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Keeping Up With the Joneses 2.0

Once upon a time, for pet industry manufacturers and retailers, like their counterparts in other commercial markets, having a website and possibly an online store and shopping cart was considered keeping up to speed in the digital consumer world.

The advertising and marketing messages was straightforward; Hey! Look! This is what I am selling and you can buy it now! Click okay to pay.

Then, just as manufacturers and retailers were learning to walk the walk and talk the talk, a new baby called Social Networking 1.0 was born and instantly turned this existing marketing and business platform upside down.

With sites such as Facebook and Twitter leading the way to connect with people on a social level who share similar interests and activities around the world, it quickly became evident that this was a great way of doing business too and that, in essence, is what social networking 2.0 is all about.

From a manufacturer and pet specialty retailer standpoint, social networking 2.0 has made the CPM  (cost per thousand) model of advertising to see how many people have viewed the advertisement and possibly proceed to buy what being sold, outmoded.

In this new Internet based arena, it’s all about turning communication into an interactive dialogue. As anyone trying to sell something knows, there’s nothing more influential than a personal recommendation. That’s why the words “friends”, “fans” and “like” are so powerful in this new consumer marketplace and are the key to successfully driving buzz about a product followed by a call to action which means sales.

Digital analyst Brian Solis, the author of a new book on social media and business, Engage!  spells it all out on his website www.BrianSolis.com.

“Businesses must first realize that there’s more to social media than just managing an active web presence. Social media 2.0 is about active listening and engagement. It becomes a platform for the brand and the functions that consumers deem mandatory. From marketing to human resources to service and also research and development, brands are able to expand the role they play in social networking to make the acts of following and sharing an investment in a more meaningful relationship.”

While advertising executives are being forced to re-think their traditional advertising strategies, it has become the role of public relations companies to manage their clients’ Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as their presence on numerous new sites spouting up and also see that they are properly linked on sites such as Linked–in, Facebook’s new BranchOut and Google +. The list grows by the day.

“We generally post for our clients twice a week on Facebook and monitor the pages for any feedback, fan questions and comments, responding as necessary or directing questions to clients for answers, then responding,” explained Dave Payne a consultant at Fetching Communications in Tarpon Springs, FL.

“Recently we worked with SmartBones a client that makes dog chews to make a splash into the social media world by offering free samples of SmartBones to people who “liked” the SmartBones Facebook page.  Word spread virally through hundreds of blogs, and in 24-hours, the company’s fandom jumped from less than 100 to more than 54,000!”

Dr. Martin J. Glinsky Ph.D, chief science officer at PetMatrix in Flagstaff, AZ, the manufacturers of SmartBones weighted in on this response.

“With regards to our marketing efforts, we see social media as an important part of our overall thrust to reach potential customers along with traditional advertising modes. A successful campaign for us involves promoting our message using multiple outlets, within our budgetary means.  TV advertising is too costly at this point for our limited product line. Social media helps us reach a more ‘concentrated and interested’ audience more economically.”

Another new “tool” which is designed to link traditional print media with the digital word has been the advent of the QR code (quick response code). They are popping up everywhere even on TV screens. All that has to be done to activate it to have a QR reader downloaded on a smart phone and scan the code to automatically link to the product or manufacturer’s digital platform.

“We have not considered using QR codes yet,” said Glinsky. “But we are studying this potential for providing our customers more information on our products.”

From Facebook and Twitter, the next in line for consumer and retailer social media action is You Tube.

“Yes, agreed Payne. “ In the case of SmartBones and some of our other pet-orientated clients, Facebook is excellent for building buzz and engaging consumers directly but YouTube allows us to illustrate how much pets love the respective product and thus also build their brand awareness.”

From a manufacturer’s standpoint UltraPet in Anderson SC, the makers of silica litter products Litter Pearls and Ultra Pearls has been experimenting with different ideas including video for some time.

According to Thomas Atyeo, the company’s marketing manager, the company has been focusing on  “product TV” sites such as Sample Rewards.com which helps manufacturers marketing their brands with the site’s Product New Channel which has entrepreneur – host Billy Carmen interviewing manufacturers and talking about their products in a news style format.

“They sell products off the site and instead of asking consumers for written comments, customers are asked to post videos about the product. It’s proving to be a great marketing tool,” he said.

“We are also using www.whyyawantit.com where potential customers of a particular product send a video saying why they need that product.  If they have a good enough video or reason, they get an item free.

There are other sites for manufacturers to utilize such as is www.Doesitfor.me where a video is sent in giving a reference about how well the product worked and www.paysperview.com where consumers once again submit videos and, if they are acceptable, and approved by the brand owner, the consumer will get a few cents payment each time the video is seen.

And, if a consumer recommends the product to a new retailer, they can also get a free product.”

Another way manufacturers are using social media to promote their brands is by introducing “spokespets”.

Recently, Our Pets Co in Fairport Harbor, OH introduced their spokescat named Stanley to help promote the sales of the company’s Smart Scoop litter box system.

“Stanley’s  ‘job’ is to inform cat owners how they can declare their Odor Independence,” explained Rochelle Hartigan director of marketing.

While SureFlap, the United Kingdom based company that recently entered the US market by debuting their cat door that works in conjunction with a microchip at Superzoo in Las Vegas, has created a Facebook page for their stuffed mascot, Newton.  The company runs regular Facebook fans contests to connect with their key target audience that includes charities, shelters organizations, trainers and veterinarians.

There’s no questions that forward thinking pet specialty retailers are making as much use of the social media as manufacturers.

Recently Kriser’s that owns numerous stores in the Chicago and Los Angeles area held a Christmas in July event on Facebook organized by their public relations consultants Formula PR Inc. based in El Segundo, California.

The pet retail chain teamed up with Canidae, Merrick and WellPet to donate food and supplies to the value of $25 000 to two shelters  — one in Chicago and one in Los Angeles.

“It was a great success,” enthused Brad Kriser, the company’s president and founder.

To date, it doesn’t appear that pet retailers are signing on to sites such as Four Square which allow users to “check in” via a Smartphone app or SMS, to share their location with friends while collecting points and virtual badges. Only time will tell which other sites will also gain popularity in the pet specialty market.

While a lot of pet retailers and manufacturers are still treading water and learning to swim in the social media pool, they have nevertheless discovered the important role that bloggers play in their online marketing strategies.

“I’ve turned heavily to bloggers on behalf of my clients since they provide great insights to their readers through product reviews and features,” confided Payne. “Bloggers really help readers cut through the cluttered advertising space and are a great, trustworthy resource to their readers because they give their honest opinions of the products we send them to review.  Plus, blog reviews sometimes raise interesting points. Thus, in a way they are helping companies with their research and development.

It is not only smaller companies and independent retailers that are relying on bloggers; companies with big budgets and huge presence in the market place such as Nestle Purina are doing it too.

In fact, with all forms of advertising available to them, they have twice in recent months turned directly to bloggers to launch new products. Most recently, it was to launch a new wet food for cats called Purina ONE SMARTBLEND.

They targeted bloggers with an email that said. “As a resource to the pet community, we’d like you to consider being a part of our inner circle and be one of the first to try this new line of food.”

Bloggers who agreed to participate were sent an Inner Circle Kit, containing free samples of each of the eight wet food recipes, along with details about the product. And it was suggested to them that if the kitties in the blogger’s life enjoyed the contents, they should share the experience on social networking platforms. And, in addition, each participating blogger was given sample pack to give away to their followers (at the blogger’s expense). All this led up to a further 25 000 free sample giveaway on the brand’s Facebook page.

“The idea is to spread awareness of the new line with a three-pronged approach,” explained Niky Roberts a public relations spokesperson for the St. Louis, MI-based company.

“Firstly, it introduced the products to relevant and influential bloggers. Secondly, it made product samples available for the readers of such blogs and thirdly, it rewarded up to 25,000 fans of the Purina ONE Facebook page with samples of the new product. There aren’t a set number of cat-lovers that we are trying to reach.   The focus is on building meaningful relationships with bloggers and engaging with consumers who love cats as much as we do.”

At the recent Superzoo trade show in Las Vegas, Superzoo University hosted workshops focusing on the new social media and how to use this platform to its best advantage. For pet industry professionals who feel they are not quite yet up to speed, take solace in the fact that everyone is feeling the spin on the same hamster wheel.  It’s difficult to keep up with constant change.

Perhaps overwhelmed should be the new buzzword.