Even better, using pet power the right way boosts sales in spite of market dominance by big retailers.
Of course, the basic premise behind 'pet marketing' rests on pet owners first becoming customers, then letting their furry friends do the persuasive heavy lifting for driving more sales.
In a moment I'll explain the human psychology behind how this persuasion strategy works and how to make it work for you.
CREATING A CUSTOMER FOR LIFE
My first forehead-slapping moment happened when I realized how the marketing power of pets worked on me.
Hey, even a hard-headed research scientist like me has marketing hot buttons.
The experience started when I was searching Google for a solution to a digestive problem my little 11-year-old terrier mix, Dixie, was having.
The pages attracting my attention the most were those where other pet owners were commenting.
I was grateful to find good, heartfelt advice from others who love their furry friends as much as I love mine.
I paid particular heed to products my fellow pet owners were recommending. They influenced me to upgrade Dixie's food brand and to buy specific supplements.
Now I'm a loyal customer for products that I hadn't purchased before.
That story, however brief, is just one particular personal experience involving pet marketing. In this case it was about pet supplies.
It made me wonder about how this strategy might work for other kinds of products.
My thoughts led me to realize how a different personal experience with pet marketing worked on me. This time it had nothing to do with pet supplies.
My family loves to travel. We enjoy taking Dixie and her younger "sister," 3-year-old Ellie, with us.
Finding good hotels allowing pets, without charging extra for them, can be a bit of a challenge.
That's how we met Mac. He's a "spokespet" for a national hotel chain.
He's cute. He's persuasive.
Mac is all over the hotel's website. He talks about how he loves staying there. And how the folks at the front desk tell him he's a good boy. He welcomes pet owners to come on in with their little buddies and stay a while.
That's all it took to convince my family to always plan trips around where Mac's hotels are. That's the only place we stay when Dixie and Ellie are traveling with us.
So far I've described how we became loyal customers for two entirely different kinds of businesses, both driven by pet marketing.
I'm sure I wouldn't have to dig too deep to realize how other businesses have used this approach to influence me.
I respond to it because I love my pets.
The pull of this strategy goes right to the heart - mine.
Now, as a marketer myself, I realize how 'pet marketing' persuaded me. And how it can persuade others.
It raises the question of what other businesses are harnessing the power of pets in their marketing plans.
What I discovered is the psychology behind why this strategy works.
More importantly, I also discovered how any business can implement it for optimum results.
THE UNDERLYING PERSUASION PRINCIPLE
The foundation for pet marketing involves a powerful persuasion principle called social proof.
Social proof is well-known in marketing. Its value is so great that my old colleague, Dr. Robert Cialdini, talked about it in his book, "Influence: Psychology of Persuasion."
It's one of his six keys to persuasion.
Pet marketing in particular lends itself to this principle. It's like a social proof accelerator.
For me, endorsements by other pet owners were a bigger influence than standard testimonials. I paid more attention to other pet owners because their commentary was voluntary and authentic. It appeared on forums, blogs, and social media without apparent solicitation by any business.
[If you're thinking about generating automatic referrals, then - BINGO!]
By the way, Mac's hotel endorsements provide social proof in two ways. The first is subconsciously very subtle. Mac comes across as a happy customer, even though consciously we know he's not really doing the talking.
The second is comments by human visitors to Mac's posts. They're unsolicited and persuasive.
HARNESSING PET POWER
The fuel behind pet marketing is a steady stream of happy customers who own pets.
Getting them in the first place depends on how well your standard marketing strategies are already working.
All of the most effective ways to do that require good marketing copy for every aspect of your digital presence.
It could mean maintaining an attractive website, spreading around plenty of ads, building a strong social media presence, creating effective bait pieces for building a subscriber list, sending out newsletters, recording podcasts and videos, and putting together plenty of blog posts, press releases, magalogs, and eBooks... the list is endless.
Persuasive writing is at the heart of all of it.
Once that's underway, the following three steps will harness the power of pet marketing.
1) Giving your customers a chance to brag about their pets on social media. They're going to do it anyway. You might as well have them do it on your company's social media pages.
Social media outlets are big drivers here.
Videos and images from pet owners are a key source of compelling content.
All you have to do is curate it.
Happy customers showing off their little buddies online is a fabulous attention-getter for any business.
2) Climbing the social proof ladder.
Partnering with an influencer in your niche brings in loads of social credibility.
Imagine being associated with Mannie the French Bulldog. At last count, he had 1.1 million followers on Instagram, 7,600 YouTube channel subscribers, and 1.7 million Facebook fans.
A word from Mannie bears tremendous 'canine' social proof from the top dog online.
Mannie covers a wide variety of products. His own website offers drinkware, apparel, art, and face masks. He's also online promoting supplements, CBD products, and even a car wash.
He's not alone. A quick search for other pet marketing influencers gives us a good list on Twitter. The biggies at the moment include @remixthedog, @tinkandmeek, @milliegthegolden, and @coconutricebear.
Keep in mind that, even though I've been talking about dogs so far, the same strategies work with cats.
To see what I mean, just check out Instagram for ThatLittlePuff, Nala Cat, Venus the Two Face Cat, and Smoothie the Cat for some big-time feline influencers.
3) Answering questions and commenting.
One simple yet invaluable strategy for building credibility and trust online is answering questions on forums and commenting on blog posts. All niches have forums and blog commenting.
If done well, the authority you generate there attracts responses from others. The more the better.
Voila! More social proof.
What I've described here is harder for big online stores to do than it is for most businesses. The big guys rely more on brand marketing. They don't allocate the resources needed for implementing the power of pet marketing.
Your bonus is a level playing field. Harnessing pet power can give you a leg up against even the biggest online retailers.
So far I've merely outlined the basic concepts and strategies for putting your canine and feline sales forces to work.
Of course, as I mentioned earlier, they all rest on a foundation of good marketing copy. That's what initially attracts the happy customers you want. Social proof from them and their pets takes it from there.
That's where I can help.