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How to Use Pet Influencers to Grow Your Business

Recommendations from micro-influencers are twice as effective as paid advertising.

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This story was originally published in the November 2017 edition of PETS+.

WITH DOTING PET PARENTS setting up profile pages almost as soon as they bring their new pets home, it’s not uncommon nowadays to come across pets racking up huge followings online. In fact, 65 percent of pet owners post their four-legged friends to social media. It just so happens that, for a handful of them, those posts go on to garner thousands of dollars’ worth of monthly revenue as their pets grow from adorable internet distraction to full-blown influencers.

Our studies show that recommendations from micro-influencers are twice as effective as paid advertising. That may be why an increasing number of businesses have added pet influencers to their marketing strategies.

So, as the owner of a pet business, how do you leverage this new crop of micro-influencers to grow your brand?

Where to Find Them

The vast majority of pet influencers live on social media, so hit that direct message button and let their owners know why you should be partnering together.

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But as a small business owner, sometimes it’s about finding inspiration from what’s around you. Do you or someone you know have a pet? While not (yet) famous, having a pet be the face of your brand is a great way to share your story.

How to Use Them

Why would you reach out to a lovable Pomeranian rather than a seasoned influencer with opposable thumbs? “Human influencers might say something off-brand or that offends. Dogs are on message at all times,” Loni Edwards, owner of pet influencer Chloe and founder of The Dog Agency, told Fast Company. “People like pet content, and there’s higher ability of going viral.”

Now that you understand why you should consider a pet influencer, how do you go about working with them?

#Share the love. Ninety-four percent of pet owners see their pets as a member of the family. With this in mind, Chewy began surprising its customers with commissioned portraits of their pets earlier this year. Chewy also sent out 2 million holiday cards to customers last Christmas. This is the type of personalized service that ends up creating buzz online (along with glowing reviews of your business).

Bring them in-store. Sixty-five percent of stores noticed a correlation between experiential marketing and increased sales. For retailers, bringing in a pet influencer is a great way to engage with consumers. In my past life as an associate working at a pet boutique, the owner would regularly throw “tea parties” — a gathering for her and her top customers’ teacup Yorkies. Those events always boosted sales for the day.

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Take up a cause. Go beyond promoting your brand, and bring attention to a pet issue you care about. Pet parents are particularly amenable to this — most are aware of the plight of unwanted or abused animals and are eager to support businesses that want to help.

Why They Work

Animals evoke an instant feeling of happiness. Tap into your customer’s emotional side to drive success without making the shopping journey feel overly transactional. “People have this perception that pets generate fuzzy feelings,” Edwards told Digiday. “Brands are [reaching] out because [pets] make people happy, and they want their ads to make people happy.”

As Hubba’s millennial retail expert, helping brands connect to the world’s largest consumer demographic is where DAYANA CADET thrives. Her work can be found on Hubba.com and trade publications such as Chain Store Age, Retail Minded and My Total Retail.  

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Very Few Pet Businesses Do This With Their Ads … But You Definitely Should

Testing and tracking your ads can make a huge difference in the ROI that you get, says marketing specialist Jim Ackerman. But very few pet businesses take the proper steps to run successful ad campaigns. Here, Ackerman shows an example of what effective testing looks like.

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The Veterinary Industry Is Set to Explode … Or Implode

Vets have been painfully slow to come to the marketing table.

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WITH THE ANNOUNCEMENT that Walmart will add veterinary clinics to six of its stores in the Dallas area, what will happen to your friendly neighborhood vet clinic?

It appears the big box giant – like specialty big-boxer Petco and the vet practice chains – has come to the same conclusion I reached years ago: that the vet business is where the legal, cosmetic surgery, eye surgery dental and now other medical industries were not long ago. That is, on the verge of explosive growth, for those smart enough to seize the day.

I have argued that a handful of veterinary practices will strike it rich, making millions of dollars when they come out of the marketing dark ages and begin to aggressively promote their practices using the same tactics that attorneys, doctors and dentists began using a few decades ago.

Back then, advertising among those so-called professionals was viewed as an unethical taboo by the “old guard.” That was until a few practices started doing it anyway and saw their billings fly off the charts.

Others soon followed, and the marketing bug hit other professional practices. Now all kinds of medical practices are jumping on the bandwagon, including specialists in modalities like stem cells, which are either just beginning to garner acceptance by insurance companies.

But vets have been painfully slow to come to the marketing table – far slower than their human practitioner counterparts. As a result, most veterinary practices are stuck at a level of mediocrity and financial stagnation that frustrates the owners.

Walmart – of all companies – has seen the light of exceptional opportunity and is piloting a program that, if successful, will undoubtedly spread to many of its stores all over the country.

If successful and expanded, the Walmart experiment could prove disastrous for the neighborhood veterinarian. Some will go out of business. Others will find it difficult to hire associate vets as Walmart brings its attractive pay and benefits package to the table.

Downward pressure on pricing will also hurt practices that do survive in the face of this new competition.

Of course, many will argue the Walmarts, Petcos and chains will never be able to provide the level of comprehensive, experienced and expert care to pets that “a real veterinarian” can.

And they’ll be right. But what difference will that make as the big boxes rake in the big dollars and “the real vets” starve?

On the upside, perhaps the entrance of Walmart into the vet market will serve as a wake-up call to smart veterinarians who finally see the dormant potential in their own industry and their own practices.

Forward looking vets who see both the pros and cons of this near-future reality and take steps to exploit the opportunity will be able to insulate themselves against the big box invasion, while gaining substantial competitive advantages in the short term. And again, the smart, aggressive vets will literally get rich.

Right now, neither Walmart nor Petco nor the vet chains fully exploit the opportunities inherent in the pet marketplace. Veterinary clinics who decide to aggressively market their practices may see those practices explode, while those who don’t may see theirs implode.

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Shawna Schuh

To Get to the Bottom of a Complaint, Pause, Smile and Ask

When a customer lies, it may not be for the reasons you think.

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THE RESTAURANT IS a favorite of mine. The food is good, and it’s fun and kinda funky. When we sat down to meet for this first date, I had no expectations. The conversation was fast and fun, and so we decided to order dinner. He ordered a burger and fries, me a salad.

When the food came, the female server set it down with a flourish, and it looked great. I barely had a moment to admire my salad when the man sitting opposite me said, “The fries are cold.”

The server was momentarily stunned but quickly recovered and said, “I’ll bring you new ones.” And she hightailed it out of there to have a word with the kitchen.

There was a pause, so I said, “I’m so sorry you got a bad order, this place is usually great.” Because, of course, I’m feeling bad for suggesting a place that, it turns out, serves cold food. What does that say about my taste and judgment?

Then he said, “No worries, the fries aren’t really cold. There’s just not enough, so now they’ll bring more.”

I blinked in stunned silence and then gathering my wits about me asked, “Do you do this often?” To which he said, “Only when I think I’ve been shorted on something.”

Think about this for a moment. Where do you land on the right or wrong of this exchange?

As a consumer, you might agree that if you feel shorted in service, or product, or value, it’s within your rights to complain or ask … but to lie?

As a business owner, you may feel outraged and taken advantage of by a customer who is clearly misleading you or your team for additional gain.

Here’s my take from a leadership standpoint:

  • Pause to take a breath. This can allow you to get emotions in check.
  • Smile. This may be forced — after all, they are bringing up a complaint.
  • Ask a question. This is the best thing however only if it’s a question that still makes the customer feel in control (rather than wrong), and it clarifies the real issue.

The example in this instance may have been that the server could have paused, smiled and asked, “Do you want me to replace them?”

Since the answer is most likely yes, then take the whole meal away.

If you get pushback — “It’s OK, just bring me more fries” — this is when you know the real intent behind the comment, and you can say, “If the fries (or whatever the complaint is) are not to your liking, we must check your whole meal so you are completely satisfied.”

If you have a pet business, you’re not selling fries, of course. However, you do have some customers who are hard to satisfy, and they can surprise you or take advantage of you, all the while feeling justified in doing so. Luckily, the same techniques will work: Pause, smile, ask a question.

Think about and discuss with your team the kinds of questions that are able to get to the bottom of the issue (or customer intent) without making the customer feel wrong.

For me, I learned several things that evening, the most important being to put myself in the position of both the customer and the business owner. If all of us did that more, maybe the experience for everyone would be better.

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3 Ways to Develop Relationships with Local Customers Via Instagram

Instagram is great at some things but extremely tricky if you’re trying to use it to drive direct sales.

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HOW DO I GROWTH-HACK a local audience on Instagram for my pet business?

We get this question a lot and, first, our answer is always a question:

“What are you trying to do?”

The fact is that Instagram is great at some things (raising awareness and building brand loyalty, especially for local businesses), but extremely tricky if you’re trying to use it to drive direct sales.

The reason why is simple:

Instagram lacks one thing: an easy way to link from a post to buy — unless, of course, you pay for an ad. Unlike Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, Instagram gives you only one link off the platform — on your bio — making it much less likely to drive traffic to your website to buy now.

However, my team and I often see strong success for local pet brands looking to develop relationships with current and potential customers on Instagram. In some ways, the lack of direct sales appears to create a stronger bond with those individuals because they sense that selling is not the brand’s main objective.

Creating and developing a relationship with your customers becomes the main objective for a local business using Instagram. (And then driving them to your email list or store for direct sales.)
Your local pet business’s feed then becomes a refreshing way for local people to connect with your brand — making it a great channel for building customer loyalty and awareness.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Use hyper-local targeting when you’re interacting with others on Instagram. For example, if you’re using Instagram to grow, then focus on leaving comments on local hashtags like #upperwestsidedogs. This builds on the community who uses #upperwestside and draws out the dog-lovers from there. Don’t worry about spending time interacting on national or massively used hashtags, like #catsofinstagram or #greyhounds. In most cases, that will just attract a lot of spammers.

2. Create hyper-local content that shows off your brand. While you may write or do a video about puppy training, spring grooming or the great new pet treats in stock, look for ways to slip in information about local dog-friendly places and landmarks in all you do. This constantly reminds people they are interacting with a real person in the area.

Post about the best dog-friendly parks in the area. Or post about the best time to practice loose-leash walking at those parks using those new treats. More broadly, post about the top behavior challenges you see local people struggle with when parenting a dog. Regardless of what you post, frequently end with a call to action to have the person sign up for your email for tips on how to solve the issue.

3. Post using local hashtags, mixing in bigger ones occasionally. On Instagram, try looking at your neighborhood’s local “places” and seeing what people are using when they’re posting in your area. Typing in “upperwestside” and looking at the related tags may give you things you didn’t know about to try. Finally, look at other local businesses (even ones in different industries) and see what tags they’re using that aren’t industry-specific. There could be some fairly popular tags you could incorporate with your posts.

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