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How to Market to Each Generation of Pet Owners

It's a Wednesday afternoon and your store has slowed down a bit. You're stocking the shelves and facing the products to ensure each package looks its best.

The door bell rings, snatching your attention from the dust falling off the shelves, and you look up. Who just walked in your door? Is it a 23-year old recently graduated student with a boxer at the other end of the blue leash she's grasping? Or is it a 72 year-old grandfather who's kids are in town with their turtle?

Most pet store owners have a basic idea of who is walking into their store on any given day. Whether you did the research before opening or found out as time progressed, you can probably outline the basic characteristics of the kinds of people who come into your store. This is valuable information and, believe it or not, may be the answer to getting more customers into your store and making purchases.

Not all customers are made equal. You know this from experience. One way to broadly categorize your audience is by examining their generation. There are vast differences between the basic wants and needs of a Baby Boomer versus a Millennial. There's much more to understand about the different sub-groups within each generation, but for the sake of simplicity, we're just going to cover a broad overview of each age group.

Related Article: The Top Challenges of Marketing to Pet Owners

Who Are Your Customers?

Take a moment and write down the basic characteristics for the people you most commonly see in your store. How old are they? What stage of life are they in? What kind of pet do they own? What style of clothes do they wear? What do they eat?

You might not know all the details, but whatever you can find out will be beneficial to helping you gain a better understanding of who your customers are. It's most likely that you have more than one type of customer, so break them down into groups: your primary customer (those you service the most often), your secondary customer (those you service the next most often), and maybe even your tertiary.

Related Article: Pet Business Marketing Guide - Step One: Creating a Marketing Plan

Now that you have that information broken down, it's time to break down various marketing tactics that you can use to bring more of your primary, secondary, and tertiary customers into your store.

Baby Boomers

Do you believe Baby Boomers are phasing out of the game? Think again: Petfoodindustry.com published an article stating that "according to the AARP, 36% of those in the US who are 50 or older own dogs. Twenty-four percent in that demographic own cats, and 7% own some other pet."

Focus on this generation has been slowly shifting away as excitement over Millennials and, more recently, Generation Z grows with their influence. This generation, however, is still very much in the game and looking to buy pet products.

Baby Boomers, as a whole, are, in general, an affluent generation - in fact, studies have shown that, in 2014, they controlled approximately 65% of the U.S. net worth. With that said, Baby Boomers (and every generation mentioned, in fact) are simply an age group. So, this isn't to say that all Baby Boomers who walk into your store are ready to drop some major dough on a bag of dog food.

In fact, this generation was one of the most affected by 2008. After the market crash, they became conservative with their spending. They treat every purchase as if its an investment and are therefore much more likely to conduct in-depth research on products before they hand over the cash.

Building trust is essential to getting a Baby Boomer to purchase from you. Be authentic and transparent about your business practices and don't oversell everything. By now, they've seen it all, and can sense an over-blown statement from a mile away.

Related Article: How to Add Customer Value When You Can't Compete on Price

The most effective channels to market to a Baby Boomer is found to be television, search engines, email marketing, and social media (with an emphasis on Facebook).

Independent pet stores and pet products alike should focus their efforts on showing up in search engines through search engine optimization (SEO) and even investing in Google AdWords. Optimizing your website for target keywords that they're likely to search and spending a little money on these keywords will go a long way toward gaining their attention.

Don't ignore Facebook either. Everyone's on that platform and, even though Generation Z might be slowly migrating away from it, many of us remember the day when our grandma added us as a friend.

Use the platform to build trust and share plenty of in-depth content - give them the research they're going to conduct anyway up front! Not only will they trust you more, but they'll also be more likely to turn to you when they have more questions.

In general, Baby Boomers value education, loyalty, and authenticity. Take advantage of these traits with your marketing activities to drive brand awareness and get them into your store.

Generation X

Generation who? Did you even know there was a generation between Baby Boomers and Millennials? Of course you did, but they're so often overlooked that they're easy to miss. Even some Generation X-ers forget they're a part of it!

Believe it or not, this generation does exist and they are spending money on their pets. The thing is, their ideals are often split between those of Baby Boomers and Millennials, depending on when they were born.

Generation X-ers are not quite as conservative as their parents and not as liberal as their children. They're somewhat in between. By now, they're starting to get into their 50s, which means they're reaching the height of their careers and are maybe even beginning to plan for retirement.

This generation has had to deal with a lot of change in a short amount of time. They were born in an analog era and had to quickly transition into a very digital realm. They've also been labeled as slackers because of how they grew up.

According to a 2011 piece in the Journal of Behavioral Studies in Business, this generation believes that "nothing is permanent … they are pessimistic, skeptical, disillusioned with almost everything and are very questioning of conventionality."

Related Article: The Top Challenges of Marketing to Pet Owners

So, how does one market to such a generation?

  • Focus on staying authentic - The last thing you want to do is mess with a generation who is already pessimistic and skeptical about everything
  • Watch your tone - Many X-ers don't like being told what to do. Respect is earned through time and experience, so don't just tell them you're the best and expect them to believe it until they learn for themselves.
  • Make it personal - This generation isn't marketed to nearly as much as the more attractive Millennials, but even the small amount of marketing they do get should be personalized to stand out. Remember their pets names and show up with transparency and humility.

As for marketing channels, the ones that work best include direct mail, email marketing, video marketing, and social media (emphasis on Facebook again). Use these channels as a tool to build trust with your customers and build respect with your content.

Generation Y (Millennials)

The word is out: Millennial pet owners are now the number one source of buying power in America and they're vastly changing the way the pet industry operates. It's no wonder we're all fighting to capture their attention and keep them coming back for more.

However, Millennials have proven to be much different - if not more difficult - than the generations that have preceded them. They're demanding things that were hardly even considered just a few years ago such as sustainability and fashion products for their pets.

Related Article: How to Win Over Millennial Pet Owners in 2018

We recently wrote an entire article on how to win over this generation of pet owners, but the basic concepts are outlined as follows:

  • Sustainably-sourced pet products at a low price
  • Natural and holistic solutions to both pet food and medication
  • Transparency in sourcing, manufacturing, and selling processes
  • Strong brand messaging with your unique purpose and values outlined
  • Showing up where they're at and becoming a part of the conversation
  • Well-defined customer value in both products offered and the shopping experience as a whole
  • Pet products that integrate technology to make pet interactions more fun and efficient
  • Convenience is key in how they find out, purchase, and receive their products

In general, many Millennials are well-educated, willing to splurge, and begging to show off their pets (and their products) on social media. Because they consider pets to be "starter children," they want to spoil them and treat them as if they are, actually, children.

Generation Z

Last but certainly not least is a generation that is just now starting to generate buzz. This generation is still young - the oldest are just now starting to graduate college and start their careers.

They don't have a lot of disposable income, but they do have family pets that they've either taken to college with them or influence the purchasing decisions on for the household.

Although they currently may not be able to spend much, a study shows that by 2020 Generation Z will make up about 40% of consumers. They may not be buying truckloads of dog food quite yet, but they are buying other things, and it's time to start considering them in your marketing strategy.

One common trait about this generation is that technology consumes every part of their life. They grew up in a digital age and are used to having all the answers at their fingertips.

Related Article: Pet Business Marketing Guide - Step Three: Engaging on Social Media

According to a study recently conducted by Response Media, they use various social media channels for different purchase:

"On Instagram, they showcase their aspirational selves; on Snapchat, they share real-life moments; on Twitter, they get the news; and on Facebook, they glean information"

Unlike Baby Boomers, Generation Z have a short attention span. They want their answers and they want them now. Make your marketing messages very clear about what you stand for and what you can offer them. You only have a few seconds to grab their attention, so use them wisely.

Because of the political climate they've grown up in, they're more likely to take part in and respond to social responsibility. They want to see real people and real interactions, as they're constantly bombarded by the fake "reality" that social media presents.

This is a challenging generation for sure, but the better we can understand their behaviors, the more likely you can capture them early on and maybe even keep them coming back for years.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashley Hoffman is a freelance content marketer and writer for the pet industry. Growing up in the pet industry, she has keen insight on market trends and a passion for helping small businesses grow. Her portfolio includes various topics from pet food trends to using technology and marketing strategies to boost pet business sales. When she's not writing articles or working her day job, she's playing with her cat (Chewie), reading a book, or hiking one of Washington's many trails.

Visit her: Website | LinkedIn | Instagram

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