CMO Insights: Marketing Online for Challenger Brands

an interview with
Rose Hamilton EVP and CMO, Pet360

Rose HamiltonWant to know why I truly love this whole blogging thing? And no, its not because it affords me an infinite opportunity to pun around.  Nor is about a compunction to see my name in virtual ink although that is kind of cool.  The truth is I love blogging because it gives me license to interview really smart people and perhaps by osmosis, their insights and experiences make me a tad smarter or at least a better advisor to Renegade clients.

And thanks to our partners over at The CMO Club, I have had the good fortune to interview a lot of talented people of late including Rose Hamilton, the EVP and CMO of Pet360.  I met Rose a couple of years ago through The CMO Club and was not at all surprised that she recently won The CMO Award as a Rising Star.  It is with great pleasure that I share our Q&A covering a wide range of topics, including Pet360’s overall marketing approach, their focus on engagement over reach in their social channels and their success metrics.  As you may have seen in my recently post, I am a big fan of Rose’s descriptor for their target audience, “pet parent,” and believe that insights like these are well worth barking about.  So go ahead and woof this one down…

Drew: A CMO has a lot of choices in terms of where they invest their time.  What have been your top priorities in the last couple of years?
Rose: As with any business, customer acquisition, retention and loyalty are critical measures that require a strong and differentiated brand. To set ourselves apart from our competition, our focus has been on creating valuable and relevant experiences for pet parents. We know firsthand that pet parenting can be challenging and even a bit overwhelming at times. New obstacles can arise at every stage of a pet’s life, and pet parents are in constant need of support. Most will say their vet provides answers to their pet parenting challenges; however, a vet visit takes place on average once per year and only lasts around 15 minutes. As a result, pet parents are looking to friends, family and various online resources for answers to their questions. The problem is that not every pet has the same needs – a Golden Retriever puppy, for example, has very different needs than a senior Yorkshire Terrier. What works for some pets will not work for all.

Our goal at Pet360 is to take the thousands of products, millions of pieces of educational content and countless discussions in online forums and provide each pet parent a relevant experience tailored to their individual pet.

Drew: Pet360 is a relatively young brand.  Do you find you are more nimble than your larger competition?  
Rose:  Absolutely. As a digital brand, we don’t have the distraction of brick and mortar operations. We leverage technology and data every day to make quick enhancements that are in the best interest of our customers.

Drew: How are you gaining competitive advantage?  
Rose: We knew we would never win on price. Over the past two years, we have evolved from a pure play E-Commerce business to a lifestyle brand focused on making pet parenting easier. Today, is the only experience (digital or offline) that truly improves pet parents’ lives by offering expert information, an active community of pet parents and a vast assortment of products all in a highly personalized manner. By bringing all three elements (community, content and commerce) together with a layer of personalization, we’re able to deliver a truly differentiated brand experience that builds engagement, trust and ultimately advocacy, resulting in higher lifetime value and lower acquisition costs.

Drew: Pet lovers are famously passionate about their animals.  How do you balance building emotional relationships with your customers and the need to drive transactions?  
Rose: Emotional relationships come first and eventually lead to advocacy and trust longer term. Pet supplies can be a commodity, but the expert advice and connection to other pet parents set us apart. The Pet360 platform inspires engagement and emotional connection at every touch point along the pet parenting journey. By offering relevant solutions, we build trust, engagement and frequency. As trust and emotional connection build, so will lifetime value and advocacy!

Drew:Has growing your popularity on social media channels been a priority?  
Rose: When it comes to social media, we are more focused on building engagement than we are on growing our popularity.

Drew: What role does social media play?
Rose: Social media enables us to engage with pet parents every day by answering questions, stimulating conversations, providing entertainment, gathering feedback and connecting them to the people and resources they need most.  Most importantly, social media is a way for us to connect 1:1 with pet parents in a very authentic way. It’s an opportunity for us to continue to build and strengthen relationships with pet parents.

Drew:   How does content marketing fit into your mix?  
Rose: Content is at the core of our brand. We invest heavily in creating valuable content for pet parents that is delivered on our site, in social media, across traditional media, through our email communications and by our various partners. 

b>Drew: Is content marketing an increasing part of your marketing budget?
Rose: Content marketing has been and will continue to be an area of investment and focus for Pet360. From a business model perspective, the efficiency and effectiveness of content marketing reduces the cost to acquire a customer and enables us to leverage paid channels in unique ways.

Drew:  Since your customer relationship is primarily online, is it a challenge for you as CMO to stay close to your customers?  If not, how are you doing it?
Rose: The digital space makes it easy for us to stay close to our customers. Every action they take online is measurable. We also monitor a variety of channels to keep a pulse on what our customers are saying, including our branded community, site behavior, surveys, call center reports, ratings and reviews, and social media.  As a customer-centric brand, our customers guide our decisions at every turn. We are constantly reacting to consumer feedback and trends as we work to solve unmet pet parent needs.

Drew: How do you evaluate/measure the success of your marketing?  Are there some channels that work a lot better for you than others?
Rose: Of course, there are countless digital metrics that can be measured and every business seeks profitable growth. In the end, marketing is measured by the cost to acquire a customer and lifetime value. When managing and optimizing your portfolio, it’s important to be moving the needle on both measures. Additionally, net promoter score is extremely important as it helps us understand how well we’re delivering on our value proposition.

In my experience, a diversified marketing portfolio that allows for constant testing yields the best results. Engaging with pet parents at every stage of their pet’s life requires a focus on creating a relevant presence across many channels. Each channel plays a different role and complements the others.

Drew: Marketing seems to be getting increasingly complex in terms of ways to spend and ways to monitor. Has it gotten more complex for you and if so, how are you dealing with that complexity?
Rose: Yes, attribution is a big topic of conversation. Along with the dynamic nature of social media and online advertising platforms. Now more than ever, it’s important to have a team in place that’s focused on monitoring, optimizing and growing your marketing programs. With complexity comes opportunity, and opportunity can be turned into innovation if you have a team that embraces technology, data, customer centricity and is not afraid to try new things. Building a team of marketers who not only understand data but also technology will become increasingly important to stay ahead of the changes in the industry.

Drew: As CMO, have you been able to address the entire customer experience?  Were there any organizational challenges you needed to overcome?
Rose: As an organization, we have a well-defined vision and clarity around how each of our roles supports that vision. We have a fairly flat organizational structure that allows us to move quickly. I’ve always been a fan of “being the change you seek” and getting involved across the organization. In order to address the entire customer experience, it requires collaborating with everyone and taking the time to truly understand the potential risks and challenges. By co-creating the pet parent journey with key leaders across the organization, silos break down and everyone’s strengths can be harnessed in service of our mission. In my experience, building strong relationships is the key to accomplishing a customer-centric organization and having influence outside of your area of expertise. It takes time to build trust and relationships and create “win-win” moments, but it’s critical to take the time and separate the “important” from the “urgent” to truly maximize your influence and impact as a leader.

Final note: Just in case you want a little more Rose, here’s a video interview from the October CMO Club Summit:

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