You hate it. Marketing. It’s uncomfortable. Expensive. So far removed from what you really want to be doing—helping dogs.
Even when you manage to do a bit, it just doesn’t seem to work. Without strong reinforcement for your efforts, it’s hard to keep going. It can all be pretty discouraging, especially when you know you could be helping more dogs if you could just get more clients.
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s time to try thinking outside the marketing box, to learn an approach to marketing that you can not only stomach, but feel good about—and maybe, possibly, even enjoy.
Inside vs. outside the box
Most marketing in the dog training and care industry is too old school, with expensive print materials and awkward cold visits to vets and pet supply stores at its heart. Not only are these approaches largely ineffective, they require dog pros to step too far outside their natural comfort and skill zones.
One outside-the-box marketing concept we teach dogbiz clients and dogbiz University students is community education marketing. This approach involves sharing your professional knowledge as a way of helping dogs and their people while raising awareness of your services. It pulls marketing in line with your primary mission, making it a worthwhile endeavor instead of a distasteful one.
Another tenant of our marketing philosophy is doing for others instead of asking for ourselves. Good, active referral sources are a key to success as a dog trainer, dog walker, daycare operator, or the like. But referral relationships are challenging to begin. Most of us are understandably uncomfortable asking busy fellow dog professionals we’ve never met to do us favors. But it always feels good to do something for others—and doing so forms a much more solid relationship foundation.
Why market outside the box?
Here are our four favorite reasons to teach our clients and students to think outside the marketing box:
- Stand out. In a sea of business cards and brochures and informational fliers, good content really stands out. It shows off your expertise and professionalism instead of talking about it. And it gives people a more compelling reason to both pick up and hang on to your materials.
- Take the pressure off. Let’s face it. Singing out one’s own praises is just flat out squirm-inducing. When you change your angle to thinking about how you can serve your community and potential referral sources, marketing becomes about fulfilling your mission rather than self-promotion. That’s marketing you can feel good about.
- Make more difference. Sharing what you know gives you a chance for broader impact. You can only train or walk so many dogs (and not all guardians will hire a care provider). But when you use your marketing for community education, you expose many more people to concepts with the potential to improve their understanding of and relationship with their dogs.
- Get more clients. Community marketing is powerful. Sharing your expertise builds trust and brand loyalty and a much deeper awareness than traditional marketing in our industry. Dog lovers exposed to your knowledge and professionalism through your marketing efforts are far more likely to reach out to you when the need arises.
What it looks like: Two outside-the-box examples
This kind of marketing is limited only by one’s creativity. There are truly endless ways to share what you know with your dog-loving community, or to assist fellow dog pros dedicated to serving the same. Here are two examples to get your ideas flowing…
Example 1: Leave those brochures under your bed. You know the ones we’re talking about—the box gathering dust under your bed or in your home office closet. The ones you printed with such high hopes but haven’t been able to get yourself to distribute far and wide after watching the initial batch sit untouched at your local vet clinic.
Lesson learned. Shake it off and then let’s do something to stand out and make a difference. Instead of brochures, think about a series of useful tip sheets. 8.5 x 11 or A4 do the trick nicely, or you can have rack cards printed if preferred. Think about what services you’re looking to promote, and choose your topics accordingly—basic manners cues, an explanation of leash reactivity or separation anxiety, tips for helping a new dog settle in, etc.
You can take the tip sheet approach instead of traditional fliers, too. Marketing your puppy class? Put out tip sheets on puppy socialization, puppy biting, and housetraining—all with information about your class on the back. Looking for new dog walking clients? A tip sheet or rack card about how to choose a dog walker is invaluable education in this age of on-demand dog walking apps, and shows off your professionalism.
Example 2: A quick interview. Been putting off stopping by to introduce yourself to local vets? Afraid to step foot back in the local pet supply store after having your request to put out business cards rebuffed? Try this: Drop by during a less busy time of the week (or call if you just can’t bring yourself to go in person) and ask for 5-10 minutes to interview the doctor or store owner for a feature in an upcoming edition of your free print newsletter, produced as part of your mission to provide sound educational material to pet lovers. (Who would say no to free publicity plus an ego boost?) Once you’ve got your edition printed, bring it by with a plate of goodies and a nice stand, point out that you’ve put them on the front page, and suggest a spot on the counter where everyone will be sure to see it.
Once you’ve got your foot in the door with this act of service, it’ll be much easier to bring in subsequent editions and build the relationship from there.
Ready to step outside your marketing box?
If you’re ready to take a more comfortable, effective approach to marketing as a way to both grow your business and help more dogs, start by setting your marketing goals. With goals in mind, put your creative thinking cap on to brainstorm project ideas to share with your community, and ways you can be useful to fellow dog pros you’d like to build referral relationships with. Next, build a marketing calendar to maximize your efforts by spreading them consistently throughout the year.
If you’d like more personalized guidance or support getting your outside-the-box marketing off the ground, we invite you to work with a friendly dogbiz business coach, or join us in dogbiz University course Marketing Made Easy for a fun, step-by-step guided process creating and implementing a marketing plan that really works for you.