There are numerous pet-related holidays that can provide retailers with an opportunity to engage with current and prospective customers, but storeowners must choose the right observances and approach.
As much as we might think of it as a given, we should always be looking for opportunities to demonstrate our role as partners with the public in responsible pet ownership. This is a key component of our attempts to tell our story and earn credibility. There are numerous holidays and observances throughout the year that provide such chances, though it is important to make sure you understand the full story behind each event before you blindly throw your company’s support behind it. With some simple planning, we can use these opportunities to tell our own stories while helping to raise awareness of the issues surrounding responsible and caring pet ownership.
The first step is identifying the observances that are out there. Generally speaking, if you can think up a pet-related holiday, it already exists. (Efforts to invent a holiday to use as an example for this column were abandoned after increasingly unlikely ideas continued to return search results online).
While there are several sites that maintain calendars for this purpose, the “Pet Health Awareness Events” section on the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) website is both reliable and comprehensive. It even offers links to websites, where available, which is important for step two in this process.
Step two is doing your homework. The AVMA calendar lists 21 separate observances taking place during the month of April alone—everything from Pet First Aid Awareness Month to National Pet ID Week to World Veterinary Day. In some cases, the sponsoring organization is explicitly named. In others, it is not as clear what organizations are promoting the event.
At this point, it can be tempting simply to add all of these events to your calendar with notes to acknowledge them publicly via social media or on your website. If you’re not doing everything yourself, you might delegate it to whomever handles your Facebook page or your Twitter account. But what are you really celebrating?
There is not a single pet-related holiday included in the list of federal observances found in Chapter 36 of the U.S. Code. That means every single one has been proposed, championed and, in some cases, trademarked by individuals and organizations with their own agendas. When an observance is associated with a known national organization, it is easy to decide whether or not you want to support it. In other cases, you’ll need to do some digging. Before you commit your brand to someone else’s priorities, take the time to visit their site and see what they’re all about.
Step three is finding the right way to engage. Search for the phrase “hashtag fail” and you’ll find countless cautionary tales of brands that have tried to latch onto trending topics only to find that their tone-deaf attempt to associate themselves backfired spectacularly. Of course, when you’re looking to use an event to show your commitment to your customers, even a ho-hum reaction can be a disappointment.
Making the Right Choices
So, how do you strike the right tone and stand out in a good way? Giveaways and promotions are always appreciated, but make sure they work in your broader marketing strategy.
Often, the best bet is to stay true to your brand and keep it simple. Are you a family brand? Personalize it. If you’re known for taking a humorous approach to your marketing, by all means keep it light. And if your reputation is for a serious-minded approach to what you do, a straightforward acknowledgement of the observance may be the best bet.
What about the agenda of the organization that sponsored the observance? Once a topic has caught the public’s attention—especially via social media—that agenda is all but irrelevant to the average person. The organizer can highlight their priorities in their own posts and in interviews, but the campaign is likely to take on a life of its own. For example, a day may be created to call attention to an injustice, only to have it associated with puppy and kitten memes by the majority of those who participate. At this point, the pressure to participate can be difficult to resist, if for no other reason than to avoid being seen as oblivious; however, it is worth remembering that someone will cite the organizer’s intent and tie you to it, no matter how far the public’s engagement wanders.
Countless holidays and events have been created to celebrate—and, in some cases, cash in on—the love we share with our companion animals. We in the pet industry shouldn’t be shy about joining in these celebrations and showing the public what we do to help them take care of their pets. With a few simple steps, we can all make sure that we’re doing just that.
Mike Bober is president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. For more information on ways to engage the public and your elected officials, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.