Think Outside the Crate: Using Psychographic Segmentation to Reach Pet Owners (Part 2)

When it comes to U.S. pet owners, one size definitely does not fit — or describe — them all. And depending on your business, products or services, you may not want to market to the entire pet-owning universe, either — it’s just not an efficient use of your marketing dollars.

As we discussed in a previous post, using multiple approaches to market segmentation is valuable when marketing to U.S. pet owners. In this post, we’ll discuss which variables may be the most helpful when segmenting an audience as diverse as U.S. pet owners.

DEMOGRAPHIC FACTORS IDENTIFY WHO’S BUYING

Demographic segmentation, which uses readily identifiable, objective and quantifiable traits, is a good place to start for any pet owner-oriented marketing initiative. In addition to traits such as age/generation, gender, marital status, ethnicity and nationality, you will also want to consider the type of pet owned (i.e., dog, cat, bird or small mammals). Promoting dog-specific products to cat-only pet owners isn’t a good use of your marketing dollars.

Pet-owner demographics is one of the more widely researched areas of pet products marketing. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), American Pet Products Association (APPA), Packaged Facts, Euromonitor and other research organizations monitor trends in the U.S. pet population, its ownership, and pet owners’ attitudes and buying habits. Their market research has found that pet ownership varies by age, ethnicity, income and gender, in addition to geography and psychographics. Their research has also revealed that pet-owner demographics are shifting, despite the fact that the number of U.S. pet-owning households has remained constant in recent years.

Consider age/generation demographics. A lot has been written about millennials and baby boomers as pet owners. That isn’t much of a surprise given that both generations are large, diverse, pet-owning groups of people who care deeply about their pets. However, there are significant differences in how these two groups of pet owners think, feel and behave. That means age/generation is still a key demographic variable to consider when marketing to pet owners. Sure, pet-owning millennials have surpassed baby boomers as a percentage of U.S. pet owners, but boomers still control a majority (about 70 percent) of U.S. disposable income. And both groups are credited with driving growth in dog ownership.

Another notable shift in pet owner demographics can be seen through the lens of household income. Dog and cat ownership has increased since 2008 and subsequently flattened out, according to Packaged Facts’ data, with most of the increase coming from households with dogs — which are more expensive to keep than cats. What’s interesting, but not necessarily surprising, is that pet ownership has grown among households with incomes of $75,000 or more. This may support or even fuel the ongoing premiumization of pet products and services. At the same time, pet ownership among households with incomes below $50,000 has dropped, which points to a need for quality, affordable pet care products.

Psychographic Factors of Pet Owners | Attachment, Interaction, Human Substitute | Woodruff

So while some marketers may argue that demographic segmentation is out of fashion or “old school,” there are plenty of reasons to include key demographic factors as part of your overall pet owner segmentation strategy. But consider demographics a starting point and not the only approach to your market segmentation efforts. Then, depending on your products, services and distribution channels, layering geographic and psychographic variables overtop will be appropriate.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION — WHY GEOGRAPHIC VARIABLES MATTER

Packaged Facts’ report Pet Population and Ownership Trends in the U.S.: Dogs, Cats and Other Pets, 2nd Edition found that where pet owners live matters when it comes to dog and cat products. That’s because how pet owners view their pets and the criteria they use when deciding which pet products to buy are closely tied to whether they live in urban areas, suburban or outer suburban locales, or rural areas.

More specifically, these groups have widely different views about pet health and nutrition. Urban pet parents are nearly twice as likely as rural pet owners to agree that their pets have special nutrition needs (45 percent versus 24 percent), and they’re even more likely to be concerned about their pets having food allergies or intolerances (51 percent versus 22 percent). Urban pet parents are much more likely than rural pet owners to agree that natural/organic pet products are often better than standard national brand products — regardless of the presence or absence of scientific support. Urban pet owners are also more likely to acknowledge that fear of pet food contamination and product safety are key concerns that influence their pet food purchases.

Shopping habits differ significantly between pet owners living in urban, suburban and rural areas, which likely reflects the choices available to them as well as their preferences. Almost two-thirds (63 percent) of urban pet owners buy pet products online compared to about one-third (32 percent) of rural pet owners, according to Packaged Facts. And when it comes to brick-and-mortar stores, more than half (52 percent) of rural pet owners purchase their pet foods at Walmart, compared with 37 percent of urban pet owners.

GETTING TO “WHY” CALLS FOR PSYCHOGRAPHIC FACTORS

Psychographics, which considers the psychology of consumer behaviors, isn’t easily measured or determined like demographics or geography. However, psychographics can provide deep insights into why consumers buy the products and services that they do. The internet and social media have made getting these insights easier than before.

The psychographic factors of greatest value when segmenting U.S. pet owners are measures of the human–pet relationship. Basically, pet owners are divided into groups based on their attachment to, attitudes toward and relationship with their pets. Three dimensions of pet ownership can help segment pet owners’ buying behaviors:

Attachment describes the degree of affection that exists between an owner and his/her pet.

Interaction is defined as the two-way partnership in which both owner and pet adjust their behavior to that of the other. It also includes the owner’s willingness to incorporate pets into his/her life and the pet’s role in the owner’s social network.

Human substitute refers to the role a pet plays in the owner’s life (e.g., substitute for a child, spouse or friend).

As a group, American pet owners in general are passionate about their furry friends, regardless of their age, income or geographic location. Not only do they see their pets as members of the family, but some owners view their pets as extensions of self and help their owners form their identities.

DOGS RULE: USING THE DOG–HUMAN RELATIONSHIP TO SEGMENT DOG OWNERS

Although dog owners vary widely in their relationships with their dogs, American dog owners are increasingly more involved with their dogs than ever before. This increased devotion has translated into several major trends, including humanization and continued growth in pet-related spending. Dogs — and pets in general — are being used to meet human needs for companionship, friendship and affection as we become more disconnected from each other. (Thank you, technology!) And because dog owners are more likely to anthropomorphize (or humanize) their pets than are cat owners, the relationships between dogs and their humans have been studied more than those of other pet species.

In a 2012 study, Boya et al.1 used shopping-related behaviors that focused on the effort and money dog owners were willing to spend to divide dog owners into a strategic segmentation scheme. Three distinct groups of dog owners resulted from the analysis:

  • Strongly attached owners believe strongly that price is no object when it comes to their dogs. They spend lots of money on special products, choose their vehicle based on owning a dog, buy premium food and make frequent visits to their veterinarians.
  • Moderately attached owners agree with most of the dog-related variables used in the survey. However, they don’t agree that price is no object and they don’t allow dog ownership to influence their vehicle purchases.
  • Basic owners appear to be concerned only with meeting their dog’s basic needs, although they do take their dogs for regular veterinary visits.

Research has also shown that dog owners, more than any other pet owners, use pet-related consumption to form their personal, social and emotional identities. Consider the pet food industry and specifically, dog food. Human food trends have historically influenced pet food, and we see evidence of that influence today. Trends such as “natural,” “free from,” functional ingredients and sustainably sourced protein aren’t just driving human food products, but they’re also driving pet food development. In addition, research has found that U.S. dog owners are more likely to buy healthy food for their dogs than for themselves, are more likely to be brand loyal in dog food versus human food, and are less sensitive to dog food prices than to human food prices.2 So it appears as dogs have become more humanized (or anthropomorphized), so has the dog food buying process.

Within the past 12 to 13 years, U.S. pet owners in general have become even more serious about their dogs’ health than their own.2 The 2007 melamine and cyanuric acid contamination scandal, the jerky treats contamination scare, and now a potential link between certain dog foods and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) has dog owners scrutinizing the quality and ingredients in their dogs’ food, carefully checking food ingredient lists and doing more research of dog food brands. All of these issues have also eroded pet owner trust and brand loyalty.

Given the influence of pet humanization on dog food buying behavior, psychographic variables related to dog owners’ relationship with their dogs can be used as a basis of meaningful market segments. Boya et al.,3 building on their previous research, found three distinct segments of dog owners in which dog owners rated their relationships with their dogs in terms of dog-oriented self-concept and anthropomorphism. Dog people strongly identify with their dogs, define themselves in terms of their relationship with their dogs and treat their dogs like people. Dog parents still anthropomorphize their dogs, who are part of the family, but are less likely to define themselves in terms of their dogs. Pet owners see their dogs as pets who are part of the family but are treated distinctly differently than are children. These dog owners are least like to humanize their pets.

The researchers then analyzed the criteria each group of dog owners used when choosing and buying dog food. Dog people put the most importance on health/nutrition, quality and freshness of their dogs’ food. These dog owners were also concerned about how the food tastes to their dogs and how much variety their dogs are getting in their diets. Dog parents placed importance on health/nutrition, quality and freshness, but their ratings were significantly lower than those of dog people. Finally, pet owners put the most importance on health/nutrition and quality, but assigned significantly lower ratings than dog parents.

Ultimately, the studies referenced here support the use of psychographic variables — the strength of the human–animal bond — to segment the diverse universe of U.S. dog owners. Adding in pet owner psychographic variables where appropriate can help you and your marketing team better understand exactly who your audience is and create products, services and communications that resonate with them. If you’d like to know more about how we can help your brands, drop us a note or give us a call.

References

  1. Boya UO, Dotson MJ, Hyatt EM. Dimensions of the dog–human relationship: A segmentation approach. J Target Meas Anal Mark. 2012;20:133-143.
  2. Tesfom G, Birch N. Do they buy for their dogs the way they buy for themselves? Psychol Mark. 2010;27:898-912.
  3. Boya UO, Dotson MJ, Hyatt EM. A comparison of dog food choice criteria across dog owner segments: an exploratory study. Int J Consum Stud. 2015;39:74-82.



They’re Not Millennials. They’re Your Audience.

As an industry, we constantly refer to millennials as a special group or subset of our audience. Gotta cater to the millennials, because they’re an up-and-coming audience! Can’t forget the buying power of millennials, the generation who treat their pets like children! We certainly talk about it here at Woodruff constantly.

Because it’s all true. We do need to cater to millennials, no matter the industry but especially in the pet industry. However, it is becoming increasingly clear (due to those pesky, uh, facts) that millennials aren’t a special audience any more. They’re the audience. All the other generations are the subsets, the outliers, the special interests. Because starting in 2019, the millennial generation is our official greatest generation. From a size standpoint, anyway.

By mid 2019, it’s expected that the number of millennials in the U.S. (73 million) will exceed our passel of baby boomers (72 million) for the first time ever, making our never-had-to-use-a-rotary-phone generation the biggest of them all. Generation X lags way behind at a mere 65 million Nirvana diehards.

Breaking the generational chains

Millennials are people aged 18 to 36, give or take a year on either end depending on who you ask.  That slams millennials firmly into the coveted “adults with spending power” demo, otherwise known as “18- to 34-year-olds,” or, more tellingly, the “Netflix and YouTube targets.” Sometime this year, our most populous generation will also be the most sought-after market in most industries, when it comes to the eyeballs we want on our advertising. Those two facts are not exclusive.

So the big question now is this: Is it even possible to target millennials as a whole? Does a male college junior have anything in common with a 34-year-old working mother of three? If you remove the generational label from the equation, you likely wouldn’t target those demographics with the same messages. So why do we talk about the entire generation as if we could target them as one? Even if they do have commonality in your business’s specific wheelhouse (say, both demos treat their pets like family members), you’d still shape messages to each differently, right?

It’s time to stop labeling millennials and start treating them like what they are: a vast sea of potential audiences for our products and services, each with its own needs and desires. In short: they’re people. Millennials are people. People with buying power.

We know how to talk to people. No labels required.

An audience is an audience is an audience

What this blog presupposes is that if we move on from vast generational labeling, we’ll be better able to focus on what we’re good at focusing on: audience segmentation and targeted messaging. There are two ways this could go. First, you get very specific from an audience standpoint. “Recent college graduates with entry-level jobs who treat pets as starter children,” or “Property owners with multiple children, loved pets and mid-level corporate positions.” Both groups could easily be labeled as millennials with a specific commonality: Pets are part of the family. But you wouldn’t speak to them the same way, would you? The recent college graduate might be more concerned with cost than the property owner, for one example.

The second way you can tackle communicating with these distinct audiences is to go broad and ignore generational context altogether, but in the exact opposite direction. If your product is, say, therapeutic dog chow, does it matter if the buyer is a 28-year-old millennial with a great job or a 75-year-old retired boomer on a pension? If it helps the arthritic pet, the caring owner will buy what you’re selling. Focus on the ultimate benefit, and everything else could fall into place.

Obviously, these are simplified looks at messaging methods. True targeted messaging (broad or specific) requires in-depth analysis and research of audience personas. The point we’re making here is that generational labels make no sense for thorough marketing. Whether your target is 36 years old (millennial) or 37 (Gen X), you either reach them the same way or you don’t; if a line exists, it’s not because of some arbitrary tag.

Backtracking is the spice of life

However. (There’s always a sentence fragment!) When it comes to how we reach millennials, we may be able to talk about the entire generation as a unit. There’s no doubt that millennials are online more than Generation X and baby boomers, whether it’s for social media, e-commerce or just plain old information consumption.

The one differentiation that makes it worth talking about millennials as a whole is that they’re just easier to get to than older generations. And now that they are the premier buying force in the world, that’s great for marketers. There are so many ways to talk to them! It’s also terrifying, because there are so many ways to reach them. So even while we can finally support painting with a broad brush, that brush has to be dipped in many colors to get our messages out there. It’s a lot of vehicles shuttling a lot of specific messages.

However (another however!), even though we’re back on the millennial label train, the tracks are leading us to say that this is the exception that proves the rule. The reason millennials are online more is because they’ve embraced technology more than their forebearers. This means that it won’t be too long before millennials aren’t the most online generation. Once Generation Z starts coming into its own, the single factor that makes it make sense to talk about millennials as a whole is nullified.

Chew on that for a while.

Labeling this blog over

When we get right down to it, money doesn’t care how old its spender is. If an audience is made up of “most people” and they are in positions to spend money on your products, why not just focus on the eggs in that basket? Yes, there are times when age and generation come into play. The hipster set likely has no interest in adult diapers or trifocals (unless their love of irony goes a little too far).

But knowing that distinction is just good marketing.




Market Segmentation — Because One Size Does Not Fit All (Part 1)

Market segmentation can be a straightforward and inexpensive process. Or, given the vast amount of data companies now have, it can become complicated and expensive. Thanks to technology, we can create “markets of one.” But making the leap to one-to-one marketing may not be right for every company or brand — now or ever. So if your focus is on market growth, you may want to rethink your market segmentation strategy first.

WHY SEGMENT YOUR MARKET?

Smart marketers know every product needs a target market. They know that a product or service can’t be everything to everyone. Market segmentation divides the market into groups that share similar characteristics and needs. Because of these similarities, group members are likely to have similar buying behaviors.

Market segmentation is a proven growth strategy for both consumer and business-to-business markets. A good segmentation model can guide every stage of the product commercialization process. Segmentation also increases a company’s profitability when it’s used to:

  • develop products and services that meet the needs of various segments
  • focus marketing resources on segments with the most potential
  • craft marketing messages that resonate with target audiences
  • set prices that optimize the balance between profitability and demand.

Companies that appropriately segment their market and understand their customers enjoy significant advantages. That includes increased profits. A Bain & Company survey found businesses whose segmentation strategies helped them tailor products to the appropriate customer segments enjoyed up to 10 percent higher profits over a five-year period than companies whose segmentation wasn’t as effective. While 81 percent of surveyed executives said customer segmentation is critical for increasing profits, only 25 percent believed their companies used it effectively.

KEEPING A FACE ON BIG DATA

Every click, like, follow, search and sale has turned people into units to be targeted, acquired, tracked and retained. In this era of big data, information may end up stripped of the real people who give it meaning. That makes it easy to lose sight of the real people behind the information. And even to forget that your goal as a marketer is to reach real people.

Yet the tenet of marketing is “know your customer.” Great market segmentation helps you understand your customers. That includes your customers’ similarities and differences, which is a fundamental step in quantifying their relationship with your product and company.

CHOOSING SEGMENT VARIABLES IS A KEY STRATEGIC DECISION

There isn’t one perfect approach to segmenting a given market. But the goal is to create distinct, relevant, identifiable and quantifiable groups.

You’re not alone if you struggle with choosing a robust segmentation strategy. Should you go with a mix of demographic variables? What about differences related to geographic factors? Should you — can you — layer psychographic factors on top? In reality, a combination of characteristics is often needed to create relevant segments.

The choice of variables is often determined by the type of product or service. But the final decision is still a strategic one. While different businesses will use different segmentation strategies, some basic attributes should include:

  • who
  • where
  • what — including what they’ve done, what they do, what they think and what they are likely to do
  • when

Geographic, demographic, behavioral and psychographic traits are used to create market segments for most products and services. Here is a brief overview of these common segmentation strategies.

Demographic segmentation

Demographic segmentation is one of the simplest, most-used approaches to market segmentation. It’s a good place for any marketing initiative to start. Demographic segmentation uses readily identifiable, objective and quantifiable traits. These characteristics may include age/generation, gender, income, family size, marital status, ethnicity and nationality, education level, occupation and religion. Demographics tell us who is buying our products and services. But they can’t explain why consumers choose one product or service over another.

Geographic segmentation

Where people live influences their needs, interests and preferences. It also guides how they interact with your company’s products and services. Geography is one of the simplest and easiest segmentation strategies for certain businesses. Geographic variables can include country, region, state, county, community, neighborhood, zip code, population density (urban, suburban or rural) and climate. You should consider geographic segmentation when a product has broad appeal and customers are concentrated in a defined location.

Psychographic segmentation

Psychographic segmentation takes into account the psychology of consumer behavior. Market-segment members share common attitudes, interests, activities, values or lifestyles. These qualities aren’t easily measured like demographic or geographic factors. But they can provide deep, rich insights that complement demographics and/or geographics. Exploring psychographics can tell us why customers buy our products and services.

The internet has made psychographic differences more important, plain and relevant, according to Alexandra Samuel, writing in the Harvard Business Review. Getting psychographic insights is easier than ever before. They’re also actionable in ways that were almost impossible before social media. Combined with today’s research, analytics and ad targeting, it’s possible to turn psychographics into the foundation of a robust product development and marketing strategy.

Behavioral segmentation

Behavioral segmentation groups consumers by how they use a product or service. In this case, your market segments share familiarity and experience with your products. Common characteristics are benefit preferences, level or frequency of use, brand loyalty, and prospect or customer status.

A combination of approaches may be most useful

Combining demographic and psychographic variables can provide a quantitative and qualitative picture of your target market. And when you combine demographics, psychographics and behaviors, you create a powerful marketing triad that can drive your company’s product development, services, channel strategy, pricing philosophy and brand messaging.

HOW MANY MARKET SEGMENTS ARE ENOUGH?

There’s no right or wrong answer to the question “How many market segments are enough?” Experience management and technology company Qualtrics recommends aiming for four or fewer segments. At the same time, research and consulting company Gartner advises clients to use as many as they need. However, Gartner is quick to note that it’s about how many segments can be used that truly matters.

To be useful, market segments must meet several criteria:

Measurable

Measurable means that your segmentation variables are quantifiable characteristics that relate directly to buying a product or service and to key performance indicators.

Identifiable

Can each segment’s needs, wants, desires or preferences be easily identified? Every customer or prospective customer must be associated with only one segment. Also, it should be possible to create a distinct persona for each segment that’s identified.

Reachable or accessible

Understanding your customers and being able to reach them are two different things. Your segments’ characteristics and behaviors should help you identify the best way to contact members and contact them efficiently.

Actionable

Actionable means that each segment is different, unique and responds distinctly to a marketing offer.

Substantial and relevant

A market segment must be large enough or wealthy enough to justify targeting it based on practical considerations such as stability, growth or durability. An identified segment should be more than interested in your products and services. Members should be potential buyers.

SEGMENTATION VERSUS TARGETING

Segmentation is the first step in a two-step process. Once you know which groups exist, you can proceed with selecting those you want to target. You may have identified a market segment, but that doesn’t mean you have to dedicate resources to it.

Market segmentation helps your team to understand who your customers are and why they buy your company’s products and services. Segmentation helps identify unmet needs and allows your company to create products and services to meet those needs. Segmentation also allows your communication team to craft messages that resonate with current customers and attract new ones.

In a future post, we’ll take a closer look at segmenting U.S. pet owners, including the addition of psychographic variables where appropriate.




Why Millennials Shouldn’t Be Your Only Focus When Marketing Pet Products

Marketers in all industries have been obsessed with targeting millennial shoppers for several years now, and pet industry marketers are no different. It makes perfect sense for pet marketers to better understand and court millennial pet owners. After all, as of 2016, 35 percent of U.S. millennials own pets, making this age demographic the largest pet-owning consumer segment, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA).

But smart marketers also know they can’t throw out the baby (boomer) with the bath water, so to speak. The same APPA survey that shows millennials overtaking boomers in pet ownership also reveals that baby boomers still account for 32 percent of U.S. pet owners in 2016 (the most current data available). In addition, they’re also bucking the trend of declining pet ownership that has historically occurred when pet owners reach age 70. And given that boomers control nearly 70 percent of U.S. disposable income, baby boomers are still substantial drivers of pet-related spending — especially in the pet food category.

BABY BOOMERS AS A PET-OWNING GENERATION

Born between 1946 and 1964, members of the baby boomer generation were 52 to 70 years old in 2016. (Note: Stats from 2016 are often used throughout this piece to make comparisons easy. More recent data may or may not be available.) Boomers are living longer — and better — than their predecessors. As a group, baby boomers have typically been on the cutting edge socially, economically and professionally. They’re still driving trends, specifically in terms of what it means to age and retire. Not only are boomers financially stable, but they’re educated, active and energetic.

One phenomenon that has accompanied American baby boomers is the explosion in pet ownership. Did you know that boomers were the first generation of Americans to bring pets into their homes and make them part of the family? That’s right, baby boomers love their pets. This generation is often credited for creating the pet industry and for being the first to “humanize” pets. As their human children have left home, baby boomers have turned their attention to and spending on their “fur kids.” These empty-nesters channeled their love for their pets into fueling triple-digit growth in the pet industry. So at this time, pet-owning baby boomers are still looking to buy pet products.

In terms of total U.S. spending, baby boomers are still the largest group at 44.9 million consumer units (CU), a term often interchanged with households but not quite the same, and the biggest spenders overall at $2.8 trillion at mid-year 2017. With that much spending at stake, it makes economic sense to aggressively market to baby boomers. Yet only 5 to 10 percent of marketing dollars are targeted toward the 50-plus demographic.

REACHING BABY BOOMER PET OWNERS

With baby boomers making up such a large segment of the pet-owning population, it’s essential for animal health and pet care industry marketers to know how to speak to baby boomers’ wants and needs. What are the best ways to reach these pet owners? The answers may surprise you.

  1. Computers and online marketing are still the way to go.

It’s a myth that people over the age of 50 aren’t spending time online. A recent Pew Research Center survey found a whopping 87 percent of 50- to 64-year-old adults report using the internet regularly. Use doesn’t drop much with age: 82 percent of adults aged 65 to 69 and 75 percent of 70- to 74-year-olds are online. Although baby boomer pet owners don’t spend as much time on the internet as millennials (3.1 vs. 3.5 hours daily), the difference is not huge — an average of 24 minutes daily — according to APPA research.

The top three online activities of baby boomers? According to a study by DMN3, they are:

  • Using search engines
  • Using email
  • Shopping for products or services

When shopping online, baby boomers report that they prefer to use computers and laptops rather than smartphones and tablets. However, a Millward Brown digital study found that one in four boomers use their smartphone to shop online.

Shopping isn’t the only thing baby boomers do online. They also visit news sites, watch video clips and seek health information, preferring to use computers and laptops over mobile devices. So before you put all your pet product eggs in the mobile basket, keep in mind that baby boomers continue to use computers for most of their internet activities.

  1. Baby boomers take their time when making buying decisions.

Part of the reason why baby boomers prefer shopping online with their computers and laptops is that they do their due diligence when researching what to buy. They’re less likely to buy things on a whim and more likely to read the fine print and understand the nitty-gritty details before making a purchase. The reading that’s required as part of this due diligence is much easier to do on a large desktop monitor than on a small smartphone screen.

Because boomers take their time when making buying decisions — and because they’ve seen it all (or almost all) — it’s important that marketers be authentic, transparent and trustworthy. Gimmicky marketing tactics that rely on impulse are less effective for this generation. Instead, pet industry marketers need to provide convincing reasons why your product or service is worth baby boomers’ consideration.

  1. They’re not afraid to read. Don’t be afraid to let them.

With so many people having short attention spans, using large blocks of text has become taboo in many marketing circles. Many marketers are using more emotion-provoking videos and pictures in place of text, which is a great approach when marketing to younger generations. Baby boomers, however, grew up reading newspapers, magazines and books, not just for news but for fun. You can still use concise copy when marketing to pet-owning baby boomers, but they also appreciate having things spelled out. At the same time, give them the opportunity to dig into the details if they choose. Just don’t bother with a lot of slang or short abbreviations.

  1. The best online marketing channel for boomers is search engines.

For online marketing to baby boomers, there’s no more effective channel than search engines. In a study done by DMN3, boomers were asked about actions taken as a result of watching videos online, using social media or using search engines. Search engine use prompted a greater percentage of baby boomers to take a variety of additional actions, including making a purchase, than social media or online videos. That makes search engine optimization (SEO), proper keyword targeting and content marketing important tools to have in your marketing mix.

  1. Don’t completely ignore social media when marketing to baby boomers.

Think baby boomers don’t “get” Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter or Instagram? Think again.

Yes, search engines are effective at getting boomers to take action, but don’t overlook social media as another way to target pet-owning baby boomers. The vast majority of boomers have at least one social media account, with YouTube and Facebook being the most popular. Social media sites like Facebook allow marketers to narrow their target market and focus on specific segments of the population. This makes targeting baby boomers very convenient for marketers.

  1. The best offline marketing channels to reach baby boomers are traditional ones.

Baby boomers were the first U.S. generation to grow up with television, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they still engage with traditional media outlets like TV, radio, newspapers and magazines. According to APPA research, boomers spend an average of 3.1 hours per day watching TV, the same amount of time that they spend online. In addition, the DMN3 study mentioned earlier found that TV was the most significant influence in getting boomers to search online for information and better than friends and spouse/significant other.

  1. Choose your words wisely when marketing to baby boomers.

Baby boomers may be aging, but they don’t consider themselves to be old. In fact, being called “old” is among the pet peeves of this generation. So when marketing to this segment, be very aware of how your messages are framed — just be sure to integrate age-appropriate visuals in marketing materials.

SEGMENTATION IS KEY

Like nearly every other consumer category, the pet care audience includes boomers. They’re a diverse group — not unlike millennials — who are educated, active and healthy. And at this time, many boomers are still working, frequently full time. Appropriate segmentation of pet owners — by life stage and other factors — will be key to getting the right message to the right audience at the right time.




Expert Conversations: Who, exactly, is rescuing whom?

Welcome to a special National Dog Week edition of “Expert Conversations!” Today we offer a special Q&A with Samantha Randall, YouTuber, podcaster and editor-in-chief at Top Dog Tips. Samantha is an experienced rescuer of dogs and cats, priding herself on providing furrever families to pets in need. There’s no better expert to chat with this week.

Tell us about your family of rescues.

Right now we have two dogs and five cats! We just got our newest feline rescue about two weeks ago. Our chocolate Labrador, Sadie, is three years old. She came from a group of 48 dogs and puppies that were rescued from a puppy mill. We also have a beagle/cocker spaniel mix, Molly. She is two years old and came to us as a foster puppy after her litter was dropped off at a local shelter in the middle of the night. After a few days with Molly, we knew she had found her forever home and we contacted the shelter to start the adoption process.

The cats were a happy accident. We never had pet cats when I was a child. When my daughter first asked for a cat, we didn’t know what to say. At the time, we were living in an apartment, so we told her we didn’t have enough room for a cat. The following year we bought our own home out in the country on 15 acres of land. Not surprisingly, my daughter asked for a cat when we were tucking her in on our very first night in the new house. Of course, she had to point out that we now had plenty of room for a cat. That weekend we went to a local shelter that was overrun with cats at the time. That’s how we got Oliver. Two months after we adopted him, our youngest daughter, a fan of Minnie Mouse, really wanted a black-and-white cat that she would name Figaro. So, my husband and I set out to find a black and white Christmas kitty, and we found our Figaro at a shelter a few towns away. He’d been mistreated in his previous home and was very shy. I’m sure our daughter would have been much happier if we had brought home a cat that was loving and affectionate, but we knew Figgy needed some TLC. We have now had him for four years. About six months later we adopted Anna. Elsa came to us terribly malnourished and had the worst case of fleas I had ever seen. Our newest edition is Otis, who had a stable home until he was five, then was in and out of the shelter multiple times because of bad luck.

Why did you first rescue a dog?

My family rescued many dogs when I was a child. I got to see firsthand how love and affection can change the life of a dog (and a human for that matter!) Many of our rescue dogs touched my life, and I will never forget the impact that our family had on them and the impact they had on our family. Someone once gave me a bumper sticker that said, “Who rescued who?” with a bunch of paw prints on it. That bumper sticker is still stuck to the mirror of my vanity and I look at it every day. The first couple of years that I lived on my own, I didn’t have the time to care for a dog. As soon as I graduated college and got my first teaching job, I knew I wanted another rescue dog in my life. That spiraled out of control quite quickly, as you can tell! Thankfully, I married a wonderful man who cares about animals as much as I do. Our “farm” grows bigger every year, but each of our rescues have their own needs and their own personalities. We love them all equally and each one plays their own special role in our family.

Do you see yourself ever stopping the rescue effort?

I don’t think our days of rescuing animals are anywhere close to being over. I always think that our home and our budget aren’t big enough for any more animals. But, the truth is, if there is an animal in need that we can help, we’ll probably do it. As long as the animal is a good fit for our family, they’re welcome in our home. We’ve fostered a lot of animals over the years as well, because some just aren’t a good match for us. The sense of pride and the satisfaction that you feel when you rescue an animal cannot be compared to anything else, whether you keep the animal in your home forever or foster it until the right forever family comes along. It really is the gift that keeps on giving. When you rescue an animal, you will feel good about it every single day for the rest of your life. Every time you look at your pet, you’ll know that you saved his or her life. Sometimes, I tear up just thinking about where some of our pets would be if we hadn’t rescued them. Would anyone else have paid the vet bills to help little Elsa or would she have died? Would our dogs have found a forever home or been bounced around from one place to the next? Knowing that we are making a difference for these animals is the best feeling in the world!

Why is rescuing dogs and working with shelters helpful in the greater scheme?

When you rescue a dog, you’re actually saving two dogs. Not only are you taking one animal into your home, you’re also making room for the shelter to help another homeless pet. Shelters cannot do the good work that they do every day without help from their community and volunteers. These are nonprofit organizations. All the money and donated items that they receive goes back to helping the animals that they care for. Even if you don’t have the time or money to adopt a pet, you can give back by volunteering at your local shelter for a few hours per week or donating some supplies on their wish list. Even if you’re allergic to animals, you can still help out a shelter. They need volunteers to clean, organize fundraisers, do clerical work in the office, etc… You can help out without actually interacting with the animals. The bottom line is that ANYONE can be of help to a shelter or animal rescue organization!

Is it hard to convince someone to adopt from a shelter instead of a breeder or mill?

It depends on the person, but yes, it can be difficult. I find that the people who are hardest to convince are the ones who have their heart set on a purebred dog. Many of them don’t even realize that they can adopt a purebred dog instead of purchasing one from a breeder. Yes, it will probably take longer to find the right dog for you, but it can be done. There are rescue organization all around the country that specialize in certain breeds. If you really want a Labrador retriever, look for a rescue organization that only takes in Labs. The only way to stop irresponsible breeders and puppy mills is to stop buying their animals. When you do that, you’re just giving that breeder more money and incentive to breed more dogs.

How will you celebrate National Dog Week?

With my dogs, of course! We live in Maine, and the nice weather will soon be leaving us. Within the next eight weeks or so, we’ll be snowed in and temperatures will be too cold to spend a lot of time outside. We’ll be celebrating National Dog Week by taking a hike to check out the beautiful fall foliage and probably taking our Labrador for one last swim before the ice comes. Our dogs also love going to our local ice cream shop for a “dog bone sundae,” so we’ll likely spoil them with one to celebrate.


Samantha Randall With Her Dogs

 

SAMANTHA RANDALL
Editor-in-Chief
Top Dog Tips

 





Why Dogs are the Pack Leaders in the Booming Pet Industry

When it comes to pet industry sales, dogs lead the pack, paws down. We’ll prove it with numbers in a bit, but first, allow us to simply point out how enthusiastic people are during National Dog Week.

Simply put: A lot of people own a lot of dogs. And they love caring for them. This translates to sales that have pet brands barking at the moon.

But we promised numbers. So here are some numbers.

According to the American Pet Products Association:

  • 2 million American households own at least one dog
  • That’s 89.7 million dogs
  • Which is why 2018 is expecting to see $72 billion spent on pet food, supplies, medication and services
  • That’s a lot of people happily buying a lot of stuff.

These numbers are exciting for anyone in the pet industry. The sheer amount of pet dogs in the U.S. clearly contributes to the pet industry’s massive numbers overall. But aside from population, what is it about dogs that makes our industry hum so healthily? Here are five reasons.

1. Again with the millennials

We talk about millennials a lot around here. And here and here. But there’s a reason we continually discuss how important our beardiest generation is to the pet industry. They’re officially our biggest audience. According to Pet Food Industry, millennials loped past baby boomers sometime in 2017 to become the largest percentage of pet owners (35 percent of all pets are owned by millennials, compared to 32 percent by boomers). They’re young, they have money, they’re delaying children and using dogs as a proxy. It’s a great scenario for peddlers of pup products.

However, the boom in pet sales isn’t only credited to the social media set. The entire face of dog ownership is changing. Even as baby boomers ceded the number one slot to the kiddos, that audience also expanded. There are a few reasons for that. First, it’s easier now to target specific products to specific audiences. So as boomers get older and start gazing at retirement and downsizing their lives, they start wondering about the hassle of owning a pet. Maybe a big lab isn’t the best thing for a townhome in Florida or a retirement home in Pasadena.

Whereas a thought like that might previously have eliminated a dog from that person’s personal equation, now we have an entire subset of the industry devoted to small breed dogs. They have their own food, their own toys, their own social media threads…owning a dog can be as manageable as owning a cat. And, more importantly, it’s easy to tell the audience this. Advances in packaging, product customization and even available food portion sizes mean that owning a teacup-size pup is no longer exotic.

In short: owing a dog is more inclusive than ever, no matter how old you are or where you live.

2. Dogs cost more than other pets

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a small dog will cost you $1,314 in the first year, a medium dog $1,580, and a large dog will run you $1,843 bones that first year.

pet care cost

Source: ASPCA,  https://www.aspca.org/

 

Cats, on the other hand, will cost you $1,035 in the first year. Rabbits, $1,055. Guinea pigs land at $705. (Wait. Who spends $700 on a guinea pig?!?!)

There are reasons for these discrepancies. Dogs go to the vet more often than cats.  That means more money spent at the vet, more medicine, maybe more after-care. There are also more…things to spend your money on for dog lovers. Doggy daycare. Doggy spas. Gourmet dog treats. FitBits, for dog’s sake. All off this stuff exists in some way for cats as well, but it is far less prevalent. And let’s be honest: Cats don’t give a purr.

3. Health and wellness advances make for a well and healthy industry

About that vet care. Dog owners are way more hands-on with health issues than they used to be. This is in large part because of advances in the pet health industry, available meds and just better health care options. But a lot of it is a choice. More people consider pets to be family, which means that more attention is paid to ailments. Obesity in dogs, while prevalent, is an actual social issue now. Aging and arthritis can be treated with supplements, so when Rufus. T. Doggins start slowing down, we don’t just have to watch him waste away. And the strong trend of preventive care means than maybe we can hold that arthritis off, anyway.

It’s not that we’d ignore these issues in the past; it’s just that there wasn’t much to be done. An old dog was an old dog. Now, that old dog can be offered some new tricks. And that means more money spent.

4. Other industries are joining the dog party

When there’s money to be spent, any industry will have hangers-on. The pet care industry is no different. When people (those millennials again) start making their vehicle decisions with pet-based criteria, car companies took notice. The dog goes on the vacation now, and hotels cater to that impulse, and if they don’t, there are entire resorts built for dogs and their people. There is special bedding for people who (rightfully) let Rufus sleep in bed.

Dogs can be your cameraman when you take them on adventures, and the adventure options are plentiful. The auto, tech, travel and linen industries are in bed with pets. This money isn’t going anywhere!

5. Hugging it out, tail or no tail

Possibly the most important reason dogs are kind of a big deal these days is the emotional impact they have on the people with the wallets. It’s just science that having a pet makes you feel better. They make you happier. They make you more physically fit. These two states combine to make healthy, happy people who have an object of affection to shower with gifts.

As marketers, this is a best-case scenario. Happy National Dog Week!




Go Pro: Take Your Social Media Issues Management from Reactive to Proactive

So you’ve studied up on social media for pet brands, and more specifically, how to be aware of viral posts so you can go into issues management mode. You know in this digital age that you can’t afford to be antisocial, so you’re following best practices for responding to customers when they complain on your Facebook page, @ you on Twitter or post negative product reviews on Instagram.

You’ve got a sound game plan — but that’s not enough to make your brand a true champion. For long-term success, you also need a more proactive approach to issues management rather than a reactive stance. After all, you can’t rise above the competition when you’re constantly on the defense.

Reactive to proactive issues management GIF

Going pro won’t eliminate your need to react to social media issues, but it will certainly make it easier to win over fans in the midst of a crisis situation. With the right combination of content strategy and distribution, your brand can reap the benefits of going pro: building trust in your audience and diminishing the impact of issues when they do arise.

To Establish Authority, Tackle Hot Topics Head-On

One of the dangers of a reactive mindset is that it makes brands afraid to broach certain topics. Ask any social media manager what they’d never post about on one of their managed channels, and they’ll surely have a list of taboos, like the negatives of raw feeding or how to cope with your dog’s gastrointestinal issues.

All of these topics may seem out of bounds because by posting them on social, you run the risk of fans running amuck in the comments, smack-talking your brand. But down the line when you’re dealing with a viral post about a particularly bad case of doggy diarrhea or the like, you’ll wish you had put out that blog about possible causes of digestive distress.

When you don’t seed your channels with solutions-oriented content that broaches hot topics, you have nothing to rely on when you need it most: in the face of a related issue. Share the content proactively, and it will feel more authentic when you leverage it later.

Ensure Your Content Types Are Digestible

When you’re ready to tackle those previously off-limits topics in your content, you should also take a step back and think about how you’ll tackle them.

Proactive content must be shareable on social media, both in terms of function (e.g., sized for the appropriate platform) and user experience (e.g., easily understood by your target audience).

This means you have to explore different formats to ensure your proactive content is digestible. Maybe white papers have been your primary means of communicating with your customers — but it’s time to translate those into more bite-sized checklists, blog posts or e-blasts. More technical topics might be better understood when distilled into visual formats, like infographics or short videos.

Food Storage Infographic; an example of a proactive tool used in issues management

Think about your audience and what sorts of content they engage with most on your social channels, then adjust, test and refine your content strategy as needed to maximize performance.

Reevaluate Distribution to Perfect Your Playbook

Speaking of your audience, you have to be sure that your proactive content is actually reaching them. It’s not just the how to consider, but also the where and when.

If you have a sizeable sea of complaints on Twitter and your brand doesn’t have a presence there, it might be time to sign up, start responding and seed the channel with your proactive posts. Maybe you need third-party support in the form of influencers, bloggers or media to sow your content (after all, consumers trust other sources more than brands). Or you might tap in to Facebook groups to distribute your content to pet-obsessed consumers.

You should also evaluate how often you share your content. Thanks to algorithm changes, a one-and-done approach won’t work. Your content is bound to get lost if it’s only shared upon publication. Share it strategically by studying when certain questions or complaints have arisen historically. Review analytics to see what percentage of your audience actually sees and engages with your content, then consider paid social tactics to further amplify key content. Put equal efforts into proactive content creation and distribution to ensure your proactivity pays off.

Your Bench Is Deeper Than You Think

This all might seem like a lot to execute, but chances are your roster is already there — you just need to bring key players to the huddle. Talk to your PR, social media, marketing, customer service, sales reps and even retailers to get a sense of what questions they’re fielding constantly. Create a prioritized list of what issues you need to center content around, then use more insights from those key players, like when and where these questions arise, to refine your content and distribution strategies.

And hey, if you need a backup QB, we’re here to offer our expertise.




When the Sh*t Hits Your Fans: Social Media Issues Management for Pet Products

We’ve said it before and we’re saying it again: for pet brands and people alike, social media is no longer a land of sunshine and rainbows (or rainbow-tailed cat memes). Once brands started entering the social game, people took note and embraced an entirely new channel for reaching out with questions — and often, complaints.

This evolution means that it’s not enough to post fun pet pictures and ignore the complaints in your inbox. Customers have spoken, and social platforms like Facebook and Twitter are key channels for customer complaints, per social media management tool Sprout Social:

Source: “Call-Out Culture: People, Brands and the Social Media Power Struggle,” Sprout Social, https://sproutsocial.com/insights/data/q3-2017/

 

If your team isn’t equipped to deal with customer complaints on social media, they can quickly escalate into larger issues that impact other areas of your business. They might even reach crisis level.

So what’s a pet brand to do with the breeding ground that is social media? You may not be able to stop a post from catching fire — actually, chances are this will be nearly impossible — but you can keep a close eye on the posts rolling in and see if they exhibit four telltale signs of snowballing from a small-scale issue to a system-wide crisis. These four signs mark the viral tipping point; here’s a rundown of each.

 

Viral Tipping Point Sign #1: Post Origin

            We hate to break it to you, but chances are that the posts that are most likely to cause the biggest customer service headaches are also least likely to be made on your owned channels. Rather than posting to your Facebook wall or sending you a direct message on Twitter, most social media complaints will be lodged on personal profiles. This could be a photo shared from a personal Facebook profile but shareable to the larger public, a clever tweet complete with your branded hashtag, some misinformation shared in a Facebook group or Reddit thread, or a particularly negative review posted on Consumer Affairs or Dog Food Advisor.

Wherever the post is, it’s probably not on the pages you manage day in and day out, which makes your social listening and monitoring strategy all the more important. It’s crucial that you have the right tools in place to keep an eye (or ear?) on the chatter occurring on non-owned channels. And keep in mind that due to privacy restrictions that vary by platform, you may not even have access to see or respond to every post. Facebook keeps personal profiles and groups off the grid for brands, meaning you won’t be notified about posts unless you’re tagged in them. Twitter, Instagram and other platforms make content more discoverable but still present limitations depending on the privacy settings of individual users.   

 

Viral Tipping Point Sign #2: Timing

Social posts that escalate tend to be made at the wrong place for brands — and also at the wrong time. By this, we mean that it’s almost as if customers pick the most inconvenient times to publish those destined-to-be-viral posts. This might include weeknight evenings when your customer service team isn’t manning the phones, holidays like Memorial Day when your social media team isn’t monitoring your channels, or Sunday at 12:45 a.m. when they’re tending to a sick pet at the emergency vet. Posts made in these off hours are at greater risk of taking flight because they may go unnoticed by your team even as they’re racking up likes and shares.

In social media, timeliness is key, and hours of silence from a brand can cost a lot. A survey conducted by Convince & Convert found that 32 percent of customers who contact a brand on social media for customer service expect a response within 30 minutes and 42 percent expect one within 60 minutes. Thus, it’s essential that your team is prepared to respond as soon as possible.

Even without a 24/7 response team, you can equip your brand for success with a little preparation, such as having preapproved responses and FAQs drafted, or standardized best practices for response writing.

 

Viral Tipping Point Sign #3: Passion

Almost all customer complaints — regardless of channel — have one thing in common: emotion. When a pet parent takes to social media to share their concerns, they are often sad or angry. They may be dealing with an animal that’s very ill or even mourning a pet that passed away. When a poster is highly emotional, their passion shows in their post and resonates with others. In fact, a 2012 Journal of Marketing Research study found that content that makes people angry is 34 percent more likely to go viral.

Consider the first two tipping point signs the tinder, and passion the fuel — with emotions in place, a post is much more likely to catch fire. Your brand can’t eliminate the anger, fear or anguish the customer emotes in their post, but you can do your best to respond with empathy and present a clear, committed solution.

 

Viral Tipping Point Sign #4: Engagement

For pet brands, social platforms can be doubly dangerous; not only are customers given a digital soapbox to make their not-so-nice opinions about your product known, but they’re also rewarded by algorithms as their complaints rack up engagement. As posts are shared, commented on, reacted to and retweeted, they show up more prominently on the social networks, sparking the digital wildfire that your brand can’t always contain.

It’s totally possible for a post to have the first three signs of the viral tipping point but never quite gain momentum because eyes just aren’t on it. When a post meets the first three criteria and starts to snowball in terms of engagement, you know you have an issue on your hands — one that can spread beyond social to burden your customer service team, sales reps, and even your retail partners who may have to deal with concerned customers or increased returns.

That’s why tracking post engagement is crucial. Knowing the volume of increase in shares can help you understand the magnitude of the situation, ensuring you’re prepared to respond in kind. You’ll be able to better anticipate issues that may spread into other areas of your business and better contain them.

 

When Digestive Issues Turn into Business Issues

With more and more pet parents adopting a self-diagnosis mentality and distrust in pet food brands growing with each new recall, it’s in your company’s best interests to take these four signs to heart. Know them, recognize them and take action when they come across your social feeds. Or, even better, take the time now to do some preparation before issues crop up.

Once you know the signs that herald a larger-scale issue, you can better help your brand recover. But you’ll never quite move on if you’re always in the defensive position. In our next issues management-focused post, we’ll cover how to make the transition from reactive to proactive, positioning your brand as a trusted authority through your content.

In the meantime, we can provide some help when it comes to arming your team with the issues management tools and processes you need — check out our resources on the topic.

 




Changing your own oil: The pros and cons of bringing your marketing in-house

Why hire a mechanic to change your oil when you can do it yourself? The benefits are numerous: You don’t have to make an appointment. You don’t have to leave your house. You don’t have to deal with any outside costs. Simply put, you have more control when you do your own wrenching.

Unfortunately for those who crank the bolts in the agency world, lots of companies are starting to once again “change their own brakes.” As digital-focused marketing efforts become more of the norm (and, therefore, easier to accomplish with fewer resources), we’re seeing more and more companies take at least a portion of their marketing efforts in-house. It’s not out of the ordinary to see a company who traditionally partnered with a full-service agency to employ a graphic designer, social media manager, copywriter or developer. And because those positions are often filled by the same person, the barrier to entry is smaller than it’s ever been. It’s easier than ever for a single employee to deploy a lot of marketing messages, thanks to the rise of digital.

Marketing: democratized?

So. Say a client comes to us and asks whether they should hire Debbie in accounting’s nephew, because he made a video in college that Logan Paul name-dropped and now he has a million followers. What would we recommend? In a results-oriented business, it’s hard to argue with results. We always have our clients’ best interests at heart, so no matter what we would recommend the direction we felt would work best. But even when in-house work makes sense, there are some things to be cautious about.

We are old pros at this. So let’s talk about the cons of bringing it all in-house.

  • Overhead costs like salaries, benefits, software, hardware, subscriptions, memberships, certifications can eventually lead to efficiencies, especially if the business prospers.
  • The “we do what we do” mentality is a very real thing. Without outside opinions, it’s easy to stick the same people in the same role over and over again. And over time, that can lead to a lack of new ideas and a dearth of creativity.
  • Too much focus on one business or product line thanks again to a lack of fresh eyes from the outside.
  • Internal marketing teams who wear a lot of hats can quickly get stretched thin. And they might get too deep into the weeds to even recognize that fact!

The good news for agencies (and our clients!) is that it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing when working with a marketing agency. In the more than 25 years that we’ve been changing our clients’ oil, Woodruff has been a partner of many different colors. We’ve worked with a number of clients for 10 or more years, managing all aspects of their marketing efforts. With other clients, we’ve handled one or two aspects of their business while their in-house marketing team handled other segments of their promotion efforts. No matter what the arrangement, collaboration is our priority. In the end, we want the best for our clients. Internal or external, we all win if the client succeeds.

We’ve worked with companies to lay a solid brand and marketing foundation, which led to big revenues, which led them to hire a marketing staff in-house. Sure, a successful internal team may lead to a lighter workload for the agency, but chances are that more success for your business means more work for us, one way or another. It’s a chance we’ll always take! Long story short: There are lots of ways to work with an agency. And they all have pros and (shudder) cons, depending on your needs.

The pros of the pros

Agencies live and breathe marketing. Being good at our business is all we do, so it’s easier for us to keep up on marketing trends and efficiencies (for example) that make our clients successful. Meanwhile, our clients are free to focus on the actual business of being in business.

Agencies wield the power of staffing. Even the most specialized agency features people with a variety of backgrounds and talents who have worked clients across industries. This range of experience leads to new perspectives, approaches and, most importantly, insights.

Expertise is cherished at an agency. Ideally you pick an agency that knows your target market or industry because they feature people who know your audience inside and out. Now, this may seem in opposition to our last point, but they really work hand-in-hand. A marketing exec who specializes in pet health, for instance, certainly isn’t hurt by regular exposure to agriculture. He or she just has a broader range of experience to apply to your business. Specialty doesn’t mean exclusive.

Potential cost savings is an important benefit of an agency. Sure, that hourly rate can be terrifying, but is it as terrifying as another full-time employee’s benefits package? Obviously, every case has nuances. But hiring the specialists to handle full-time the things that a full-timer would possibly only work on part-time is a benefits package all by itself.

The possible not-so-good

Onboarding an agency can take time. When partnering with a new agency, you need to have patience as you build a relationship. A thorough agency will take the time to get to know you, your goals, your favorite bands, your wants and your needs. If you need to rush to market or need to hit a revenue goal immediately, a new agency relationship could cause you frustration.

Time is money to an agency. Changes to scope or shifts in focus can sometimes lead to increased costs, so clear expectations on both sides is a must-have conversation. Unexpected changes or shifts in focus can directly impact the bottom line.

The ins and outs of internal vs. external

Can you have internal and external marketing squads? You know it. The long and short of it is that agencies, like any other business, come in all shape and sizes. If you have a small in-house marketing team that is really good at one or two things, but you need help with additional marketing channels or expertise, there’s an agency that can help you. Some agencies focus on one or two specific marketing verticals, while others, like Woodruff, are a full-service marketing agency that can help with whatever needs you may have.

Changing your own oil doesn’t mean you have to build your own engine. Likewise, if you’re into the long-term projects like the scratch-built hot rod but don’t have time for the day-to-day wrench cranking, there’s help out there. Even a full-service agency can often tailor a program for your business.

It all comes down to the right fit for you. If you’d like to kick the tires on some external marketing assistance (or on extended metaphors), give us a call.




Pet industry evolution on display at Global Pet Expo 2018

As a leading marketing communications firm specializing in pet care and animal health, Woodruff attends most major pet care/pet health conferences. Every conference is a great opportunity to meet, network, gather, observe, and learn; in short, we like to stay on top of the field that we know and love. And if we also get an excuse to spend three days in Columbus, Ohio, well, SCORE!

We recently attended Global Pet Expo in Orlando (March 21–23), our second trip to Mickey’s home in less than a month (we also attended the VMX Conference in February). As always, Pet Expo did not disappoint. With around 7,000 pet products buyers from around the world converging on the Orlando Convention Center, there was a lot to see and absorb. The 344,000 sq. ft. trade show floor featured more than 1,100 exhibitors showcasing thousands of innovative products and—perhaps most importantly to us—3,000 new products to examine and ponder.

And ponder we did!

Woodruff’s four key observations from Global Pet Expo

There was a lot to see and do, and it was impossible to see and do it all. Not that we didn’t try, but if we were to have spent every single minute of the show simply meeting with every exhibitor, we’d have had to cut every meeting to about 1 minute, 45 seconds. In contrast, if an exhibitor had spoken with every show attendee back-to-back-to-back-to-back ad infinitum, each conversation would have lasted about 22 seconds. No one can absorb it all, but we did our best to sponge up enough that we could knowledgeably talk about the high points.

So let’s kick off with the highest point. So to speak.

Cannabidiol pet products are more than a smokescreen

It might sound like we’ve been smoking something, but cannabis oil (CBD) was a big hit in Orlando. The substance has proven to have extraordinary medicinal properties, and products made with CBD have been adept at addressing seemingly every aliment known to dog and cat-kind, from arthritis and other joint issues, to cancer and epilepsy, to skin, coat and allergy issues and gastrointestinal tract problems.

While there’s still a perception issue about CBD-based pet products, it’s only a matter of time before it’s a widely accepted alternative to a number of pet products. Companies like Diamond CBD strive to research and develop innovative CBD hemp extracts and to make them accessible to pets worldwide. Diamond CBD’s MediPets line is 100 percent natural, contains all-organic natural flavoring, and is non-toxic CBD for pets of all ages, shapes and sizes.

The ever-competitive world of pet food continues to evolve

With more than $70 billion in sales last year, the pet food industry is more competitive than ever, meaning that it’s harder (and more important) than ever to stand out in a crowd. To thrive—if not simply survive—a brand needs to find a niche, an unclaimed and/or unexplored angle. Or at least to get in on the ground floor of one of those angles. This trend was on display with blinking neon lights at the Pet Expo this year.

The continued humanization of pets was a trend that many brands are leaning into. As we’ve noted over and over again, millennials especially tend to be more concerned with the quality of food their pets eat than what they themselves eat. Organic, natural, superfood, broth—quality is firmly on the minds of pet food brands.

Not that this is a huge switch from recent trends. In fact, according to a report by GFK published by Pet Business Magazine, natural and organic made up 71 percent of nutritional pet food sales in 2017 alone.

Brands appear to be anticipating a demand for more options with natural and/or limited ingredients, and rightfully so. According to a recent Nielsen study, 72 percent of cat and dog owners prefer foods without genetically modified ingredients, and 58 percent of cat owners and 66 percent of dog parents prefer foods with organic ingredients.

Tech isn’t tech; it’s the norm

If Pet Expo showed us that the food industry is evolving, it showed that tech is Big Banging. What might have seemed “space-aged” three years ago is the norm today. It’s not just the advancement of technology that impressed us; it’s the acceptance of that technology. At Pet Expo, a collar isn’t just a collar. A leash isn’t just a leash. A toy isn’t just a toy. Pet products have to pull double-duty.

For instance, the Global Pet Products Petronics Mousr, a Pet Expo New Product Award Winner isn’t just a cat toy. It’s a toy with artificial intelligence that learns, giving your cat a different experience every time he or she plays. The days of the sand-filled, vaguely mouse-shaped sack seem to be gone.

Along the same lines, Garmin, a brand not typically known for pet products, has evolved the collar. Not only has the GPS company dipped its toes into bark training, the new version of its BarkLimiter records and reports bark activity (barktivity?) to the dog’s owner. Garmin also now offers a collar that lets you train your dog . . . through the magic of the internet. It’s a little Big Brotherish, but in a world where we’re all connected at all times, why would we exclude our pets?

The straight poop on cat litter

Unless you’re, uh, in deep, you don’t give much thought to kitty litter. It’s just scented silica for the most part, right? Well, despite the fact that it’s a mature market—or maybe because of that—cat litter has seen an elaborate jump in innovations, as long-standing brands jockey for new positions.

Packaged Facts estimates that retail channel pet supplies sales (excluding pet food) reached $16 billion in 2016, with cat litter accounting for approximately 17 percent of that total. Sales of cat litter will continue along their modest but steady growth trajectory to approach $3 billion at retail by 2021.

Today’s pet owners, millennials in particular, are concerned about the safety of what goes into their animals more than ever, so it stands to reason that they’re also concerned about the safety of where they put what comes out. As such, cat owners are seeking out more natural options that are safe for their pets and more eco-friendly, and that’s where long-standing brands can look to stand out. It’s not just clay and silica anymore. Natural, more environment-friendly products were all the rage at Pet Expo, with litter made from anything from walnut shells to wood chips infused with green tea extract.

To 2018 and beyond

The strong emotional bond Americans have with their pets was the driving force at Global Pet Expo 2018. That trend will continue to drive industry sales for the foreseeable future. The humanization of pets has turned pet owners into pet parents, and the human-animal bond continues to strengthen. U.S. spending on pets continues to hit all-time highs, and over the next few years, solid increases in research and development expenditures are expected, ensuring a steady stream of new and innovative pet and animal health care products needed by pet owners to keep animals healthy and happy.