Building Better Websites for AKC Dog Clubs

Pug dog with laptop

The American Kennel Club launched a series of educational webinars earlier this year aimed at dog fanciers and clubs and I have been watching them with great interest.  I understand much of this content has been shared with the AKC delegate body, but I can’t say I had heard about these educational programs through my AKC member club delegate.  The last webinar for 2018 covered best practices in club websites.   The webinar covered the fundamentals of good website design,  including

  • Set specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely, i.e. SMART goals
  • Identify the audiences that you are trying to reach
  • Identify actions you want people to take on your website
  • Design for mobile usage
  • Have a content strategy
  • Ask for visitor feedback via surveys, forms, or email
  • Use web analytics to track activity on your site, and also collect other relevant metrics, like event entries or membership applications to measure the site’s effectiveness
  • Integrate social media sharing tools so visitors can share your content

The presenter strongly recommended using a Content Management System (CMS) and mentioned WordPress by name, as one of the complaints that AKC hears from clubs is that their sites are difficult to update and CMS frameworks make this much easier.   He also recommended that as clubs analyze where they are vs where they want to be, that they focus on optimizing the impact of change vs the effort to implement it and focus on areas that should yield maximum impact for the least effort.

Two national breed club websites were held out as good examples, the Golden Retriever Club of America and the American Shetland Sheepdog Association.  Both are WordPress sites, the GRCA site has multiple call to action buttons on the home page to attract attention and provide measurable actions, and also has Google Analytics installed as well as social sharing on Instagram and Facebook.  I would have liked to see some good examples from all breed clubs and clusters as well as local specialty and training clubs, but this webinar was a good start with an emphasis on fundamentals.

Out of curiosity, I decided to take a tour of all-breed AKC dog club websites, and to keep the task manageable, focused on clubs based in Michigan.  The AKC lists 24 licensed all breed dog clubs in the state and of those, 7 have an active website and 9 are represented by a site covering a cluster (multiple show giving clubs holding events on the same weekend).  A couple of the clubs have both a club site and are included in a cluster site.  It looks like 6 Michigan AKC all-breed dog clubs have abandoned websites, and 5 have no dedicated club website, dead or alive, that I could find.  A number of clubs, including some with no other online presence, have a Facebook page.  I’ll go into more depth about the use of Facebook by dog clubs after the AKC webinar on that topic scheduled for March 13, 2019. I could find only one all breed club in Michigan that had no dedicated website presence at all, but it is listed as being part of a dog show weekend by the all breed club that shares its show weekend on that club’s website.

The websites vary greatly in quality and the technology used to create them.  There are several modern looking websites created in WordPress (both .com and .org), some created in low cost website building tools like yoursite.com and weebly.com and then a few created in vintage web building tools including FrontPage and Dreamweaver.  I found two sites created by companies that appear to specialize in the “dog club/dog breeder” space.

A difficult truth is that a significant proportion of active AKC dog club members and volunteers are Baby Boomers and dog clubs are struggling to staff and execute profitable events, which often means websites receive limited support and funding. The paradox is that younger generations, who love dogs and are interested in doing things with them, are looking for dogs, dog services, and dog activities online, but many clubs are not able to connect with this new audience through effective use of online tools.

To address this disconnect, the AKC will be offering webinars on social media strategy, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in 2019. I have had success using Instagram and Facebook to promote the Bull Terrier Club of Metro Detroit, attracting new people to our events who then decided to join the club.   Several of these new members mentioned they had no idea there was such a thing as a local breed club and they were excited to find like minded dog owners; an online presence can be a valuable tool for clubs looking to expand their reach.

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Can You Really Customize Your Dog’s Food Online?

natural, organic dog's food in a bowl with ingredients zucchini, carrot, eggs and raw meat

There is an interesting subset of dog food customization and delivery that I’m seeing more references to lately.  If you search for “Custom Dog Food”, Google returns over 43 million results.  I have a problem calling it customized dog food, because as far as I can tell, each brand presents a limited number of options, although they do walk prospective customers through a questionnaire to select the best option available for their dog(s).

This trend that builds on several trends in human and canine nutrition.  The popularity of meal kits, like Blue Apron and HelloFresh, the growing humanization of pets, concerns about the quality of pet food ingredients, concerns about individual pet nutrition needs, often related to digestive problems, weight management and allergies, have all converged and led to the launch of quite a number of brands marketing custom dog food options.  Purveyors range from small businesses to multinational pet food manufacturers.  It’s not hard to find articles designed to help people sort through the alternatives, here’s one from Consumer’s Advocate, and another from Reviews.com  but it still could be a daunting task with millions of alternatives!

Marketing for these foods, for the most part, focuses on quality, transparency, and customization.  Dog food is highly regulated because it is designed to serve as a single food source, but the terms used to describe ingredients and package labeling requirements can be confusing at best.   Some sites go to great lengths to explain these terms and how their foods are formulated, others focus on the quality of their ingredients without getting into the weeds of feed terminology and definitions.

The sites that offer custom dry or kibble foods rather than freshly cooked ones tend to make less detailed claims about their ingredients but still emphasize high-quality ingredients and customization as key benefits of their products.

One barrier to buying from these brands is the amount of work needed  to select a vendor and set up a profile, but for people expending a lot of energy dealing with a dog that’s not doing well on its current food, this could be a time saver in the long run if the food results in better health.   In researching this post, I went through a bunch of work on several sites to set up a profile only to discover all the “custom” options included some of my dog’s biggest allergens. Most of the food companies offer free shipping and flexible delivery options, so once those are set up, getting the food is a no-brainer, you just need to pay for it.

Which leads me to what I consider the biggest barrier to adoption of these custom foods in my opinion which is cost.  Doing a quick comparison for Marley, my senior dog with multiple food allergies, prices  ranged from  just under $40 for a 24 days’ supply from Purina’s Just Right kibble blend, which is comparable to the price of the premium kibble I feed my other dogs, to more than 8 times that amount, $334 dollars for the same days’ quantity of food from Fresh Food for Dogs. I’m going to add that I’m not 100% sure either food is completely free of allergens, as each food contains some things that were not included on Marley’s food allergy test.  So  I’ll just continue to make her meals with venison or chicken and green beans plus supplements at home, following the recommendation of Dr. John Smith DVM, our functional medicine vet it’s been working for her and for me, she’s worth the time and trouble.

 

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Great Source for Dog Marketing Intelligence

Pet Business Professor logo

Barriers to entry are low in many sectors of the dog-related industry.  Which means that there are many small businesses marketing products and services for dogs and other pets.  Many dog product entrepreneurs are fueled by their passion to solve a problem they experienced with their own pets which inspired them to launch their business.   They start with an idea, develop a product or service and then start selling with limited resources for marketing support, let alone market research and analysis.

Enter John Gibbons, the Pet Business Professor.  John maintains a website where he publishes detailed analyses of public data about pet spending, discusses industry trends, and offers guidance on how to get the most out of pet industry trade shows.   This information can help pet businesses of all sizes, but I think should be of particular interest to small companies without the resources to dig into all this data themselves.   I suspect even many mid-size to large businesses are not doing this type of in-depth analysis of data that is publicly available, but not user-friendly in its original form.

You can subscribe to The Pet Business Professor blog via email to get updates when a new article is published.  The industry deep dives don’t come out very often, but they contain a treasure trove of information.  In the weeks leading up to major industry trade shows, like Global Pet Expo and SuperZoo, the Pet Professor will publish maps and attendance strategy guides to help you map out a plan of attack to get the most out of these vast displays from pet product purveyors.

I recommend that everyone in the dog marketing space visit The Pet Business Professor website, you’re certain to learn something of value.

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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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Pet Owners Join Don’t Mess With My Pet campaign

Don't Mess With My Pet logo
Don't Mess With My Pet logo

Pet Product News reports in its November print edition on the recently launched consumer campaign by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, a non-profit devoted to the pet industry.  PIJAC is reaching out to pet owners to help their efforts to combat legislation that attempts to restrict pet ownership.  Individuals can join the Don’t Mess With My Pet campaign for $25 a year; their membership benefits include a logo tee shirt.

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Halloween Costumes for Dogs

Bull Terrier in Poodle Costume
Bull Terrier in Poodle Costume

Pet Style News reports on pet clothing and encourages pet retailers to prepare for Halloween by stocking pet costumes.  Some pet owners like to dress their pets all year around while others will purchase pet clothing only for Halloween.  Shop owners interviewed for the article note that dressing pets is increasing in popularity and that the clothes available have improved dramatically in both quality and fit over the years.  This trend is one that sometimes hits a nerve among people supporting animal rights; but many pets seem to enjoy the attention that wearing a costume attracts.

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