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February 18, 2016
What My Dog Reminded Me About Marketing
Re-learned lessons in consumerism, information, and loyalty

Hey brands:

Do you want to try and reach the newest “influencer” in my life? Good luck with that. He drinks rainwater, pees on fire hydrants, and has only five front teeth.

Ever since last June, when my wife and I adopted a dog, our world has become quite a different one. I suppose like any major life change or purchase (a baby, a new house or car, etc.) it’s introduced a new set of priorities, concerns, and yes, purchases.

In the parlance of today’s latest buzzwords, I’m now on a customer journey where marketing’s micromoments might hit me while I’m walking my dog in the park — something I didn’t do last year, but do at least twice a day now.

So what marketing lessons have I learned from this new phase of life? Some basic ones, which are all too easy to forget.

First, we need to remember that even as marketers, we’re also the audience. Too often, we speak of “consumers” as a foreign, separate entity. But we should always remember that we buy products and services in much the same way as everyone else does. It’s a combination of research and impulse, trial and error, emotional and rational decision making.

I’ve been reminded of this as my purchasing needs have changed. My adventures as a dog owner mean I’m now interested in leashes. Pet insurance. Grooming advice. Breath snacks. Poop bags. Poop bag holders. (Note: I believe the poop bag holder industry is ripe for disruption, but that’s another story.) And through it all, I’m reminded that every marketer needs to remember they’re speaking to real people, not a demographic construct or sample “persona” you’d find in an internal PowerPoint deck.

Different things are capable of pushing my emotional buttons now. The presence of my furry friend means I’m now more sensitive to the mistreatment of dogs and the plight of shelter dogs (although those Sarah McLachlan commercials still make me gag a bit.) If I didn’t own a dog, I wouldn’t care as much about them. I don’t think the world needs more puppies in ads, but they do get my attention a bit more.

I’ve learned that I have a lot to learn. So I’ve delved into a world of consumer reviews, advice from other dog owners, new pet-focused stores, and a host of experimentation with canine-related products and services. Any of which might strike a chord with me or change my mind forever. The information—dare I say, the “content”—is out there, it’s available everywhere I go, and it comes from a seemingly infinite number of sources.

Which leads me to the trite, overused phrase, “relevant content.” Too many so-called experts are preaching that we all should be writing and making “relevant content.” Here’s the thing: All the dog advice out there was perfectly valid two years ago, but since I didn’t own a dog it simply didn’t apply to me. So don’t tell anyone to write “engaging” or “relevant” content. That’s pointless advice. Consumers will decide for themselves what’s engaging and relevant. It’s better to make it engaging and relevant to the brand.

I’ll give you a small example: I now get emails from one pet-related service that are witty and include my dog’s name (which I volunteered when I registered on their site) in the subject line of their emails. It’s a subtle technique that’s part of their brand, and it always gets my attention.

Everything I’m noticing about marketing as a pet owner is applicable to almost any product or service category you can think of. Our society is awash in information, advice, opinion. It’s hard to tell them apart. Brands can be credible sources for any of those, but the credibility has to be earned. And it can easily be lost.

It’s a tough world out there for brands, and their agencies. Consumers demand the world and they’re very fickle. Kind of like my dog. It doesn’t matter how much attention I give him. He always wants more. If someone else came along and fed him roast beef and gave him belly rubs, and I were to stop doing that, guess who he’d want to go home with? Not me.

So if you want more customers, or your clients do, you’ll have to do more than ever to keep them interested, even when they’re not paying close attention. Someone’s always lurking around the corner to provide a better service, a more useful or cheaper product, and employ more interesting advertising and marketing to promote them.

In the marketing industry, we’re constantly being tested. We, and our clients, always need to prove ourselves lest we be replaced. In a sense, that’s the real trouble with the notion of brand loyalty. Because consumers aren’t your friends.

If you want a friend, get a dog.

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 

Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.


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