Running a business without proper marketing is like running an engine without oil. But running a car with the wrong kind of oil will get you into trouble, too, just as there’s no point spending time and money on marketing that doesn’t work. If you’re not satisfied with the results of your current marketing efforts, it’s time to take a look under the hood. Read on for the most common reasons marketing fails for dog pros.
Not sticking with projects long enough
Most marketing efforts have a delay time. People need time to make decisions, to be exposed to a new service or idea multiple times before committing. And you may be reaching the right people at the wrong time. They might not need your service right now, or they may be too busy with other things to pull the trigger. If you stop your marketing efforts too soon, you won’t be in front of them when the time is right.
Give any marketing project at least six months, a full year if possible, before assessing its effectiveness. It really can take that long, and throwing in the towel too early means losing out on the rewards of your labor and investment.
Not doing enough marketing
Most dog pros simply don’t do enough marketing. Not only does inadequate marketing lower your chances of being noticed, but you also miss out on the cumulative effect of multiple projects building on each other. The more marketing efforts you have running at a given time, the more exposures a potential client has to your company. And the boost each project receives from the others can shorten the time it takes to see results, too.
Straying off topic or message
Good marketing should show off your expertise and professionalism while giving potential clients insight into the benefits and experience of working with you. More than once I’ve heard from clients who were seeing little to no response to powerful projects such as a regular column in the local paper or a lecture series. But when we looked together at the implementation of these projects the reason for failure was clear: Articles about poisonous plants or good dog biscuit recipes or effective tick removal and lectures on dog breeds aren’t likely to get the phone ringing for dog training. These topics don’t convey what a trainer has to offer, what change she can bring to a dog owner’s life, how effectively she can solve problems. An article on tick removal by a dog walker, however, would be a much more appropriate show of expertise. And published dog biscuit recipes would effectively show the extra mile a pet sitter is willing to go for her charges.
Using the wrong marketing message
If you’re already mindful of building your marketing around a message but aren’t getting the results you want, assess the message itself. Is it aimed at your target audience, or are you accidentally marketing to other dog pros or the dogs themselves? Because we feel so strongly about helping dogs we often focus on how our services benefit them. But even dogs who run roughshod over their households aren’t the ones making the hiring decisions. Your marketing message should be focused primarily on how you will make their peoples’ lives better.
When crafting the marketing message, trainers should remember that potential clients aren’t dog pros and that most of them aren’t behavior geeks, either. They’re just people who want to enjoy a well-behaved dog. So don’t use your website and other precious marketing space and time to lecture them about the need to improve their relationship with their dog, or to learn about their dog’s needs, or to tell them that they’re the ones who need the training. It may all be true, but it isn’t good marketing. Instead, tell people how you can bring them relief, make life with their dog easier, help them get a calm and well-behaved dog, etc. Once you gain their trust you have the opportunity to impact their relationship with their dog.
The message of human relief– from worry, from guilt, from an over-energized dog– is a strong one for walking, pet sitting, daycare, and boarding businesses, too.
Not maintaining visual consistency
I’ve seen dog pros put tremendous effort into their marketing only to see disappointing results because they broke the visual branding rule: Everything should look like everything else. All of your materials—website, printed pieces, logo clothing, handouts, newsletters, car signs, business cards, everything and anything—should be instantly recognizable as yours. I should be able to tell, at a glance, that I’m seeing something from your company. If your newsletter looks different from your brochure, and your website has its own look separate from both, you’re losing the cumulative effect of repeat exposure. In addition to a consistent marketing message, make sure your potential clients are exposed to a uniform visual identity.
Marketing to the wrong audience
This mistake dampens your results, eats your time, and kills morale. Screening emails and calls from people who aren’t the right match for your services is discouraging and inefficient. If you’re getting too many calls that don’t pan out, check that your message is getting to the right people. Are you placing your articles in papers read by the right demographic? Is your newsletter in vet offices located in the right geographical area and serving a population likely to want, appreciate, and be able to afford your professional services? Are you networking with pet supply stores and shelters frequented by the same? In short, analyze each marketing project and referral source to be sure it’s directed at the people most likely to use your services.
Doing the wrong marketing
If you’re spending more money than time on your marketing, chances are you could improve your results by reversing that equation. Passive marketing—advertisements, direct mail, print or online Yellow Pages, etc.—is rarely effective for small dog service businesses. Though there are exceptions, you’ll often find if you take a moment to compare the revenue from these efforts against their cost, the numbers don’t pan out.
Instead, put time into community-based marketing. Community marketing uses education, information, and entertainment to expose potential customers to your business. Projects like newsletters, lectures, article writing, event organizing, humane education programs, a content-rich website, free class passes for referral sources, etc., give people a window into your expertise and what you can do for them. All an ad can do is tell your potential audience how great you are, and most of us, if we bother to read ads at all, do so with skeptical eyes. Instead, choose community marketing projects that show people who you are and expose them to the benefits you can provide.
Forgetting the call to action
Finally, don’t forget to explicitly suggest to your potential clients what they might do to get relief from a less-than-perfectly behaved dog: They should call you. Be sure your contact information is on all your materials, and tell people what to do with it. Don’t be shy. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) plaster huge red letters screaming “Call Now!” across the top of your newsletter, or blinking ones on your website’s homepage. But don’t forget to tell them you can help: “Tired of coming home to a whirling dervish? We can help. Call or email to schedule your initial consult, the first step toward a customized training plan (or to joining our daycare, etc.). Let us help you enjoy your dog (or your vacation, etc.).” Your call to action should be specific to the kind of work you take, and based on the central concerns your clients have. What makes them call you, what are they wanting relief from? Build your call to action to speak directly to their needs.
If you don’t have the steady stream of clients you want, the first step is to ask yourself if you’re doing enough marketing. If not, set aside some time each week to top off the oil in your business engine. If you’re already marketing but not seeing the results you’d hoped for, give your plan a tune-up by assessing your efforts on each of the points above.