BY AMY CASTRO
When it comes to food, treats, products and services, the choices available to customers can be overwhelming. Although many retailers spend a lot of time talking with their customers about making great choices for their pets, the problem with a conversation is there’s only so much information a customer can “digest” at once. If you want to truly help your customers, creating your own educational materials is a relatively inexpensive and easy way to not only inform them, but market your business as well. Usually when we think of marketing materials, we think of brochures, social media posts and self-promotional videos where we “sell, sell, sell” why people should do business with us. People don’t like sales pitches, but they do like to do business with people they trust. One of the best ways to prove your trustworthiness and earn your customers’ business is to provide them with expert information and advice that will help them make better decisions about products and services for their pets.
Experiment with Video
There’s no denying video’s popularity with customers. In fact, a recent Forbes article states that the average internet user spends 88 percent more time on a website that has video. Nathan Dupont, owner of Everything Pet in Katy, Texas, began experimenting with video in 2004. He now produces regular Facebook videos and has his own YouTube channel. Sometimes the videos are just fun, but most are educational and cover topics such as the causes and treatment of yeast infections in dogs and preventing gastroenteritis in Ball Pythons and other reptiles. Dupont says he creates the videos because his customers were finding a lot of incorrect information on the internet, and he wanted to provide them with the truth. “I make sure that I’m able to prove everything I say because I conduct my own research. I literally have a microscope here in the store, and I check products to make sure they live up to their claims.”
His advice for someone getting started with video or any other educational material is, “Start with whatever your business is about. Focus your content on your specialty and become an expert in that area.”
If you decide to create videos for your customers, your goal should be to provide value by giving them information they need. If you’re not sure what to cover, start with your customers’ most frequently asked questions or look to news headlines related to pets. Have fun making your videos, and don’t worry about how polished you look or spend too much time on “production.” If you try to make the videos perfect, you’ll not only take the fun out of creating them, but you’ll likely stop doing them because it will become too much work. Finally, if you’re going to produce videos, try to do so consistently. Your customers will come to expect them on a regular basis, whether it’s once a week, twice a month or whatever schedule works for you.
You might think people today wouldn’t need care sheets and brochures because they can pick up their phone and look up almost anything they want to know about caring for their pets. However, with the sheer volume of information on the internet, it’s hard for customers to know what information is true and which sources are trustworthy. I recently did an internet search on “bringing home a new puppy” and found 39,700,000 results. No one has time to wade through all that information! Creating your own brochures or care sheets is a great way to help customers get access to expert, practical information right when they need it.
Isabella Alcaraz, owner of The Animal Connection in San Francisco, says, “It’s nice to send people home with something that comes from us because they trust us and know that we care about their animals. It also gives people a little more confidence in following the care sheets, because they’re tips recommended by our staff.” She says their care sheets and informational brochures are important because they build upon one of the main reasons customers come into her store: her knowledgeable staff. “They know our ‘bird guy’ Joe has a degree in ornithology, and Jen is our reptile expert who worked with reptiles at the zoo.” Alcaraz says an added benefit of having your in-house experts create educational materials is that they really enjoy writing up the information about specific care. “If you’re passionate about animals and pet care, you don’t find it to be extra work to get educated and educate others about animals,” she says. Just like with videos, one of the keys to success with paper-based educational materials is consistency. Giving your materials a consistent look and feel will give your business a more professional image. Additionally, be sure to read the materials carefully to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and error-free, so as to not detract from your credibility.
Another avenue for educating your customers is electronically through blogs, email newsletters and social media. If you want to use these tools successfully, it’s important to remember three key things: Be consistent in posting, find proper balance between education and promotion and go where your customers are.
When I started my Performance Communication Blog in 2010, I was advised to post three times a week. I knew I couldn’t commit to that schedule consistently, but I could commit to once a week. Nine years later, my blog is still going strong—I get great feedback and a lot of business from it, and my customers have come to expect to see it each Tuesday. I’m also consistent in posting social media content, and I’m careful to ensure my posts have a balance between educational content and promotion. It’s OK to promote your business and specials, but if you do that more than you provide what your customers consider valuable, educational content, they’re going to stop following you. A good rule of thumb is for every eight posts you make, seven should be educational and only one should be an “ask” or push for business.
Tammy Weidman, owner of For the Love of Dog, a small boutique in Marietta, Pennsylvania, started her education efforts via a blog on her website. However, she says the blog wasn’t the success she hoped it would be: “My customers are on social media more and more and don’t necessarily visit the website.” As a result, she’s now focusing more of her efforts on social media posts. Dupont also had a similar experience with his YouTube channel and has since focused on posting his videos on Facebook to better reach his customers. These retailers’ experiences are a lesson for everyone who is starting out with electronic communication. You have to know where your customers are and know how they want to receive information from you. Once you know where they “hang out,” you can take advantage of that platform to reach them.