Marketing to Pet Owners

The popular phrase “Pets are people, too!” has never been more true. Pet owners and their furry family members are evolving from a niche market into a mainstream buying power.

According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association’s (APPMA) 2007-2008 National Pet Owners Survey, 63 percent of U.S. households own pets, and, in the past four years, spending on pets has climbed 6 percent each year to a current rate of about $40.8 billion. “With the sophistication of technology and the proliferation of products, people had to become more creative in how they’re going to get their products into the marketplace.” says Vicki Lynne Morgan, president of Califon, N.J.–based Animal Brands.

Pet ‘Parents’ Will Pay More
U.S. pet owners range from low- to high-income levels. But because owning and providing for an animal is such an emotional activity, even lower-income prospects will purchase high-end products, asserts Angela Cooley, president of Springfield, Pa.–based Solutions Pet Marketing. She recalls initially making list selects of higher-income pet owners for a client’s holistic pet store, but eventually found that lower- and middle-income owners were also largely purchasing expensive, organic pet products.

For direct mail success, it is important to appeal to pet owners’ emotions, including unconditional love and nurturing. “You can appeal the same way to a pet person and their sense of nurturing as if you’re marketing to a parent,” says Morgan. Pet owners know that if they take care of Fluffy, she will return the favor by lowering your blood pressure, reducing your stress and fighting your depression. “Pets enhance the health of the owner, so anything that has to do with health care is really enriching the owner’s life—and enriching the pet’s life as well,” she adds.

In terms of copy and creative, marketers agree that the dog is the most popular and common pet—and is, therefore, a good choice when marketers are limited to only one image or narrative. If you are sending out more than one campaign, cast a wider net by varying your use of breeds, age and type of pet in both imagery and copy.

Programs, Presence and Partnership
Loyalty programs are a successful tactic in pet marketing due to a daily need for maintenance and supplies. “Twenty percent of the people purchasing from you are creating 80 percent of your sales—and you market to that 20 percent. You want to be loyal to them,” Cooley says.

Strong lists, segmented out by type of pet, are available for purchase. Marketers can overlay loyalty data, distributing discounts and rewards according to the customer’s level of purchase and, at the same time, send a cat-themed mailing to only cat owners. Aside from purchasing lists and building a custom list, Morgan recommends pet clubs, publications and organizations, as well as partnerships with vendor and manufacturer websites, as potential list builders.

The pet industry is rapidly diversifying, with a huge online presence for added convenience, and pet products and services are also showing up in previously human-dominant industries like insurance and personal services. “Years ago, there were many hotels that wouldn’t take any animals. Now, they’re encouraging. And there’s a huge growth within the service segment—you have day care, pet walkers, pooper-scoopers, training, massage therapy, pet psychologists, all different levels of grooming,” describes Morgan.

With all this industry integration, potential new partnerships can be formed. Morgan suggests fusion marketing for pet marketers. “When it comes to finding people that you want to do direct mail with … you form relationships with service providers that cater to the same clientele. If a marketer really wanted to go directly to a certain audience, they could get some helpful exposure through fusion partners,” she claims. Morgan gives an example of an insurance company informing its clients that it now offers pet insurance, and a pet carrier or crate vendor piggybacking on that mailer with its own offer.

Overall, there is a positive outlook in the pet marketing industry, as the venue for success continues to grow. “This is probably one of your more recession-proof industries. Even if people don’t have the disposable income to go on fancy trips and such, they’re going to stay home and spend even more time with their pets,” Morgan concludes.

(Originally Published in Inside Direct Mail, April 2008.)

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