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Because ultimately this isn’t about your goals or our skills, it’s about your customers — and how a profound understanding of their needs should be the cornerstone of your marketing strategy.
We conduct audience research to dig deeper and develop a visceral awareness of your target customers’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. Human, brand, and cultural insights are the keys to unlocking often unexpected strategic and creative opportunities.
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Email marketing hacks for your email marketing strategy: Use these test subject lines to engage subscribers and boost CTRs.
Every year, you probably see articles that tell you email marketing has died and that you need to turn to some new technology or tactic to boost your content marketing strategy. At the same time, almost every internet user has at least one email account that they check regularly.
In fact, HubSpot’s research found that an average email marketing strategy generates an astounding 3,800 percent return. If you’re not getting back $38 for each $1 you spend on email marketing, start with the very first thing that your audience will see — your subject line.
Boost your email marketing strategy with these tips for effective subject lines
If your own efforts or even those of an email marketing agency haven’t benefited your business, you may simple need to get more people to open up your message by crafting better subject lines. To provide you with some inspiration, consider these tested tips for attention-grabbing email subject lines.
1. Mention video
Video marketing has gained plenty of attention as a way to engage people and convert customers. Data analysis from email providers have found that just mentioning video in your email subject line can boost open rates. You don’t need to include the video inside the email but can simply link to a video you have posted on your own site.
2. Add the recipient’s name
If you use a CRM or other email marketing system, you should have a way to insert the name of your subscriber or customer into the subject line. Typically, anything you can do to personalize your emails should help gain attention and help the recipient find your content more valuable. With more sophisticated email apps, you can do more, but even the most basic tools generally make it easy to insert a name.
3. Try using lists and numbers
List titles, like this one, “10 Email Subject Line Tips to Boost CTRs,” tend to attract attention. People appear to focus upon numbers, so that may explain the popularity of lists. Also, the list style offers content producers a way to organize a lot of information in digestible chunks, and that’s the kind of content that many internet users like to browse.
4. Appeal to FOMO
To some degree, concerns about feeling left behind tend to impact almost everybody at one time or another. Perhaps it’s even a survival instinct from the times when groups offered protection against dangerous predators.
Today, fear of missing out even has its own acronym — FOMO. Adding a time or quantity limit to emails about special deals can work very well. Let your audience know that your deal ends Saturday or after the first 100 responses. If you want to extend your offer later, you can always explain that you had such a good response that you wanted to please more customers.
5. Keep titles fairly brief but not too short
Marketing Land reported upon a study by Retention Science, a marketing analytics company, of 540 email marketing campaigns that sent a total of about 260 million individual emails. They found:
- Titles with six to 10 words generated an average open rate of 21 percent.
- Titles with five or fewer words generated average open rates of 16 percent.
- Longer titles with more than 10 words generated average open rates of 14 percent.
Apparently, it helps to include enough words in the title to communicate the point but not so many words that you risk losing readers.
6. Consider adding recognizable movie titles or song lyrics
That same Retention Science study found that titles that incorporated movie titles or lyrics averaged over a 26-percent open rate, compared to more traditional subject lines that only averaged about 16 percent.
Some mildly amusing and attention-getting example might include:
- Gone With the Wind — These Deals Will End Thursday
- I Gotta Feeling You’re Going to Love These Walking Shoes
7. Phrase titles as questions or exclamations
Used carefully, punctuation can help titles stand out in a crowded inbox. An exclamation point at the end can help communicate urgency. Alternatively, questions may make your audience curious about the answer or eager to answer themselves.
You might also experiment with other special characters, such as asterisks, hyphens, and quotation marks. You might also phrase the question to suggest that something will happen if the reader doesn’t take action. As an example, you’ve probably gotten emails that say you won’t get any more emails unless you respond.
8. Try to add a little humor
Like you, your customers probably consider going through their packed inbox a chore some days. If you can get them to crack a smile, they’ll probably appreciate the effort.
Some examples of mildly amusing subject lines could include:
- You’ll Like This Down Comforter Better Than Your Cat
- Hey, it’s Friday! You’re Just Watching the Clock Anyway!
- Since You Didn’t Win the Lottery Today…
9. Surprise or challenge your readers
You have to take care with this, but clickbait’s a thing for a reason. Of course, you need to make sure you understand your audience pretty well because you have to walk a fine line between getting attention and giving offense.
For instance, a title like “Why Your Email Subject Lines Stink” might get attention but also could turn off some readers. If you run a Florida marketing agency, you might need to tread lightly with the famous “Florida Man…” jokes.
10. Personalize your titles and content
No matter how well you craft your email titles, you probably won’t enjoy the highest open rates if you can’t segment your audience and appeal to their interests. For instance, a customer who just purchased a pair of men’s hiking boots probably won’t have much interest in women’s ballet flats. On the other hand, there’s a good chance that customer might need the perfect socks to complement those boots. Why not take a little extra care to ensure that your audience will probably have an interest in your offer?
Best practices for developing strong email subject lines
So, how do you really know which kinds of subject lines will appeal to your audience? You should start out by understanding your customers and prospects. Not only will this help you determine which topics they’d have an interest in, it can also help you craft the subject line to attract their attention and just as important, avoid turning them away.
As with other kinds of marketing, it’s also a good idea to test various titles. For instance, you might try to develop a handful of different kinds of subject lines, send each of them out to different portions of your audience, and then compare the results. If one performs much better or worse than the others, you can use that information in your next email campaign.
No, email marketing’s not dead
No doubt, most people get more emails in their inbox each day than they care to read. At the same time, some companies have subscribers and customers who actually look forward to getting emails in their inbox because they find them valuable. Overall, email still produces strong results. If your email hasn’t performed as well as you hoped, start by improving your open rates with better titles.
Marketing strategy agency Bigeye’s podcast features strategist and educator Darius Lana discussing advertising, education, and the next generation of marketers.
IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Marketing strategy agency Bigeye’s podcast features Darius Lana. Concurrently, a student, teacher, and advertising practitioner, Darius discusses how the pandemic has impacted education, and ways in which online courses can be designed to maximize student engagement. Darius explains his personal career journey, the challenges minority groups face when considering advertising as a career, and the contribution of the 4A’s Multicultural Advertising Internship Program.
Adrian Tennant: From pre-K through higher education, more than 300 million students worldwide have had their learning disrupted by the spread of the novel coronavirus. Schools and universities haven’t faced this level of disruption in generations, but most today can continue offering education online. As teachers have made mid-semester transitions from in-person to online classes, new words have entered our language such as Zoombombing – and the video conferencing platform Zoom has become a verb. But these makeshift arrangements are very different from established online academic programs which were pioneered in the mid-1990s. MIT began offering its lectures and course materials online in 2002. Of course, today millions of students have had to switch from print to digital versions of educational materials, attending a mix of live lectures and online classrooms and asynchronous discussion forums as a replacement for on-campus learning. To talk about the creation of educational courses, the marketing and management of online education, and continuing education for marketing and advertising professionals, we’re joined today by Darius Lana. Darius is a consultant and strategist with almost a decade of experience specializing in brand integrated marketing and consumer insights on both the agency and client sides of the business. He currently works in the online higher education industry for US and international markets with Pearson, based in Orlando. In addition, Darius teaches part-time at the University of Central Florida on the topics of advertising, social media, and brand strategy. In this role, over the past four years, Darius has helped students that have gone on to work as account executives, brand strategists, and social media specialists with agencies including Universal McCann, Leo Burnett, MullenLowe, and Havas. Recognized as a UCF “30 Under 30” in an awards program that honors outstanding young alumni who have continued to reach for the stars in their professional and personal lives since graduating, Darius also has a personal passion for projects that increase access to education for disadvantaged groups in both domestic and international markets. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Darius!
Darius Lana: Thank you, Adrian for having me. I appreciate it.
Adrian Tennant: Darius, you’re currently Associate Director of Marketing and Strategic Initiatives at Pearson. What does your role entail?
Darius Lana: Pearson is an educational company out of the UK. They’re like 175 years old, focusing on different levels of education. So I know in your opening you mentioned K through 12, they’re focused on K through 12 higher education and continuing education as well. So, what my role really entails, it kind of focuses on that higher education piece. What we do in my division is we really look to bring specific programs online. So we partner with universities, such as the University of Central Florida or other universities like Howard University, things like that, mostly not-for-profit, and we look to take programs that could have high demand in the marketplace online. So, you’ll see a lot of MBAs online. We’ll put nursing degrees online. So my role really is to assess the demand from potential learners, potential students, and then to try to create a message that could resonate with those potential students so that they pick the program that’s right for them, typically with our partners.
Adrian Tennant: Darius, I’m curious – to what extent do you leverage primary or secondary research to inform your strategy?
Darius Lana: Yeah, so everything we do is centered in research. And that’s kind of been my background. Anything that I wanted to implement on my own, I’ve looked to have a research been to it. I look at big data. We look at some of our social media
Adrian Tennant: Excellent. So you mentioned quantitative studies, qualitative focus groups, and user experience research, some media intelligence. For the business, which do you think are the most valuable sources of data?
Darius Lana: I definitely think understanding what current students and maybe prospective students are really interested in is what is most useful. I think that is because understanding if a program meets the user’s needs is what’s most important. So, if they’re not getting what they need out of a program, they may be less motivated to complete it, or if they don’t see the value, I like to call it “return on degree investment.” If they don’t see the value of their degree, they’re less likely to complete it. So we really focus on understanding the student and what they need and understanding their motivations for going to school.
Adrian Tennant: The current situation has certainly put online learning in the spotlight with many teachers rapidly finding ways to conduct classes online, using tools like Zoom. Have you seen increased interest from colleges and universities in your platform or elevated usage rates?
Darius Lana: In my role at Pearson, we custom build the programs to online learners. Those learners are typically adult learners that have a job or a family or maybe two jobs, and then are trying to make a better pathway for their family. So, you know, increasing in a career or maybe career shifts. So we build what we call asynchronous courses. So they have the potential to be done at any time. They all have an instructor and you can engage and interact with that instructor at any time, but it doesn’t call for what we’re seeing here in the temporary type of platforms that a lot of universities and colleges are interacting with, which is that synchronous platform, which is where the Zoom comes in. So when you compare asynchronous to synchronous, the asynchronous seems to be fine. Students are continuing to go finish their assignments and turn in their work. We’re continuing to see those invested students stay invested. As a student myself, having been on the Zoom calls – because my program is downtown UCF campus – it is a little taxing. So it was definitely a little different watching some of your more tenured instructors working on Zoom platform when they are so used to the classroom.
Adrian Tennant: Now, if social distancing rules remain in place on college campuses through the end of this year and possibly into next, as some health experts seem to be suggesting, do you think some students who are headed to elite schools may think again and select other institutions because classes are going to be taken primarily or exclusively online?
Darius Lana: You know, personally, I hope so. I mean, you know, just me candidly speaking, the allure of an elite school or an Ivy league school was a lot of the history that’s involved. Getting a degree online from Harvard to me, again, personally, does not resonate or does not feel the same as going on campus. You know, and maybe it does, I think that price point is really what would be hard to stomach. Paying a hundred thousand dollars for a degree, for maybe an MBA when you’re getting it solely online, you may not feel as motivated to do so. I think that students that have been accepted to those schools may consider it, or they may continue to go and just hope that it gets better in time.
Adrian Tennant: Darius, you’re also an adjunct professor, of course, at the University of Central Florida, instructing senior level elective courses for the advertising and public relations major, focused on strategic development and brand planning. What led you to teach?
Darius Lana: Yeah, so when I graduated from the University of Central Florida from the Ad PR program, Nicholson School Communication and Media, I felt like you only had a couple of pathways. You could do account service, or be creative, which means you had to sit in front of a computer and understand Photoshop and understand the Adobe suite or you’re going to be a copywriter. So again, a lot of hours in front of the computer understanding how to write both long form and short form. I felt like coming away I had three paths and I didn’t feel like any one of the three really fit me correctly. I did some copywriting, I gave it a go at Photoshop and things like that and I was fine. I fell on the account service at first, but I really felt like there was more that could be done. I started my Master’s program while I was working at an agency called Decanter, which is now closed. But one of the things I felt like there was research that could be involved. So when we’re doing these briefs, it could be an entire position dedicated to understanding the consumer, what motivates a consumer, understanding how to evoke emotion more accurately and readily. That was my motivation behind starting to teach. I brought that to my advisor, Joan McCain, who’s wonderful, and I pitched her the brand strategy course, which is called Power Branding. I told her, “I think there’s something else that we can offer students. I think the account planning, account strategy, brand strategy – more than just account servicing – is something that I think will really resonate with the program.” Here we are, nearly five years later, still doing it.
Adrian Tennant: Under “normal” circumstances, you teach both traditional in classroom and online courses. Which do you prefer and why?
Darius Lana: So I do like them both. I do prefer in-person and a little bit of that might be just the nature of the courses. So I teach social media online and I teach intro to advertising online, and I love it. They’re larger lecture courses, so less interaction with the students than I would personally like. My Power Branding course is in-person and it’s capped at 20 people versus my social media and my advertising courses, which are around anywhere between 50 and 75. It really gives me an opportunity in-person to connect with the students and kind of see where they’re trying to go and real-time, so that delay is not quite there. Also the cap just really allows me to have more, be able to give the groups more attention. Most of my in person classes rely on group work, so seeing and resolving issues that could come up in the group is something that I enjoy.
Adrian Tennant: Can you talk a little bit about the process of developing course materials designed for online learning, in comparison to traditional in-classroom learning?
Darius Lana: Yeah, that’s a great question. For the Power Branding course that I mentioned earlier, that process was establishing a net new course into the AD PR program. So that one actually had quite a haul, including creating a syllabus, finding a textbook that fit, making sure that no other programs at the university were using the textbook so you’re not getting into any duplication issues. Then really developing a curriculum around what is the student going to take away? And that’s really how I look at all my classes. What is that return on degree investment, like I said, what is something that the student can take away? So in my Power Branding course is a brand audit that shows that they have the capability to research and use consumer research tools, to understand their consumer, and then apply that to a strategy and then build out an ad campaign and a brand campaign from that. So online it’s a little different. You want to make sure that organization is your main focus. Students that typically pick online courses are looking for clear, concise objectives and they still want to be challenged – but they want to be challenged in the material, not in trying to locate where files are. So, it’s the same process in terms of creating a syllabus and establishing a book, but it’s a little different in the motivation of the online student versus the motivation of maybe one that’s on-ground.
Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message.
Dana Cassell: I’m Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as marketing professionals, often inspired by data points reported in consumer research studies. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, through our own research, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers – analyzing their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. We distill this data into actionable insights to inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – with strategic, cost-efficient media placements. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. We’re talking to Darius Lana about advertising strategy and diversity in the workplace. Darius, because you’re not busy enough already, you’re going back to school to pursue a doctoral degree. Can you tell us more about that and what motivated you to commit to that goal?
Darius Lana: So I am pursuing a doctorate degree in strategic communication. The University of Central Florida Nicholson School of Communication and Media actually just established this PhD program. So I actually waited a little bit for it. I knew it was coming around two years ago. So I knew that I wanted to go back to school. Education has always been extremely important to me and my family. We know that the more that you can educate yourself, you can help educate those around you. My grandmother really felt like education was going to be the separator from some of the things that I would have to experience as a black man and things that go along with that, some of the way that you’re looked at because of your color. So, education was seen as an insulator and meant as a protection piece from that. I really took that to heart and wanted to go to school, not only for that reason, but that was a main piece of that as well.
Adrian Tennant: Now, back in January, IN CLEAR FOCUS featured Reema Elghossain, who’s VP of Talent, Equity, and Inclusion at the 4A’s Foundation, as a guest. In that episode, Reema shared her observations about how generational differences in attitudes towards gender and identity are changing how agencies engage with their staff. Now as you know, Reema leads the 4A’s multicultural advertising internship program, better known as MAIP. Darius, you’re a MAIP alumnus. How did you first learn about the program?
Darius Lana: Yeah, so that’s really great that you had her on in January. I learned about MAIP from my advisor, Joan, which is very interesting. They had 300 openings for MAIP-ers and I got the one public relations gig out of that and I was already kind of heading in an advertising direction at the time. It was looking like advertising, copywriting, and art direction were kind of the sections here. And they put me in the public relations piece at Golan Harris in Chicago. It’s now just Golan. I was on the British Petroleum, the BP account during the 2010 oil spill. So when I came on, I came to learn quickly about crisis communication and crisis PR. But I think that opportunity really kind of kept me engaged in advertising public relations, and then also helped me to understand how different the opportunities are for those that are maybe people of color versus you know, whites in general. So some of the things that I learned when I was in the program that less than 10 percent of those in the industry are people of color. And I love MAIP because it’s one of the few programs that are focusing on changing that to match the diversity of the audiences. So as we start to see more people of different colors and different backgrounds, more prominent throughout different industries in different areas, we need to understand how to better appeal to them because they spend money as well. So I’m glad to see that we’re really starting to make some progress there.
Adrian Tennant: That’s great, and in other episodes of IN CLEAR FOCUS, we’ve also talked quite a bit about the Hispanic community. There’s two aspects though: what barriers do you think multicultural communities commonly face when looking at advertising and marketing as a potential profession?
Darius Lana: Yeah, so, you know, that’s a really great question. Some of the things that I’ve even dealt with early on in my career were I think that people, some of the things that have been barriers, besides being passed over for promotions or, maybe seeing their viewpoints being dismissed. I think there’s also the assumption that you represent your race when you are in a brainstorm. And that happened to me pretty early on where one of our clients was a Visitor Bureau and they wanted to appeal more to blacks. And I think I had to be like 23 or 24 at the time. And basically the premise was, “Hey, we’re not resonating with blacks. They don’t come to our area and we really want to change that.” Of thirty people in the room, I’m the only black one. And they look at me and they go, “Darius, what do you think about how to get more black people to this place?” And so I think there’s tremendous pressure to represent your race. And it’s one of the most frustrating things I think a person of color could deal with. You see it in all different avenues and facets of life. But in the ad industry, I think that’s one of the biggest barriers is people making assumptions that because you look a certain way, you should resonate with that particular audience. Sometimes it does work out, but sometimes it doesn’t. You’re going to have people that are black and are Caribbean or black and African or black and African American. I think every experience is very different. So those are some of the things I’d like to see more industries, all industries to get better at, but especially as those that have the opportunity to create messages that speak to people of color to understand that.
Adrian Tennant: So on the flip side of that, how do you think agencies should attract more people with multicultural backgrounds to consider careers in the profession?
Darius Lana: I think that one of the ways that they can do that is making sure that they are present at functions that the 4A’s or the MAIP team hosts. I think that’s really important. Also I think that there is this false notion that, “Hey, all of our seats are filled, all our C-suites or VP or SVP seats are filled. And as soon as something opens up, we’ll have that for a minority or a person of color or a woman,” or what have you. And I think that that is a false assumption. I think that you should look to create space right away and you should do it at every level. I think that we do this thing in industry that is okay, we have somebody that is a person of color in this role at this level and that’s good enough. But then when you go and you look at the About Us and you scroll through and you’ll look at all the SVPs of the VPs or the C suite or the people that they say, “Hey, these are the people, the figureheads,” you’re not seeing that representation. So I think it goes back to even if you go back to education, people want to see people that look like them doing it. You know, I can think back, and this is kind off on a tangent, but I can think back throughout my college, throughout my high school and middle school and elementary school, I think I’ve had one African American male teacher and one female African American teacher, my entire K through 12 primary, secondary education. So people want to see before they decide to join what would be 40 hours of their life a week for 40-plus weeks. So I think that’s where we get started is putting people in place that look like the people you want to attract at the highest level, not just at the levels like diversity and inclusion VP or something like that. Put them in account service roles, put them in sales roles you know, cause they’re definitely qualified and they’re definitely out there.
Adrian Tennant: Looking back, how do you think MAIP helped you prepare for and navigate your professional career to date?
Darius Lana: So MAIP was my first internship, which is generally not how MAIP goes. MAIP is typically for people who are about to graduate or on their second or third internship and so MAIP was great in a lot of ways. It was my first introduction to a big city. I was in downtown Chicago during the summer, which was great. It’s amazing weather but I had to make a lot of grown up decisions very quickly. I graduated early, so I was even younger, I was 19 when I was in Chicago. But also, I think that there’s a lot of things that you think coming out of a program into quote unquote real life or real scenarios that I learned the hard way. There were a lot of things that I took away that maybe that I wouldn’t have had if I had gone to a different setup. So, I mean, just interning in general helps with that understanding
Adrian Tennant: Darius, since graduating from the program, have you stayed in contact with MAIP alumni?
Darius Lana: Yeah, I have. It’s a pretty nice knit group and so those of the 2010, I’m pretty good friends with a couple people. Some of them live out of the country now. I actually, a friend of mine, his name is Alex. I was just talking to him a couple of days ago. So, you know, now this is a relationship that is 10 years old. It’s true when you are involved in MAIP, it gives you an opportunity to make lifelong friendships and it’s cool to kind of see where people have gone. I have another friend who was a pretty high up at Amazon before she left to take her gig overseas, to the UK. I have another friend who is working for Google. So a lot of people have the opportunity to use MAIP as a jumping point for their careers and that specific initiative probably helped them get there, whereas maybe the opportunity wouldn’t be available if not. MAIP is pretty cool.
Adrian Tennant: Now you’ve mentioned diversity and inclusion. Traditional gender labels, the binary choice of male or female are being replaced with the more fluid concept of gender identity. I noticed in your LinkedIn profile that you include your preferred gender pronouns. Why did you decide to do that?
Darius Lana: Yeah, so it’s actually something that I have picked up rather recently, maybe in the last six months to a year. I’ve had it on my work email for a while and I have it on some personal emails and signatures and I just remembered to put it on some of my social media. But, you know, we make this assumption that typically isn’t always correct. And I think that these assumptions, just based upon how you look, like I said, representing a person of color, there are different identities. I think that that assumption can be harmful. I have a lot of friends in the LGBTQ community and I think that something I can do that maybe pushes past a little bit of the ally status and kind of taking action from that is to make it more of a comfortable space for them. So by putting my pronouns maybe it will spark a conversation on why – like we’re having now – but then also, those that identify as LGBTQ will be more comfortable putting their pronouns so that we can speak with them as they prefer to be spoken with. So something that I think that more people should do and hopefully I’m starting to see it. So hopefully more people pick that up and maybe do a little research.
Adrian Tennant: Now thinking differently about gender identity can impact the work an agency does for its clients. Have you seen any examples of work that break the mold or challenge the viewer to consider gender identity in a new way?
Darius Lana: I think you’re starting to see it. I think you’re starting to see it and I’m trying to think of a specific example, but I definitely think you’re starting to see in show content. I think that comes from a lot of the content being streamed. So, you know, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime. I think that shows are being more inclusive of how you see identities, versus how you traditionally see them, maybe on network television. I think network television is also trying. I think in advertising, I do think there are attempts to be more inclusive. I think of the Zola campaign which is around weddings if I’m pronouncing it right, but it’s around weddings and wedding registration. So you start to see the different couples, same-sex couples start to be included there. I can think back to when it was interracial relationships that were being included to be considered more mainstream. And I remember a Cheerios commercial that had a black woman and a white man together and a mixed child. And that had to be like 10 years ago at this point. So you’re starting to see some progress there.
Adrian Tennant: So Darius, if you weren’t a student, a teacher, and a practitioner of marketing and advertising, what other fields could you see yourself being engaged with?
Darius Lana: You know, I always wanted to be a radio show host. I don’t know if I’m very good at it and I guess we’ll find out when you play this back. But, I’ve always wanted to do radio. I had a little radio show when I was in college with one of my really good friends, Nester, and I enjoyed that. I also think I don’t know if I’d be able to get away from education in some way, form, or fashion. I think that the way that we use education is extremely important. And I think I would want to be in the mix there somehow. So yeah, I think maybe that – definitely not a politician though – would not want to do that.
Adrian Tennant: Darius, thank you very much for being our guest and bringing education IN CLEAR FOCUS. It was great to have you.
Darius Lana: Thank you for having me.
Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guests this week, Darius Lana. You can find our show notes with links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at bigeyeagency.com under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked, “Podcast.” To ensure you don’t miss an episode, please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast player. And if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, stay safe. Goodbye.
Pet marketing in 2020: Consumer confidence may have waned, but pet owners still spend money on their dogs, cats, and other pets.
COVID-19 has generated plenty of concerns about health and finances all over the world. This global pandemic may have initially begun when the virus jumped from an animal to a human host. On the plus side, the CDC says that you probably don’t have to worry about pets getting sick or contributing to spreading the disease. Instead of making people leery of keeping pets, the crisis appears to have sparked interest in them.
In fact, pet ownership has even increased in the United States during these days of social isolation. Even better for pet product marketing, most sectors of the industry have proven remarkably resilient to past financial downturns. Still, pet industry trends and consumer behavior have changed abruptly during the current crisis. It’s important to understand what’s different about the COVID-19 outbreak than financial slumps of the past. That way, you can develop pet product marketing plans that will attract and retain today’s customers.
How has the coronavirus impacted pet marketing?
Even before coronavirus, marketers have touted pet product marketing as a typically recession-proof industry. That positive view of the overall pet business held true both during the Great Recession of the last decade and in the aftermath of 9/11 two decades ago.
Still, the current pandemic has generated both some new opportunities and new challenges for the pet business. For instance, previous economic downturns did not have associated stay-at-home orders and perhaps, did not occur quite this abruptly. While many retailers and marketers still have plenty of reasons to feel optimistic, others have struggled and may need to pivot their pet marketing plans rapidly in order to maintain and grow their business.
Local pet services face the most obstacles
The virus has generated the most challenges for local pet services. In particular, locally owned businesses may struggle to survive. Travel restrictions and increased remote work have slashed the need for such services as pet boarding, daycare, and dog walkers. Restrictions on in-person contact have limited dog groomers, even if they’re considered essential businesses. People may delay some other discretionary services as they tighten their purse strings.
On the other hand, one sort of pet service has enjoyed an upswing. According to USA Today, pet shelters and adoption centers have not reported an increase in the number of pets dropped off because owners were either financially unable or too ill to take care of them. Actually, pet shelters have reported an increase in the number of people who have signed up to foster or adopt shelter pets.
Because of social distancing measures, people may have decided pets can help them cope with isolation. Others may simply have found more time to care for a furry friend. Also, many shelters and sponsoring agencies have made it possible to reduce or even eliminate adoption fees. Probably for multiple reasons, expect to see pet ownership increase and not decrease during the coronavirus outbreak.
Local retailers must take safety measures and find alternative business tactics
Most of the government stay-at-home orders consider pet stores an essential business. That means that they can stay open, even when non-essential businesses have had to close. At the same time, they’ve generally had to take more stringent safety measures to satisfy local regulations and of course, to keep their customers and employees safe. For instance, stores might limit foot traffic, have employees use PPE, and offer curbside service or new delivery options.
Keven Fink serves as the CEO of Worldwide, a pet products manufacturer. He said that many of his company’s local retailers should have prepared themselves better by leaning into online retailing a little more. He believes they should take advantage of their community presence by offering more online ordering with local pickup.
In this way, customers still won’t need to pay a shipping charge. Still, they can enjoy the convenience of contact-free payments, online ordering, and in many cases, same-day pickup. Traditionally, this model has served other types of retailers with physical stores very well. In addition to other marketing, physical stores could better position themselves by adding online pet supply marketing to their existing advertising.
How to benefit from the rise of online pet supply marketing
Pet industry marketers will face challenges both during and shortly after the outbreak. Compared to an original project increase of five percent for 2020, the marketing research firm Packaged Facts predicts an overall 17 percent decline for the year. Most of that decline comes to a drop in such pet services as boarding, dog walking, and pet daycare services. Travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders mean that more people won’t need this kind of help. Packaged Facts also expects a somewhat more modest decline in other discretionary services and products but an increase in sales of such non-discretionary pet products as food and litter.
Along with obstacles, marketers can also find some growth opportunities. Online pet supply marketing already enjoyed steady growth before the outbreak. Mobile and online sales have been surging for all sorts of eCommerce. Pet product retailers and marketers should take this as good news because historically, online sales have tended to grow the overall market instead of cannibalizing other retail sales. Packaged Facts expects online sales to reach at least 24 percent of total industry sales in 2020 and grow to over 26 percent within five years.
Choosing an online platform
Larger retailers and distributors may already have their own eCommerce platform. Other pet product marketers may simply take advantage of the vast audience and developed infrastructure that Amazon already offers them. If a pet product supplier has a brick-and-mortar store, either option can offer a customer base that extends far beyond their local market.
Of course, many sellers have both a presence on Amazon and their own store. Managing both Amazon listings and a business website makes an marketing a bit more complex; however, it can also offer your business many advantages. For instance, you can run a newsletter from your site. You can also give customers a place to go to learn more about your company when they do their own research. At the same time, you can take advantage of Amazon’s vast customer base.
Tips to market Amazon pet products
Some benefits of pet product marketing on Amazon include:
- A giant audience who spends billions of dollars each year on the site
- The chance to provide excellent products and services and then earn repeat business without any other marketing
- Tested backend support and infrastructure
- Automatic referrals from Amazon’s recommendation algorithm
- An implied level of trust from associating with Amazon
Even though Amazon has a lot of customers, pet sellers may also find plenty of competition in some niches. Dan Vas, a successful Amazon seller, says that he’s achieved success by differentiating his listings, even if they’re for the same products and brands other sellers promote. He shared such tactics as careful keyword research, high-quality images, and using page headings and text to let customers know how your product or business is unique and beneficial.
Amazon also allows sellers to set up autoship programs, which can automatically generate repeat sales. If you are promoting your Amazon listings, you might first run your visitors through your website in order to collect their email addresses. For instance, you might offer prospects a discount code in exchange for a subscription to your newsletter. Amazon has lots of restrictions on the way you can contact “their customers.” If you can collect email addresses earlier in the sales funnel, you won’t violate the rules.
Online pet business ideas
If you have a physical store or solely sell online, you can also differentiate yourself by your choice of pet supplies you focus upon selling. Sure, the demand for non-discretionary items has increased; however, those are the kinds of things that many viewers view as simple commodities. You may also find some opportunities with more discretionary pet supplies. For instance, you might decide that it’s a good time to consider advertising animal supplements and anti-anxiety pet products.
Advertising animal supplements
Animal supplements have also grown into a fairly large niche within the broader pet products category. For example, Beyond Animals markets natural supplements that may help with such issues as digestive health and improved immunity. Joshua Erret, the company’s chief revenue officer, says April sales doubled over March, and he expects this pet industry trend to continue.
Even though some large players dominate this market, a couple of factors may mean that smaller players still have room to grow. First, the population of pet owners keeps growing. Also, as people have become more interested in high-quality food and natural remedies for themselves, they’re also interested in providing these same alternatives for their pets.
Anti-anxiety pet products
No doubt, the coronavirus pandemic has generated its fair share of anxiety. Naturally, people feel uncertain about the future and are justifiably concerned about the disease. According to research from Trends.co, people also have concerns they have transferred some of these feelings to their pets.
For instance, keywords for such items as calming dog and cat beds generate several thousand searches a month on Google. Likewise, they’re also trending on Amazon. Besides soothing beds, other examples of anti-anxiety products might include calming pet jackets and aromatherapy gels and sprays.
Back to the topic of pet furniture, all sorts of dog or cat beds have proven popular. In fact, there’s now a pretty viral, organic social media movement around the subject of people accidentally discovering their small pets like IKEA doll beds. However, IKEA has already published statements that their doll beds are not intended for pets. Sellers with similar designs of beds that were designed for pets should have an easy time piggybacking on some of that attention.
Pitch social consciousness
Even before the current outbreak, consumers had increasingly preferred brands they perceived as more socially conscious. According to McKinsey Research, post-pandemic customers put even more emphasis on spending money on businesses that they believe will care about them and their communities. Lots of companies may make some token efforts to present themselves as socially conscious. If your company’s products are centered around improving communities, you will have an edge.
For instance, the Philadelphia Inquirer highlighted the story of Piggyback Treats. One of the founders, Jennifer Kirby, said that their company works with farms and restaurants to collect food that would have otherwise been discarded. Some of their popular pet products include treats made from salmon skins or byproducts from making beer. They also make their pet food packaging out of sustainable materials.
According to Kirby, they had initially been devastated because they lost access to trade shows when the pandemic caused mass cancellations of in-person events. The company had already spent thousands of dollars to book booths and expected to recoup their money and make a profit through sales. On the positive side, online sales climbed steeply in March and April. Kirby said that their revenue would not make up for the amount they lost on trade shows, but it would be sufficient to sustain them until the crisis passes.
How the best pet websites have reacted to COVID-19
Your business should develop its own competitive advantages, so you don’t necessarily want to copy industry leaders. On the other hand, you should take the prudent step of studying their reactions to the coronavirus crisis to see if you can use some of their ideas to fit your own business model. Take a look at how some of the best pet websites have coped with the crisis in order to sustain and grow their business.
Barkbox offers a subscription program that delivers healthy pet treats and toys. This company joins the ranks of pet product marketing companies that have enjoyed increased revenue during the crisis. However, they also understand that many of their customers face financial uncertainty right now, so they’ve made a commitment to be very flexible with their subscription programs.
Chewy has the distinction of being one online pet product marketer to outsell Amazon. During the outbreak, they’ve mostly struggled with scaling to meet demand while protecting employee health. While they plan to hire up to 10,000 more employees, they’ve also improved sanitation, added health benefits, and changed some work policies and processes. Also, Chewy has partnered with GreaterGood.org with a donation of $3 million for rescues and shelters all over the country.
The Dodo doesn’t manufacture or market pet products. Instead, they produce entertaining content that centers around animals. In addition to the overall increase in pet ownership, The Dodo has enjoyed an increase in viewers during the current crisis. The company’s president, YuJung Kim, says that they’ve also seen traffic spikes during times of natural disasters and even election cycles. He believes his site’s content offers viewers a bit of hope and respite during stressful times.
In any case, a pet supply marketer might take a lesson from The Dodo’s popularity. Adding some content focused on pet owners to your online platform could be an effective way to grow your audience. Sponsoring sites and social media influencers with this kind of content can offer you a somewhat simpler route to get started. From the standpoint that this sort of content can help relax and entertain people during these uncertain times, your audience may view this effort as socially responsible as donations. Of course, you can use the content to promote your business and your favorite worthy causes.
Large pet food brands offering sustainable pet food packaging
Besides Piggyback Treats, a number of national and even international brands have explored using more sustainable pet food packaging. According to Pet Food Industry, almost 60 percent of customers report a more favorable view of businesses that avoid or reduce single-use plastics in their packages.
Some large brands that have either introduced or explored more sustainable packaging include Royal Canin, Wellness, and Purina. Some of these manufacturers have developed biodegradable packages, while others have encouraged recycling. You can use your support for sustainable products to help promote your own brand as socially conscious too.
Moving forward to enjoy the boom in online pet food industry marketing
Lots of your customers may have tightened their budgets right now. At the same time, today’s pet owners tend to regard their furry friends as part of the family. Thus, pet owners want a good value. At the same time, they won’t always skimp on quality, especially for essential pet items. In general, consumers also like to spend their money on brands that have the same ideals that they do. That means your own investment in being a good neighbor and a reliable source of quality products can provide you with great returns.
Most of all, you can enjoy an expanding market of new pet owners and more reasons to offer online shopping. Your attention to researching and marketing trending pet products can help you gain an edge against larger competitors. There’s not a one-size-fits all model for every sort of business; however, you can study your competitors to determine which of their successful tactics can also help your pet business thrive.