Pet Experts and the Culture of Animal Companions

As consumer pet ownership continues to increase and pet owners are continually striving to create better lives for themselves and their pets, the potential to serve these consumers is presenting some remarkable opportunities.  However, in this market environment, the space is flooded with products and services.  So how can a marketer truly begin to understand how today’s pet owners purchase and consume products or services?

Tied to this is the question of how they conceptualize their pets, as well as how they understand and construct meanings around “experts”.  On the surface, both of these issues seem to have common sense answers.  But if asked to define what it is that makes a person’s hunting dogs different from the beagle that lives in the house and the distinctions become exceeding difficult to articulate.  Ask them where they learned about the flea and tick treatments they use and it’s very likely they will discuss their groomer just as often as their veterinarian.

First and foremost, the learning from an “expert” begins well before a visit the veterinarian.  It is driven by context and a sense of real-life experiences. The owner of a pet daycare facility and the person with hunting dogs has types of experiences that go beyond what is addressed by the clinician.  So, how might this insight be developed into an executable strategy?  A company could deploy representatives in major metro area that would be responsible for spreading word about a product among shelters, resorts, retail and groomers.  These locations have the “real” referrers, not the vets.  This ambassador would have a very different function from sales reps and would engage unofficial experts and consumers in their normal environments to establish awareness without the motivation of sales.

Other opportunities might include sponsoring entire dog parks or shelters to demonstrate on an emotional and grass roots level, that the company cares about the same things pet owners do. The idea is to become a point of reference for consumers when they make visits to clinics, pet hospitals, or any other venue where pet health products are sold and prescribed.

The second major insight is that the “type” of pet impacts where you go to get information about what to use. How a pet is functionally and symbolically conceptualized has a dramatic impact on purchase choices.  If, for example, a dog is conceptualized as being primarily for work/investment vs. companionship/part of the family, it impacts how and why people invest in that animal.  If a cat is an “indoor” vs. “outdoor” cat, it sets expectations about what are acceptable levels of disease and/or discomfort.  Ultimately these issues shape whom the consumer asks for product advice, how and where they shop, what types of messaging and imagery they respond to, and how they define “expertise”.  It is in these points of implicit meaning that marketing opportunities lie.

It all comes down to the point that pets are more than our humble companions and the people who treat them and care for them are more than their titles.

By Gavin

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