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After Procter & Gamble Co. alum Keith Johnson became CEO of high-end pet food marketer Petbrosia in 2012, he discovered two things. P&G hadn't really prepared him for the kind of digital marketing he needed at a startup. And the digital agency options out there couldn't really provide the content creation and distribution he found worked best to acquire new customers.
So after leaving Petbrosia last year, Mr. Johnson set out to fill that void. Now he's launching PawedIn, a combination social network and content hub for pet owners, online directory of veterinarians and other pet service providers, and digital agency for local pet businesses and national brands alike. It's a media-agency mixed breed, essentially a digital agency built around a social network and marketplace.
While there are already social networks for pets (e.g. Dogster and Catster), online marketplaces where people can find and review local pet professionals (such as Angie's List and Yelp), and digital agencies galore, no one has tried combining them yet.
For now, Mr. Johnson and PawedIn are working out of Cintrifuse, a venture fund and service hub for startups backed by P&G among others, which is also providing advice on fundraising and other advisory help. PawedIn went live earlier this month, began migrating its 100,000 Facebook followers to the site and started a focused city-by-city rollout in Atlanta.
"We say you wouldn't hire a general practitioner to do heart surgery, so why would you just get a general marketing agency if you're trying to really reach and create a relationship with pet parents?" Mr. Johnson said.
At Petbrosia, he quickly discovered traditional marketing, including buying most digital display space, didn't work. Content and inbound marketing did, which he said led to compound quarterly growth rates of 30% during his time at Petbrosia, but he found he had to create most of the marketing in house. He left in May 2015, and Petbrosia closed down in November -- though Mr. Johnson said the company was still growing when he left.
The PawedIn model is one he thinks will ultimately extend beyond pets. "As people become much more focused on inbound marketing specifically, they're going to become experts in specific niches," he said, "because it's so easy to spend inefficiently online if you don't know what you're doing."
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But Mr. Johnson believes PawedIn has strong potential in a $60 billion pet products business growing 5% annually with 73 million pet-owning households. Among other things, at Petbrosia he learned how best to target Facebook ads to various "pet parents," what kind of content people respond to, and how long it takes them to respond (generally 10 days from the first digital contact). He believes what he learned will work well for players big and small in the space.
People on PawedIn can create profiles for their pets, link those to their vets, groomers and other pet pros, and review the providers. The site is automatically adding listings of pet providers from databases as it moves into cities.
Some of PawedIn's marketing services will be geared toward this market of 115,000 mostly small practitioners, for example, offering them software to upgrade their websites, access to content or e-mail marketing. But Mr. Johnson also plans to target other pet brands, from startups to big established brands like Iams, now with Mars Petcare, which he used to work on at P&G. (Mr. Johnson also worked on Always and headed P&G's industrial cleaning supplies business.)
"There's a lot more research done on the internet now for pet products than done walking into a retailer," said Mr. Smith, who also consulted for pet brands at KPMG. "So it's important for brands to be in that conversation."