During March 2020 I spoke with over a dozen representatives of brands that sell products for dogs, selected from those that registered for a booth at the recent Global Pet Expo show. My goal was to get a sense of how they feel about SMI (social media influencers). I learned some interesting things!
TL;DR. Instagram and Facebook, unpaid Ambassadors micro-Influencers, no KPIs, giveaway, contests and feedback giving wins.
1. The Interviewees
These are the brands and brand reps that I interviewed in March 2020. They were all freshly arrived from GPE, the biggest pet business show in the US (in an industry work $86B in 2019).
|Company name||BONNE ET FILOU||Treatworx Dog Treat Company||engage|
|Interviewee||Nicolas Nemeth||Kenn Manzerolle||DL Tashjian|
|Position||Founder & CEO||VP, Sales & Marketing||Digital Content|
|Location||France||Toronto, Canada||Connecticut, USA|
|Product||Luxury dog treats||Natural pet specialty treats||Durable dog toys|
|Olive Chang||Beth Herriman||Kristen Ott|
|Global marketing||Founder||Social Media|
|Taipei, Taiwan||Portland, ME||Lewisville, TX|
|Smart toys||Poop gadget||Pets cleaning appliances|
|NVM Pets||Chews Happiness||Honest Paws|
|Annie Spence||Tavor White||Erik Riverra|
|Product development and community initiatives||Founder||Founder|
|Charlotte NC||Boulder, CO||League City, TX|
|Dog beds||Camels Doggie Delicasies||Full spectrum CBD pet product|
2. Influencer Objective – Getting the Word Out
My assumption was that the brands “don’t get social media” and therefore will look for “instant sales” via SMI. I was wrong!
When I asked the brand reps why they choose to work with SMI, all but one said their goal was not to achieve instant sales.
Instead, the companies indicate that they work with SMI mostly for general brand awareness: “To get the word out,” as Beth Herriman of dooloop said. Beth and three other interviewees also said that their goal was to get feedback on their products (in Beth’s case, on their revolutionary saving-the-earth poop-to-go solution!).
Here are some more responses to the question of why choose influencers:
Erik Riverra of Honest Paw: 1. Helping get the word out about seasonable campaigns/elements 2. Evergreen content (this is especially important for his field, which is CBD, since Facebook doesn’t allow CBD ads).
Kristen Ott from Cedarcide, on the other hand, has focused their efforts on Instagram and the goal is exposure, as well as getting original product shots for their marketing material. In addition, they get useful feedback on products, in this case their new funky product stickers.
Another interviewee mentioned that they worked with social media influencers to get product reviews.
Interestingly, even though Erik Riverra, the owner of Honest Paws (CBD pets products, is an SEO expert, he doesn’t hire SMI for SEO purposes. His reason is because Instagram links, mentions, and engagement are not correlated with website ranking. He is still bullish on Instagram influencer marketing though, because “the audience is there,” and it helps with promotions, leads generation, and user journey.
Brand executives have little knowledge of the appropriate KPIs for SMI, although it seems like they focus on “engagement,” where engagement is comments and likes.
When asked what engagement rate they are expecting, some answered “50-60% engagement rate.”
💁♂️ In real life, anything >3% SMI engagement rate is amazing
Some also echoed the mistaken idea that number of followers is the KPI to look at.
4. Social Media Channels
Tiktok? Twitter? YouTube? All of these pet brands are focused on the most established SMI channels: Facebook and Instagram. This makes sense for brands that are focused on a general audience. While Tiktok is popular for a certain kind of influencer, it isn’t likely a good fit for pet brands.
5. Micro-Influencers Win
All the brands I spoke with focus on the “little guys” i.e. the “micro-influencers“
These brands are savvy and understand that the quality of assets and the level of engagement with small size SMI is much better. As Nicolas of Bonne explains, “Small ones could take their time time to engage, answering every question, with anyone, yet big SMI did not.”
Bonne products looks very good on social media (see above posts) because they’re very elegant. Nicolas worked with 10-50 k followers SMI that use and love their product and “no need to pay.” In his experience, choosing influencers who will give an honest opinion, and can “give you good assets” in terms of IGC (influencer-generated content) is a smart move.
6. Paid or Not Paid
Nearly half of the brands I interviewed paid to hire SMI, via agencies, in the past. Most don’t do it anymore though, because of one of the following two reasons:
1) Out of budget
2) Dedicating a budget for SMI is not justified because
a. negative ROI on expected KPIs
b. it is easy to get small SMI (=nano and micro) for free or in exchange for free product instead.
And so current trends are to do Ambassador programs in exchange for product samples.
What kind of activities do such Ambassadors do for the dog brands? Here is the answer:
7. Giveaways and Contests
All said that the most popular action was the giveaway.
DL Tashjian of engage said that SMIs contact him often, and he sends them “a pack” for the SMI giveaway. The DM/email messages he receives from SMIs are almost always: “I’m giving-away for x, would you be willing to send me a product for that?” Or “hey very interested in collaborating with you.” Hiring these SMIs means sifting through “a lot of spam,” he admits…
Kenn Manzerolle of Treatworks (natural pet treats) is recruiting local Canadian “brand Ambassadors” in exchange for free product and contests, once a month, with a different dog treat flavor each time. “So far so good – the SMI that are heavily engaged, they go out of their way to come to see us at dog shows, and we continue to correspond from there.” Kenn sees a “pretty sizable boost through them.”
Olive Change of Pawbo (of the famous Acer group) is into smart devices. She is facilitating an Ambassador program too – worldwide. Her team hired famous pet lovers, who have social media accounts, via an Agency. The brand asked the SMIs to take a photo of their dogs with their Pawbo devices, and that has – according to Olive – exposed their brand slowly to the public.
Olive found out that the more local favor, the more success. For example, SMI from Taiwan love little dogs (which is especially a good fit for her products) and so through those Pawbo targeted Taiwanese users.
Olive was an exception to the rule in working with big famous SMIs. She she works with SMI “because they are famous” and “they have their own style” (translation: we should not tell them what to do…). Results: the famous ones got more traffic and a lot of questions/engagement from their followers. Olive was disappointed though that famous SMI didn’t take the time to engage on the endorsement post and so the campaign lost some of its momentum. That is to be expected, and is a repeated complaint we hear from brands. It is also the reason that most brands choose to work with the smaller, micro-influencers.
Those that have a budget hire an agency and used their tools to find influencers. Otherwise, those that are pro-active conduct their search manually, using the native Instagram app. That’s the method I recommend.
Those that are passive usually just react to out of the blue “let’s collab” messages from SMI. This can be tiresome and, in my view, won’t usually get you what you need.
9. Something Spicy About SMIs…
Our interviewees had some interesting comments about SMIs. Needless to say, they remain anonymous here:
- A repeated complaint is that big accounts SMIs didn’t share feedback and that “all they wanted was more contracts, from all possible vendors.” i.e. greedy…
- “There is a lot of b.s. out there but many have a very high quality content.”
- “Their dog doesn’t tell them they want to be famous, but… its interesting.”
- “They do good work but you have to be realistic with your expectations – if you want a real good one, you’ll need to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars, over ten months.”
- “If they try to influence good things, good. If just to make money in a non-truthful and misleading way – no”
- Some of the vendors hold the opinion that if an SMI takes money s/he is corrupt…
- “Pro: instant gratification – people visit to your website, you get feedback quickly. Cons: you got to keep doing it, keep getting in-front of the audience, it’s a wave function vs search/SEO is consistent, so return on time from SEO is better.”
10. Surprising Feedback
Maybe the most interesting revelation was that most of the brands got really surprising unexpected feedback via the SMIs. I have many examples, but let me share with you six of most useful things brands learned:
- The treat is too big in size, with low moisture. It’s hard to chew for small dogs, and so the focus should only be on dogs above 5 pounds.
- The treat[link to BONE] is intellectually stimulating (!!) for the dog because the dog will spend 40 mins on the treat. He was intrigued how to eat the treat!
- Yes, pets SMI are cute but unless a human is involved, we don’t look for their advice…
- One influencer had dachshunds and we found out that they can chew only half the size of our desserts!
- There was one SMI that reported that one of her cats is chubby and miserable. After two months of activity tracking the report suddenly found out that the cat is always *too* active (i.e. hyperactive), to the surprise of its owner.
- An SMI said that he is seeing more poop bags left on trails, possibly because more people are walking more often. Unlike before when it was annoying and inconsiderate, it’s now an actual threat to health as well as the environment.
💁♂️ Pets SMI are valuable in giving feedback on products, and the sooner, the better.
11. Results and Insights
SMI can indeed get the word out. Which SMI? Nano and Micro-SMI, who “were more sensitized, with highest return on spending, and helped develop content to get posted,” according to Erik Riverra of Honest Paws.
Tavor White of Chews happiness did use SMI few times, and “they’ve done great job in making people aware what our products.” Tavor feels that they are more suitable for brand awareness vs sales (when asked why not sales he answered that probably “because they don’t want to be too commercial,” — and he is really ok with that). Btw Tavor has a super interesting story about camels for his brand – straight from the Gobi Desert — look:
Kristen of Cedarcide is very creative. She found out that her SMIs talk amongst themselves about photography, how to frame their copies, etc. so she created a space for the SMIs, a community, as a Facebook group (exclusive, limited to 30) to do exactly that. That works well, they are really part of the family now. “They love to be in a forum, in a community.”
“Those that do it because they love the product bring better results and are therefore preferable,” says Ken of Treatworx.
“Other than a quick ‘hey look at this’ on public platforms, nothing big happened, albeit, I keep in touch with several. I didn’t attach a coupon or trackable way to quantify either, so that is my bad – rookie mistake,” says Beth of dooloop.
That’s it! It’s amazing how much we can learn from the people who “did it” – in this case the pet brands that have worked with pet SMI. I believe they were the marketers pioneers of the pet industry and influencer marketing will develop from there. For example, will pet SMI emerge on TikTok? Will brands start to focus on better quality conversation on post comments? Will brands become more focused in establishing KPIs that allow them to pay for quality content? There is a much work ahead to realize the potential for brand-SMI partnerships!
What do you say, brands and SMI — do you see the potential?
SMI* = Social Media Influencers