Person sitting next to dog

Base market segments on pet owner psychographics to divide and profit

The pet care industry is big business in the United States, with owners spending nearly $67 billion on their pets in 2016. Americans’ deepening identification with their pets — particularly their dogs — offers substantial opportunities for marketers across a wide range of industries. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 68 percent of U.S. households own a pet of some type, so it’s more than likely that you’ll reach a pet owner no matter who you’re targeting with your marketing. But while more than two-thirds of the country’s consumers are also pet owners, they aren’t all alike — not even in their attachment to their pets.

How you segment the pet owner market — the demographic, geographic and psychographic variables you use — can help your marketing team better understand exactly who your audience is in order to create products, services and communications that resonate with them. Taking a closer look at your segmentation strategy and adding in pet lifestyle variables will help you get there.

Humanization trend encourages use of psychographic segmentation

The humanization (or anthropomorphism) of pets in recent decades has done more than shape consumer behavior; it has resulted in a lifestyle — often called a “pet lifestyle” — that marketers can use to better engage their pet-owning customers. Pet lifestyle, or psychographic, segmentation is a powerful strategy that moves beyond differences between pet owners and non-pet owners and between dog versus cat owners to segmenting U.S. pet owners into meaningful groups based on their attachment to, attitudes toward and relationship with their pets.

Business and consumer research supports the use of psychographics for segmenting pet owners. For example, Boya et al1 found three clear-cut segments of dog owners during an exploratory study in which more than 500 dog owners rated key dimensions of their dog-human relationship — 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 see their dogs as an integral part of the family, but are less likely to define their personal and social identities in terms of their dogs. Pet owners in the Boya et al study see their dogs primarily as pets who are part of the family but are treated distinctly differently than are children. Segmenting the universe of pet owners according to the strength of their attachment to their pet, as in the referenced study, enables marketers to create emotional connections with pet owners by talking with them in terms of how they think about themselves and their pets.

Other research has also demonstrated that consumers bond with their companion animals in ways that resemble relationships with other people — although their relationships with their pets may be more consistent and reliable than their human relationships! Considering dog owners specifically — because research shows dog owners are more likely to anthropomorphize their pets than cat owners — many of them report attachments to their dogs that are as strong as their relationships with their best friends, children and spouses. And new market research shows that, in some families, dogs are more than family members — they’re actually “kings (or queens) of the family.” These dogs are the first in the household to be pampered, and their owners report that these dogs’ diets are healthier and higher in quality than the diets of human family members.

Segmenting a consumer group as diverse as pet owners

With an audience as large as “U.S. pet owners,” it’s nearly impossible to make blanket assumptions or statements about them if you want useful, targeted messaging to individual segments. Almost anyone of any age can have a dog, cat or other pet: unmarried millennials, families with kids, dual-income couples and aging baby boomers. Socioeconomic class also has little to do with people’s connections to pets.

Segmenting the U.S. pet-owning population using demographic and geographic variables is appropriate, but has its limits. When marketing to pet owners, a substantial amount of emphasis has been placed on segmentation by the demographics of generation (age), gender and income, as well as the geographic variables of rural, suburban and urban localities. For good reason. Millennials are now the largest group of pet owners, with baby boomers a close second. Clear generational differences in the way pet owners spend money have emerged in recent years. Surveys show baby boomers spend time and money on premium pet products purchased at pet specialty stores, while millennial pet owners look for bargains online, although they have the same discriminating attitude about what’s best for their animal companions.

Psychographic (attitudinal) variables help you recognize differences in how pet owners think, what they value and how they behave. Using psychographic factors in conjunction with demographic and geographic variables is even better because it can provide the most detailed characterization of your target market, as a recently released report from Packaged Facts hints. Their new analysis of the U.S. pet population and ownership trends highlights not only the traits that pet owners have in common, but identifies differences among pet owners that create both challenges and opportunities for marketers and retailers. These differences can be used by savvy marketers to create better personas and, subsequently, greater emotional connections with their target audiences. That’s the value of detailed pet owner market segments. Segmentation and the personas derived from them can suggest different strategies, tactics and messages to engage pet owners.

RELATED: Getting to Know Your Customers: Audience Personas

If you want to use pet lifestyle segmentation in conjunction with demographic and geographic variables, your company will likely need to invest either time or dollars in research:

  1. Analyzing data you have already about your existing customers
  2. Conducting market research specific to your products and brands
  3. Purchasing data from one of the market research firms that specializes in the pet industry

An agency partner with market research capabilities and expertise can help you analyze customer data, recommend and execute a wide range of target market studies, and apply learnings from secondary research to your specific brands and products. Data mining for key strategic insights is something Woodruff can do to help you better understand your customers and prospects and create relevant solutions that both strengthen your brand and provide a competitive edge in the marketplace.

What’s the state of your market segmentation?

You know market segmentation is essential for reaching customers where they are and making the most of your marketing budget. And most likely you’ve already identified your ideal customer and defined buckets for segmenting U.S. pet owners for your marketing and communications efforts. Are you satisfied with your current market segmentations? Or do you feel that something’s missing? Should you add new market segmentation variables — specifically pet lifestyle ones — to better focus your brands’ target market segments? When was the last time your market segments were reviewed and/or revised?

If it’s been awhile since your target market audiences were evaluated or you feel that communications aren’t getting the response you believe they should have generated, now may be the time to revisit and reframe your market segmentation strategy. Your customers and prospects are constantly evolving and your target market segments should be too. Pet owners have become more savvy, more (or less) price sensitive and fickler with their loyalty so understanding how they think and feel about their pets has never been more important. Here are some questions to consider as you assess your current target market groups:

  • Are demographic variables driving the current segmentation strategy?
  • What company-owned information on current customers’ attitudes toward their pets (psychographic variables) can be strategically incorporated to create more focused target audience segments?
  • Are there geographic variables that could or should be factored into the market segmentation strategy?
  • Is an investment in market research needed? If so, what information is essential for better understanding customers and prospects?
  • Is a shift from one targeted market segment to another needed for a particular product or brand?

The more you understand pet owners’ attitudes and emotions, the better your opportunities to discover new insights that enable you to connect with them in unique ways. If you’d like to know more about how we can help segment pet owners for your brands, drop us a note or give us a call.



  1. 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.