Building loyalty with pet owners, manufacturers must take the lead

A lack of knowledge of the end customer is a challenge for any industry where a manufacturer is selling via distributors, large buying practices or, in the case of the pet trade, direct to the veterinary practice.

Manufacturers have the tough job of appealing to all the stakeholders; the vets, the clinicians, the practice owners as well as the pet owners, who are now more empowered than ever; they have more knowledge (rightly or wrongly) and they are willing to challenge diagnoses and treatment options.

How can manufacturers build loyalty with pet owners with so many barriers between them and the end user?  We worked with a client to create a loyalty programme that would solve this exact challenge, but in another sector: the dental industry.

The client took a bold stand and launched the first loyalty programme in their market and, as a result, they were able to take control of the customer relationship, and gathered data that they had never before had access to. 

The programme enabled the business to encourage and motivate end customers, in this case high street dental practices, to place their orders directly with them using a loyalty platform, in return for Reward Points that customers could use against future orders. This particular loyalty programme not only gathered data from over 8,000 customers but it also reversed a decline in heritage brands and grew brand stretch by 36%.

Ten years on, the programme has been launched in the USA, Canada and Ireland, with Australia and New Zealand the next markets to open up. Apply this thinking to the pet trade and you can see the opportunity for manufacturers to form a closer, direct relationship with pet owners while still offering significant benefits to the veterinary clinics.

Rewards schemes for the pet industry are not new. Loyalty plays a big part in bringing brands closer to their customers with better data and insights to help determine future sales opportunities, which is why companies like Purina have invested so much in this area. But a loyalty programme that focuses on both the end customers and the practice owners and technicians could re-define the market.

Manufactures have an opportunity to take the lead here and work with practices to provide them with incentives, content, training and support, which allows vets to do what they are best at – treating animals. 

The trick is for manufacturers to provide the relevant people in the practice with the ability to give customers more information about supplementary products or services and to drive sales back into the practice, or online, without creating more work for practice owners.

It’s a win-win for everyone –not only can manufacturers gather unique customer data that they can use to create better marketing and more personalised communications, they can also provide practices with the ability to earn rewards that appeal to both practice owners, end customers and technicians. 

We know that when people buy something, it’s because of a series of unconscious emotional connections, yet they feel the need to rationalise that decision.

A well-designed, simple to understand loyalty programme provides exactly that. In the case of veterinary purchases, that emotional connection plays an even bigger role than in most other industries.

Pets are expensive and a visit to the vets can feel like a very costly exercise. A loyalty programme that acknowledges all the unique outlooks and values of the people involved in the whole channel – from pet owners and animal lovers to medical professionals and business owners – will reap the rewards.

By Melanie Parker, director of loyalty consultancy, Stream

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