Promoting Michigan Dog Events, Products, and Services

The Michigan Canine Resource Guide is a unique publication targeted to dog owners in Michigan.   Beth Mitchell launched this guide to dog-related events, products, and services in Michigan in 2015 and it has steadily grown as more organizations and advertisers contribute.

Beth was inspired by the Arizona Equine Resource Guide,  published by her sister who is active in equine events in that state.  Beth didn’t have a horse, but she does have a dog, and she had spent a lot of time and energy finding the best resources to train her dog and resolve some behavior issues.  She thought there had to be other people looking for a central repository of information on dog events and dog-related services, so the Michigan Canine Resource Guide was born.

Beth started gathering content for the publication in 2014, creating a dog-themed cover and using her sister’s equine guide as an example of the type of content (with horses) that would be featured.  She had booths at dog shows and dog expos around the state and asked people she met at those events how they publicized their events, then explained how the Guide could expand their audience.  She also asked for referrals to other types of events and host organizations she should include.  She solicited ads from other event vendors and asked for referrals to canine professionals, retailers, and manufacturers to find other potential advertisers.  Many lunch hours on her day job included ad sales calls!  Event-giving clubs and organizations are encouraged to contribute dog events for the calendar to help make the publication as complete as possible; there is no charge for the listing.  Advertisers not only appear in the publication, their events are promoted through weekly emails, they are listed in an online directory, and they contribute articles and blog posts that appear in the publication, on the website, or both. Beth retains a creative director who produces ads and other content as needed and has several part-time ad salespeople recruited from the dog community.

The publication is still promoted through booths at select dog events, and every year Beth attends new events to reach a wider audience.  The guides are distributed free at dog events, participating businesses, and pet specialty retailers.  The guide can be viewed interactively online or downloaded in pdf format from the Michigan Canine Resource Guide website.   In addition to the guide itself, the Michigan Canine Resource Guide has an online calendar of events on their website, a directory listing for all advertisers,  and blog posts on a variety of canine topics.  The Guide also has a Facebook page as well as Instagram and Twitter (@MiDogGuide) accounts. It stays in contact with dog enthusiasts through an opt-in weekly newsletter and advertisers also have an option to send sponsored emails to subscribers.  As the publication has grown, Beth has upgraded her marketing tools and currently uses WordPress for the website and MailChimp to manage her email subscription list.

The Michigan Canine Resource Guide has grown steadily in event listings, advertisers, and circulation since its launch.  Beth’s goal is to provide all Michigan dog owners with the resource they need to find local businesses, services, and events that will enable them and their dogs to live a healthy, happy life together. The biggest challenge is getting ALL the dog clubs in the state to contribute information about their events in a timely manner, so the event calendar is as comprehensive as possible.  Beth hopes that as the Guide becomes more and more of a “must have” for Michigan dog lovers, every canine organization or business will feel it’s an important element in their promotional plan.

 

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Facebook for Dog Marketing

Facebook LogoLinkedin’s Pet Online Marketing Group started a discussion(join the group to see the full discussion) about members’ Facebook pages which as of December 31, 2010 had generated over 170 responses.   I spent some time reviewing the sites posted in the last couple months and wanted to post some general observations.

My impression was that the Page vs Group decision favored pages,  but there were a few businesses that had a group page and one that was using a personal page (named after the business). The best pages include customized FBML pages that hardly look like Facebook at all, frequent posts with relevant, engaging content that spawn discussions among their fans. The weakest pages  were those whose information tab consists of a single link to their business site, and who rarely post anything to the business wall and have several blank tabs.

The array of businesses represented by people commenting on that Linkedin discussion was quite wide including pet products,  pet services, books about animals, marketing services, retailers, media, artshelters, clothing (for pets and people), and of course the leading MLM pet product, Life’s Abundance pet  food.  I know that a number of national and franchised pet businesses have Facebook pages as well, so I think this mix reflects the membership of the Linkedin group, not all Facebook pet-related pages.

Facebook is becoming an ever more popular and effective marketing tool. In closing I’d urge all pet marketers to use it, but make an effort to fully populate your page, remove any tabs you don’t use, and commit to regularly updating the Wall content as a bare minimum.  The more web-savvy may want to explore customizing their page with FBML Another point to remember is that fan pages with 25 or more fans can create a custom URL in the form of www.facebook.com/fanpage which is easier for visitors to find than the default URL that includes this info plus a numeric string.

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Iams ProActive dog food with prebiotics

Iams ProActive dog food
Iams ProActive dog food

Brandweek featured an article discussing Iam’s integrated campaign for its ProActive pet foods containing prebiotics.  The food has specific ingredients that stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, and should be distinguished from probiotic compounds like yogurt which contain beneficial bacteria, which would not live through the processing required to manufacture dry dog food.

Iams enlisted two spokes animals, one canine, one feline to promote their prebiotic foods. The dog, a Bulldog named Munch, has a Facebook page which has attracted over 1200 fans. All of the ProActive health products carry a distinctive swirled symbol on the packaging, which is carried over into point of purchase and print displays.  ProActive’s marketing uses he theme line  “I am beautiful inside” which was used across online, point of purchase, and television advertising.

These products show the increasing interest in nutraceuticals in human nutrition, which has spilled over into the nutritional interests for our pets.  I found the Iams website very carefully worded in its description of the benefits of  these products, avoiding any outright health claims.

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Bottled Water for Dogs

Sport Dog Spring Water
Sport Dog Spring Water

I’ve seen dog sport drinks, dog beer, and now I’ve discovered a bottled spring water  marketed especially for dogs.  Sport Dog water, which launched in 2007 is available for order online through the Thirstmonger site and also has distribution in the Eastern US through Royal Pet Supplies.  This bottled spring water meets all FDA regulations for human consumption, so owners can share a swig with their pet.  At $7.99 for 24 half liter bottles  pricing is in line with the retail prices of name brand bottled waters, but well above the weekly specials on water at my local Kroger store, especially if you add in (for my location)  $7.95 to ship it to Michigan.   A bit of a silly product, in my opinion, but a healthy choice for dogs – and their owners.

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Petco Promotes Organic Petfood

Petco logo
Petco Logo

DMNews reported on Petco‘s use of email marketing, including the recent addition of  content promoting organic pet foods.  These emails are supported by in-store seminars about organic foods as well as the Petco-sponsored Facebook page, Generation Natural Pet.  The article goes on to describe more details of the Petco e-communications strategy including species targeting, pet birthday greetings, and product reviews.

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Purina Petcentric Portal

PetCentric Logo
PetCentric Logo

I recently got my first email from Petcentric with a link to their site, which launched in 2006.  In a 2008 article in Promo Magazine the site is described as a social network, however most of the content is provided by the site’s owner, Purina and select partners, such as Yahoo! Answers (pet section.) There is content galore, including news about pets, pet blogs, pet games,  reviews, a pet service locator and pet photos and videos, which include user-generated content.  The site also has its own Twitter account @petcentric There is very little overt promotion of Purina products, although Purina sponsored events are a rich source of content for the site.  Just further evidence of Purina’s commitment to digital media with this engaging site that supports pet owners interests and in turn the Purina corporate brand identity.

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Blue Buffalo vs Hill’s Pet Nutrition: By-Product Battle

Carefully worded True Blue Buffalo Promise
Carefully worded True Blue Buffalo Promise

As premium dog food brands which claim to use higher quality and more appealing ingredients grow in market share, some traditional market leaders are pushing back in court. Hill’s Pet Nutrition, which produces Science Diet brand pet foods, has been aggressively pursuing manufacturers which it feels have used deceptive advertising for their products.  Blue Buffalo is their most recent target; Hills objected to their use of the phrase “Contains no by-products” when promoting Blue Buffalo products which contain fish meal, lamb meal, and liver.  Hills claims that guidelines for the meal ingredients do allow parts of the fish and sheep in the meal that most consumers would consider by-products; they also consider liver a  by-product.  Based on the NAD’s ruling Blue Buffalo altered  its advertising and web site (note carefully worded promises in sidebar) to conform to Hill’s demands, but has not altered its packaging, claiming the agency to which Hills complained, the National Advertising Division (NAD)  did not have jurisdiction over packaging claims. Blue Buffalo has said it intends to appeal this decision which was announced in May, 2009.

Pet food nutrition standards and labeling requirements were developed well before the current surge in interest in “human grade”, “organic”, and “natural” foods. As a matter of fact, none of these terms has a regulated meaning for pet foods so manufacturers can use them at will, with consumers having to decide for themselves whether the description is accurate.

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Nutro dog food plans Meetups

Nutro dog food logo
Nutro dog food logo

Petfood Industry reports that Nutro has partnered with Meetup.com to sponsor 60 Meetup groups. The sponsored groups include a variety of  existing dog Meetup groups across across North America, including specific breed groups, rescue groups and the Denver Yappy Hour all-dogs social group.  Nutro is hosting a kick-off Meetup on September 16, in New York City which features an appearance by celebrity veterinarian Dr Marty Becker. It’s not clear how the groups were selected for this promotion, although I do see that groups can signify that they are seeking sponsors and Meetup will facilitate the process for sponsors wishing to sponsor 50 or more Meetup groups.  On the promotional webpage for its Meetups, Nutro also mentions its Facebook fan page however, I see no mention of the Meetup there.

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Alpo Dog Food: Real Dogs Eat Meat Contest

Purina continues to leverage user generated content in its pet food marketing, this time for its venerable Alpo brand dog food.  MediaPost describes the contest where dog owners are encouraged to enter the contest with photos and stories of their dogs being Real Dogs.  I think they’re trying to promote  a bit of backlash to the pet humanization trend, as the microsite pokes fun at dogs who attend dog-spas and shows.   One thing I found interesting is that other than offering a coupon for entering the contest, there is really nothing about Alpo dog food on the microsite. As a matter of fact, there’s no information about what’s IN the food on the main Alpo site, other than the label names, which the savvy pet food label reader can see indicate that only 3% of the can’s ingredients are the named meat.  The Flash based Alpo site also features two additional promotions, an online match and save game and one featuring grill chef Kent Whitaker.

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HBH Pet Products Social Media outreach

Petfood Industry reported on promotional efforts by HBH Pet Products on behalf of their No Grainers dog treats. These include a photo contest  co-sponsored by WalMart which is offering a $200 gift card as one of the prizes. They also ran a Twitter contest; consumers who follow HBH pet products and re-tweet (RT) a message about the contest were entered into a daily drawing to win a clicker and some treats.   The company has also launched both Facebook group and a Facebook page, allowing consumers to join or declare their fandom, respectively. I know I’ve seen debates as to which is better for commercial promotion and MBH seems to have come down squarely on the side of trying – both.

At the time I checked, which was after the Twitter contest concluded, the company had 200 followers, 17 group members and 6 fans, so I can’t say they’re getting the word out effectively. I often see promotions like this mentioned in MediaPost, but this one I have so far only seen mentioned in Petfood Industry, which has deeper coverage of industry promotions, but I would not think is as widely read. Of course, pet treat BUYERS are the ones who really need to know in order to improve these numbers.

Putting my consulting hat on, I’d recommend creating branded identities for No Grainers apart from the manufacturer in social media and also putting more investment into mass media to get the word out to dog owners about the treats – and the contest.   Grain-free products are riding a trend in pet food at the moment so there seems to me to be an opportunity to better leverage PR in support of this brand even if ad budgets are limited.

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