Startups & Business

And Pet Care’s Most *Overlooked* Market Is...

Do you know your audience’s needs, or just their demographics?

Oct, 28 2020

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Last week, entrepreneurs and leaders gathered for The ROI of Diversity, the third installment of Leap Venture Studio’s Diversity in Pet Care Roundtable series. This time out, the intent was to demonstrate and categorize the many ways that diversity on both sides of the purchase improves both production and consumption: a win-win for all parties.

Mediated by Denisse Cobian of Michelson Found Animals, the panel’s guests were Jesus Chavez, Managing Partner at Black/Brown; Steven Feldman, Executive Director, Human Animal Bond Research Institute; Christina Lopes, CEO, One Health Company/FidoCure; and Angela Medlin, Founder, House Dogge.

“A massive wave barreling toward us”

To start, Feldman revealed HABRI’s findings from the Pet Inclusive Housing Initiative, a survey of current and planned pet owners conducted just prior to the pandemic. Responses were fielded strictly from renters, who, at 68%, are a near match statistically for homeowners’ 70% pet ownership. It found that pet ownership is headed towards a “minority majority” wherein an estimated 56% of pet owners are racial minorities. Feldman noted that the nation may already be at this point, given the adoption boom this year. 

Neurodiversity was also an underreported aspect, he said, noting how the benefits of pets on mental health was a crucial area of study and mental health as a topic is colossal among Generation Z

Cobian brought up the rising marketing toward Gen Z, which is poised to leave college and begin life. The “massive wave, barreling toward us,” she said, is having an epochal effect on sustainability and transparency demands on businesses.

However, Gen Z has yet to earn its fortune, which keyed into Cobian’s note that diversity in pet ownership includes an economic array.

Do you know your audience’s needs, or just their demographics?

Drawing on Black/Brown’s consultancy of brands looking to create diverse audiences, Cobian asked Chavez where startups could find the data they need for success. He replied that focusing too much on demographics at the bottom of the marketing funnel was monolithic compared to applying diverse insights to top-of-funnel needs. Adjusting the core offering would prove more fruitful than the final messaging. He also stressed the importance of first-party data to paint a clear picture. 

Cobian recommended syndicated research from reputable big-names in addition, and asked Chavez to recommend some other low-overhead options for non-marketers. He agreed syndicated research can help raise capital, but is best in conjunction with on-the-ground data. 

The conversation then turned to how One Health/FidoCure uses those methods to connect its two customers from opposite sides: pet owners and veterinarians. Lopes said engagement was key, even while her company had to invent its own marketing tools for a new world specific to its mission: attacking cancer in dogs via targeted precision therapies. 

Communication, she said, was essential, as the company set up a multilingual call center for both parties over phone and Facebook. “You’d be surprised at the extent that people will go to for their dog,” she said, as FidoCure fielded conversations from all ages and geographic regions. This became particularly important after COVID-19 hit, when face-to-face meetings became impossible, depriving pet parents of the sympathy that buffers a painful diagnosis. 

Medlin, a Design Director who founded House Dogge out of her own desires for more-sustainable dog toys and accessories, also had to pull from consumer insights. In her case, the issue was qualifiable, but not quantifiable: giving a product enough meaning to justify its creation. She knew her own reasons for specialized sales (purposeful, useful, mindful of the problem to be solved) but would they scale to customers? 

“You want people to buy product that means something to them,” she said, “They’ll want to have something that is more personalized. So I included a way to customize products so that the gift is not just you’re going out and buying a commodity item that’s disposable. This, you’re buying fewer of, but it’s going to mean a lot more.”

She found that her consumer groups were foremost 25-35, followed up 35+ and finally (but with greatest potential) Gen Z looking for sustainable products de facto. The potential of the newest generation of consumers remains the biggest area for ROI, but it will have to be done authentically. Cobian observed, “They have BS detectors like nobody else. How do I educate, not advertise, to these guys?”

Gen Z responds to sincere values

To that end, Medlin found exceptional ROI in using social media to attract that audience, “keeping the conversation real” to her brand and personality. As a free service to start, social media remains a magnificent way for lean startups to leverage their audience. 

That’s if it’s done competently, as how Medlin presents herself and her business in alignment with her vision of sustainability. Cobian cited missteps by Yum! Foods in which Pepsi and KFC awkwardly inserted themselves into sensitive racial and sociopolitical conversations. Audiences only want brands to care about important topics like diversity if it’s because of that importance, not to further sales. 

How then, to authentically engage, asked Cobian, particularly as a small startup with no budget, no team, and often the same entrepreneur learning the professional skills of a marketer as they go? 

“You have to have values,” said Chavez, not only for consumers, but for one’s own employees to understand the direction of the company and be able to criticize it when it goes astray. “Having said that, I actually don’t think that every brand needs to be a social activist.” While it makes sense for some brands, it pokes the bear for a company to claim a certain set of values while their own history runs contrary to it. 

He iterated that a diversity in appearance doesn’t automatically equate to a diversity in thought. A lockstep mentality creates blind spots. 

“That’s really, really critical, especially because so many of us are passionate about what we do,” said Cobian. And that passion, Feldman agreed, unites all pet owners. While the group examined the diversity across all different demographics, both implicit and conditional, 98% of pet owners consider our pets to be family. And the rewards of a world where extend the same faith to each other will be beyond the measure of any ROI metric. 

Click here to watch the full roundtable.