Advocacy in the Pet Industry

A new breed of pet owners - why trust & advocacy matter


Two years ago I had a new addition to my family. Much planning, shopping and preparation took place before the big day. And then I came home like any proud new parent to introduce them to my family. He was gorgeous...big brown eyes, wet nose, waggy tail. Yes, I’d just joined the pet owning fraternity!

I’m not alone in my obsession with my four legged friend. Research by suggests that in the UK, 90% of owners consider them to be part of the family.

Changes in the way we approach parenting is being reflected in the way we treat our pets. Just as families are becoming more child centric, pets now have have more resources devoted to them in terms of both time and money.

As a first time pet owner, I turned to pet owning friends and the growing online pet communities as a source of information and advice. Why? Because I trusted their opinions and saw them as authorities on the subject.

At Mention Me we work with clients to help them harness the trust their advocates have in their brand. In this post we look at the trends which offer opportunities for pet marketers to turn referrals into a source of customer acquisition.

5 pet trends highlight why trust & advocacy go hand in hand

1. Pets - the new family member

Doggy day care? Who knew? I only joined the ranks of pet owners once I discovered that I could ensure my little bundle of fluff was cared for whilst I was out at work.

And that’s not the only aspect of ownership which mirrors the experiences of new parents.

There is a huge growth in holidays and accommodation tailored to people wanting to bring their pets too, much like the proliferation of “child friendly” options.

I also like nice food…. A lot. But I also don’t like leaving my dog at home for long periods, so searches for “pet friendly pubs” are becoming the norm!

One common theme running through all these services aimed at pet owners, is the need to establish trust, either through testimonials, referrals or reviews. Just as parents wouldn’t dream of entrusting their little ones with just anyone, pet owners turn to friends and influencers for recommendations.

Key takeaway for pet services: build trust, by putting the tools in place for happy users of your service to tell their pet owning friends

2. Pets - they are what they eat

Pet food has come a long way in recent years. As a child I recall the only choices being tins of something unidentifiable and rather smelly. Now the pet food market caters for every dietary requirement or intolerance that might be suffered by their human owners. Grain free, dairy free, gluten free….

 Dogs - they are what they eat

But a number of pet food scares in the US and Australia have resulted in increased concern about the provenance of pet food. Although the UK has not seen similar problems, many owners, much like new parents, are reportedly preparing their own food for the pets to ensure quality.

Even when times are hard, a recent report suggested that owners would cut back on their own food before that of their pets.

A sad counterpoint to this drive for health is the increase in overweight pets.  According to a report in The Guardian  “It turns out over half the dogs in the UK, US and Canada are considered overweight or obese, resulting in a decreased life expectancy.”

Interestingly, a comment on this article from an importer of pet supplements, suggests that owners might be less inclined to become advocates in this situation:

“A couple of years ago we tried to market weight loss supplements for dogs. They failed, not because the product didn't work but because owners didn't want to admit to themselves that they were ultimately to blame for the fact that their loved one was overweight.”

Key take away: Where trust has been broken, owners turn to other pet owners for advice. Pet suppliers should ensure that provenance is played upon and that the correct social channels are available for your customers to share. Certain products however might struggle to overcome the social barriers of referral of referral.

3. Pets in the sharing economy

The sharing economy has boomed in the last few years. From holiday accommodation to car shares, there seems no end to what product and services we are willing to share.

Even pet ownership is not immune to this growing trend. Can’t have a pet full time due to work commitments? No problem, borrow someone else’s! There are a number of sites such as BorrowMyDoggy where you can have all the benefits of a dog, without the ongoing commitments.

Building customer trust is always important for companies, but in the sharing economy, trust is the beginning, middle and end of the story says Entrepreneur writer Catherine Clifford.

I must admit I’d feel cautious about lending out my treasured pooch. Although there are times when I could do with some pet care, I’d have some concerns. What if they treated him badly, or didn’t give him back? Knowing a friend who’d used the service and building a rapport with the potential “borrower” would help allay any fears.

As Jason Bosinoff of Airbnb said in an interview “Our users tell our story better than we do. People share their own experiences that their friends care about. It is authentic.”

Key takeaway: Understand the concerns of your potential customers and address those fears head on. Enabling satisfied customers to become your advocates via testimonials and referrals can help allay those concerns.

4. Boom in millennials owning pets

A recent report suggests that Millennials are fast becoming the biggest pet owning demographic in the US. I confess, I left that demographic some time ago ;-(

With a likelihood of less financial commitments and great disposable income, they have a greater propensity to spend on discretionary items for their pets.

Typically this demographic is more likely to turn to friends and family for advice (often by social media) before making a purchase, and be more technologically astute than older age groups.

That said, “millennials” is a broad age group and marketers should take care to understand the nuances of the demographic rather than treat them with a “one size fits all” strategy.

This article by Ronnie Charrier at Social Media Today highlights some of the misconceptions.

Key takeaways: Millennials certainly offer an opportunity for becoming advocates of pet brands. However, be sure to understand how individual audiences within this broad group like to communicate with each other and offer them the correct tools to do so.

5. The Internet of Pets

Pets and social media appear a match made in heaven. Facebooking your French Bulldog or Tweeting your Terrier is the norm these days, with 65% of US pet owners admitting posting pet photos. Whether this is to share in their cuteness, or an attempt to harness the riches made be internet sensations like Grumpy Cat is unclear. I’d like to think the former. A report from Pets at Home suggests that 20% of pets even have their own social media profile.

Pets and Social Media

Social Media isn't the only area of the internet to be appropriated by pet owners & suppliers. The much talked about Internet of Things, where home appliances and services can all be connected and managed remotely has also moved into the realm of pets.

Whilst some applications such as GPS trackers and health monitors look to be useful tools, some other products have experienced problems with technology which have impacted on trust, as demonstrated by this report about pet smart feeders.

Key takeaway: As with all new technology, product adoption is likely to be impacted when trust is lost. However, the high propensity for pet owners to share images of their pets enjoying products & services is a marketer's dream and offers a way to establish social proof.

The key is establishing trust and advocacy

It is clear that the internet and social media offers a huge opportunity for pet providers, but the key is to establish trust and enable the right channels for advocacy.

Here at Mention Me, we work with a number of online retailers to power their referral schemes. We offer them the tools to enable their brand advocates to share their positive experiences which provides the social proof and helps build the trust to maximise new customer acquisition.

Our recent Slideshare on the Psychology of Referral give more insight into how social proof and other weapons of persuasion can drive more referrals.

Learn more about how outsourcing refer-a-friend with Mention Me platform works. Request a demo

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