New owners create new world for pet care marketing.

Pet care has long been considered recession-resistant.

In fact, I was once told by a private equity investor that pet care and gambling were the strongest industries during the 2009 recession and that pet care actually grew during that period. So far, I’m optimistic that trend will hold this time around.

Similarly, data compiled by Vet Success shows that between March 15 and May 25, veterinary clinic revenue was down just 1.1% compared with the same period a year ago. But we expect this decline to rapidly disappear, as clinic revenue is already up 12% during the last two weeks of that period.

Nonetheless, the trends impacting veterinary medicine are vast. COVID-19 is impacting our profession, supply chain and future in ways that are only beginning to be understood. How will pet care marketers adapt to these changes? How are their priorities shifting? Which companies will thrive because of their ability to quickly adapt?

While we’ve seen early signs of new campaigns and approaches, we have yet to see any major pivots or changes in strategy. I’m left wondering if more is coming or if missed opportunities are the new normal.

Over the next few weeks, I will explore the top opportunities we see for pet marketers in a three-part series. This first one welcomes new pet owners and talks about supporting them in meaningful ways. The second piece will help explain the importance of the veterinarian in the pet owner/pet marketer equation. And the third piece will explore the importance of customized communications and how to connect with pet owners on an emotional level.

Welcome new pet owners.

Pet ownership has been on the rise for the past two decades. This trend is driven both by the strengthening human-animal bond and the fact that millennials are flocking to pet ownership while baby boomers delay becoming empty pet-nesters.

Despite early fears, pet parents aren’t relinquishing pets to shelters. Rather, they’re fostering them in record numbers. 24PetWatch reports that between March 13 and April 26, fostering increased 47% over the prior year. In Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Humane Society experienced a vast uptick in new foster parent sign-ups, causing a brief crash in the website. Within five days, the shelters were cleared out, with 159 animals adopted and 160 in foster care.

As people reach for the comfort and companionship that pets bring, the number of pets in the United States is only likely to increase. These new pet owners and foster parents are open to building loyalty to the company who reaches out to them and supports them during this transition.

So, how are pet care marketers responding? 

Interestingly enough, it wasn’t a pet care company that made the first big commitments to new pet owners. Instead, it’s a beer company. Anheuser-Busch InBev ran a campaign from March 25 through April 25 that offered a three-month supply of Busch beer for anyone who fostered or adopted a dog. But why was a beer company the first to market this and not an animal health company? What are the pet care companies doing?

Hill’s Pet Nutrition, which has historically been a powerhouse at establishing loyalty with new pet owners, has recently launched a disaster shelter program, providing $400,000 in additional grants to shelters. While this is excellent support for shelters, as a marketer, I wonder how Hill’s will pull this donation through to new pet owners? So far, I have yet to see it extend support directly to this group of new pet parents.

The first to lead this charge in new pet owner support is Royal Canin, launching a series of educational kitten-care webinars for new cat owners and offering a month of free cat food for the first 1,000 to sign up for these sessions.

On the other end, the animal health and diagnostic companies have been largely silent. Presumably, they’re continuing to support their long-standing shelter programs and new puppy/kitten programs, but they haven’t stepped forward with a new approach to fit the current times.

As the world churns, the media continues to search for positive news, meaning that campaigns like these could be picked up nationally. For example, stories about the record number of fosters, and the fear that these fosters will be returned to shelters, have been picked up by national media.

Which pet care company will offer a solution that is audacious enough to be picked up nationally? The company that does so will hold a place in people’s hearts for years to come. There is a unique opportunity for a B2B company to build loyalty and brand awareness. So, who will grab it?

And which company is going to pioneer the space between philanthropy and consumer marketing? Who is going to unite the two in a common campaign? Will it be a pet food marketer, an animal health company or a diagnostic firm?

Have ideas? I’d love to hear them and help craft a program with impact.

What’s ahead: In the next article of this series, we will look at understanding the powerful role of the veterinarian, and how pet marketer/vet partnerships can be mutually beneficial and fill an important customer need for information.

About the Author

Blair McConnel, VMD MBA, brings extensive experience to the Bader Rutter Pet Care Practice. She is a veterinarian who worked in the industry for ten years and led Zoetis’ marketing team. She has also led several start-ups, including two businesses which provide management and business consulting services to veterinarians. With a passion for growing businesses, her belief is that good strategy is the foundation to growth.