October 24, 2017

Let’s rehash some of the basics of marketing—the things that never change. You’ve successfully marketed your pet retail store when you have a) caused a significant number of people to be aware that you’re there; b) convinced a significant percentage of those people to buy their pet-related items from you; and c) convinced a significant percentage of those people to become repeat customers. For all the modern iterations of the strategies that get you there, that’s still the goal.

For all the sophisticated notions about brand-building, community relations, social media engagement and whatever else, none of it pays off if people don’t come in and shop—and then come back and shop a lot more.

I point this out not to cast aspersions on sophisticated new strategies. Far from it. The new ways of doing things offer tremendous opportunities we didn’t used to have in the old days when our options were limited to mass media advertising, mass mailers, clever signage and word-of-mouth. This is all good.

But it also comes with a temptation to use the wrong metrics in measuring success. A million Twitter followers is an impressive number. An Instagram post that’s shared 20,000 times is some feat. An ADDY Award for your brand positioning is sure to make you smile.

But unless these things are part of a strategy that drives it home in the form of people buying products, they are an investment in corporate ego and little else.

This is not to say all marketing has to be in-your-face pushing of products and sales. You won’t get far on social media if all you do is post product profiles and today’s specials. Indeed, I’m convinced there’s a lot of value to engagement with the public that’s heavy on relationship building and light on the hard sell. Some of America’s best marketing companies are very clever about engaging audiences with humor, or with uplifting messages, or with educational information that makes people feel like there’s value to having that company in their newsfeed.

There’s also a lot of value to having a powerful brand. The value of such a thing is subtle, but it can be powerful. When you’ve got it in your head that you need a particular thing—let’s say a leash, just because it’s so standard— your first choice of where to shop will be a place that you feel certain will have it. That way you know you’re going to go out and come home having only made one stop.

You know the brands that speak for themselves: Nike, Coca-Cola, Hershey, Walmart. They stand for such strength and prestige in the minds of consumers that all they have to do is put their names and logos in front of the public every so often to re-assert what’s already understood about them.

But even that doesn’t matter if Nike doesn’t sell shoes and apparel, if Coke doesn’t sell drinks, if Hershey doesn’t sell chocolate, and if Walmart doesn’t sell pretty much everything.

The point is that reputation building, brand-building, community relations and everything else that makes you visible and well-liked cannot be the sum total of your marketing strategy. It’s all helpful, but there has to be an element of your strategy that converts all this into people coming through the door and buying pet products.

Now, isn’t this obvious? Why do I think I have to tell you this?

It’s not that I think you disagree with it.

But I’ve been in and around marketing for a long time, and one thing that might surprise you—but that I’ve seen a lot—is that a lot of people in sales-oriented companies are afraid to ask for the sale. They’ll embrace just about every other aspect of marketing. They’ll support charity. They’ll tweet cute puppy photos. They’ll send out a press release announcing the new vice president of development. But somewhere along the line, a lot of people got the idea that it’s untoward to actually ask people to buy your products, as if this reveals everything else you’ve done to be a mere scam.

“Ah, I see how it is. You just want my money! So that’s it, is it?”

Well… yeah. Th e reason a pet retailer exists is to sell pet products. Everything else is good and nice and happy and makes you feel good. But you didn’t establish your store to do anything more prominently than to sell pet products.

What’s more, if you sell high-quality products at fair prices, then all you’re doing is engaging in perfectly fair transactions into which all parties enter willingly.

You get money.

They get goldfish. Or chew toys. Or cat litter. Or dog food.

If they didn’t need those things, they wouldn’t be in your store buying them from you. If it wasn’t fair to expect money from them in return, they wouldn’t give it to you.

I’m all about thanking customers for doing business with you. Th at’s simple courtesy. But that shouldn’t be read to mean they’re doing you some sort of huge favor by buying things from you. Everyone in the transaction is getting what they’ve decided they want.

I say all this to reassure you that, when you get to the part of your marketing campaign where you need to ask people to buy things, you shouldn’t be skittish about doing so. Your customers want to buy things from you. They want to do it for their pets, and they want to do it for themselves because they’re looking for a store that gives them good prices, good products and good service.

So build your brand. Reach out to the community. Tweet to your heart’s content about whatever engages your target audience. I’m all for it.

But remember: Visibility and reputation are not marketing goals in and of themselves. They are means to an end. The end is sales, on an ongoing basis, and no marketing strategy that ends with anything else is a success.

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