventions.
“Early on, we could not afford to advertise on a billboard, so I thought of an idea to park a truck on a main road and put a giant wasp on top. I paid a local garage rent to park it there,” he recalls. “It became such an icon, I decided to do it to all the company vehicles.”
When Danielle Carey decided to start Moreno Valley, Calif.-based Carey Pest Management in 2018, she wanted to have a clear identity for her company carved out from the start.
“I wanted a color that was feminine to reflect being woman-owned, yet still be strong and bold,” she explains. “Purple has been my favorite color since I was little, so purple it is.”
Carey is glad to be picking up her brand strategy now that the COVID-19 pandemic is on the wane. “Right before the pandemic hit, I had begun to submit pest-related articles and advisories to local magazines,” she explains. “I was even scheduled to speak at a church luncheon aimed at encouraging young women. But I hope to do those type of things again soon.”
As a one-woman operation, Carey says she has taken to heart the brand identity lessons she has learned during her 30-plus years in the pest control industry. At the top of her list is to sell value over price, and to avoid the temptation of the hard sell to close a deal.
“When a person calls, they already have a need. I just have to focus on the scope of work and the value based on results, rather than pricing,” she explains. “If they say they’d like to call around for other quotes, I encourage it. I tell them I am always here when they’re ready to start their service. I remind them to check out my reviews on my Yelp/Google pages. Those reviews do more for building my brand than any advertising could ever do because they are submitted by my clients. Usually, they are very detailed and genuine, so potential clients already know what to expect before they call to schedule an inspection or service.”
Carey says she is focused on building relationships, because that’s what will result in a stable and consistent client base.
Sean Plucinik agrees, and notes that putting more of a focus on customer relationships is a big reason why he decided to strike out on his own by starting Maury County Pest Control in Columbia, Tenn., this year.
“My prices are higher than most in the area, but I have a program we call ‘Tell a Friend and Help a Neighbor,’” he says. “For every job I start, I set aside a portion of the revenue to provide low-cost/no-cost pest control to members in the community who have bed bug, cockroach or other pest issues they can’t afford
to take care of.”
Plucinik says he believes his Entomological Society of America credentials — he’s an associated certified entomologist (ACE) and a public health entomologist (PHE) — also have been a brand differentiator.
“For my residential customers, it is a good way to prove I will be around and know what I am doing,” he adds. “And for high-sensitivity accounts — a local museum, for example — clients appreciate my credentials and level of knowledge.”
Brent Towle is not only the owner, of Kenosha, Wis.-based Spectrum Pest Control Eco-Tech, but he also is one of the administrators of the popular Facebook group PestCemetery.com. (Editor’s Note: The founder of this group is our “Problem Solvers” columnist, Jerry Schappert.)
Towle has been in the pest control industry since 1985, and founded his company in 1994. The knowledge of the day informed his company name: A study showed women, who made the majority of pest control service purchasing decisions, tended to flip from the back to the front of the phone directory.
Determined to not use his last name because he knew customers would mispronounce it (it sounds like toll), in that pre-internet era Towle dialed zero and asked the operator for the toll-free number of Spectrum Pest Control or Spectrum Exterminating. She couldn’t find it; he doublechecked by conducting research at the public library; and his company name was good to go. By 2000, it was listed as “Brent’s Spectrum Pest Control” to conform to newer studies that showed more consumers did indeed flip front to back. But by 2011, phone directories were out, and community and online relationships were in. Towle again followed this movement.
But he bucks the move toward consistency — to positive effect. “My online presence is intimate. I’m very involved in local events and pest trends of the day. Even more so, specific locations in town vs. a region,” he explains. “I mix my personal page and my business page. I even have a political voice on my personal page — a third rail one must know exactly when to jump off of, which does not always happen. Nonetheless, I try to balance it well and, as a result, I am looked upon by many as the local expert.”
While Bug Busters, based in Woodstock, Ga., is a much bigger company, it also homes in on connecting with customers — and potential customers — online on a meaningful level. Marketing Director Natalie Wolf says the 36-year-old company’s identity has evolved over the years, but several key pillars remain unchanged and are the foundation of its branding. Community outreach is a given, most recently taking the form of a donation of more than 80 coats to the Georgia’ PestVets’ drive benefitting the Cherokee County (Ga.) Homeless Veterans program. Wolf says beyond this, the top pillars contributing to the company’s identity include:
- Customer communication. “We convey to customers that we are saving them time and effort. They could spend time worrying and trying to treat for pests — or they could be making memories with their families while leaving the pest control to us, a group of well-trained, well-equipped professionals.”
- A focus on professionalism. “All of our employees wear standardized uniforms embroidered with our logo. They all drive bright yellow vehicles with our logo prominently displayed. Our team members conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism at our customers’ homes and businesses. We have standardized, branded email signatures and voicemail greetings across the company. All of these little details add up to equal a professional image, allowing us to establish our company as a professional pest control authority.”
- A sense of humor. “Pest control is an industry that you can have a little bit of fun with when it comes to marketing, especially when your company is named ‘Bug Busters’ and you have a gigantic yellow spider on your roof!”
Towle’s wife, Judith, gave him advice early on that he says has made a difference for Spectrum’s bottom line. “She told me not to hide in my advertising the fact that I am a one-man operation,” he says. “The consumer will know the truth on Day One, and thus, we would be starting off on the wrong foot, right at the door. Our website, social media and other platforms all push the fact that you get me, not an unknown or a revolving door of technicians. Being honest has served us and our customers well over the years.”
After learning of a tragedy involving a distracted driver who killed a young friend of Towle’s family who was riding a bicycle, Towle steadfastly refuses to talk on the phone while driving. He is passionate about imploring his colleagues to do the same.
“Many companies have no clue just how much texting and driving their techs are doing,” he says. “Overbooking techs for too many stops a day prevents stationary time for returning calls and digital communication. On Spectrum’s website, online contact form and in our outgoing phone message, we note we do not take or return calls while driving. It has become a huge part of our branding that has paid off in spades, because the public reacts positively to our commitment to safe driving.”
CHANGE IS GOOD, SOMETIMES
Everyone interviewed for this story agreed that while being flexible and open to change is good for their brands, there are times to hold steadfast to your current practices. The trick is to know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em, so to speak.
Scarlett Nolen, the third-generation president of Truly Nolen and a Pest Management Professional online business columnist, also is a trained psychologist. She notes that knowing what your brand stands for, inside and out, is key to discerning whether to jump on the latest bandwagon or sit it out.
“Know your story,” Nolen says. “Know what message you want your customers to receive. Know what feeling you want them to have when they see your brand. Creating a deep understanding on your end as a service firm will facilitate consistency in your efforts to brand your company.”
In addition, know the differences between values and strategies. “Our processes and strategy may evolve, but our core values never waver,” Nolen adds. “Our No. 1 core value is to follow the Golden Rule: ‘Treat others the way you’d want to be treated.’”
Nolen acknowledges, too, that there can be a clash of opinions over strategies when new leadership comes in.
“We all have those things that we have always done,” Nolen continues. “But it’s important to know what they are, and to create a safe environment that allows people to question what we have done for years, and what the benefit may be in changing tactics. In most cases, there are opportunities for creativity and growth when you let go of some of these longstanding ideas or practices.”
Nolen recounts that when she became president of Truly Nolen in 2019, she let the team know changes would be made — but only with their input and insight, and not just for the sake of change.
“I made it clear that we had to be able to explain the reasoning behind any decision to change, the historical context around that decision, and how we were going to be building from that knowledge,” she says. “And remember, while an organization may be reluctant to change, society is not. Because he or she may be more in tune with society’s expectations, a next-generation leader can be a great asset to the future of the company.
“That’s because when it comes to messaging,” she concludes, “What is relevant to today’s consumers is the only thing that is relevant.”
MORE: Get even more branding tips and insights from those interviewed in this story, as well as longtime industry marketing consultant June Van Klaveren, president of Compelling Communications, on July 16 at our PMP PestTalk blog.