5 Marketing Lessons from the Neighborhood Dog Walker

On my morning walk I was struck by a series of ads for a dog walking service. It's interesting, because I'm not a dog owner, nor am I looking to become one.

The thing that resonated with me was how compelling these ads were.

Usually ads on telephone poles look a lot like the one below. Boilerplate, made in a hurry, with tattered little phone numbers to pull off. Price and the details of the service feature prominently.

Poor dog walking advertisement

This one was different because it told the story of Kona, one of the "many happy clients". The ad makes it easy for a prospective client to imagine how happy their dog would be heading out for a daily walk with Oh My Dog.

Great dog walking advertisement

Rather than chewing up shoes and pining for its owner, the dog would be running free through the park with its favorite toy. Plus, it would be learning proper dog manners. Could there be a better way to treat man's best friend?

Beneath the surface, this advertisement does a great job of taping into the emotions of dog owners as they go through the buying process. How many of them feel guilty about leaving their dog behind each day, or how many worry that their dog is pacing around the house waiting for them to come home (rather than the more likely reality of them sleeping peacefully on the sofa they aren't allowed on).

With Oh My Dog's service they don't need to worry about any this. It's like their dog is going to a better place each day. Nothing like leaving your pooch with someone that may do a better job caring for it than you will. It's clear that this dog walker knows their customer and their emotional state as they go through the purchase process

The dog walker understands that she has to appeal to two different customers. The dog owner is the purchaser, and the dog is the user of the service. The poster appeals to the purchaser by making them feel good about using the service. Since most dogs can't read, the ad can't appeal directly to the user of the service. As such, the owner is left to gauge whether the service will leave their dog happy. The image of the dog vividly conveys that there is a high level of care. This is supported with the language that Kona is "one of our many happy customers".

There is also a lesson here about reaching your customer. As I meandered through the neighborhood, I noticed that as I got closer to the various dog parks, the density of the posters increased. The ads were on every pole near the park.

A good marketer knows where their target customers are and then tries to reach them there. The dog walker had numerous advertising choices - posters everywhere, postcards, Google Adwords, Craigslist, etc. The dog walker could have advertised broadly, but why bother. Virtually every dog owner visits one of the local dog parks on a daily basis. The dog walker reached virtually 100% of the target market, without wasting time or money plastering ads on thousands of phone poles, or managing a bunch of online ads.

Finally there is a pricing lesson. Price isn't even mentioned in the advertisement. The role of the ad is to create awareness of the service (bold picture), generate interest (compelling story), create a sense of desire (promise to solve your problem), and spur action (phone for details). By leading with a story rather than the price of the service, the dog walker is creating an interested and motivated buyer.

It will be easier for this dog walker to charge slightly higher prices than dog walkers whose ads are only focused on the price of the service. Attention is directed to the benefits of the service, a happy and well behaved dog, versus the drawbacks, the monthly expense of dog walking. This framing makes a big difference.

Now it's time to think about your business. Are you positioning your business as the tattered ad on the telephone pole, or the compelling story that piques people's interest and makes them want to find out more about you. Do you know exactly who your target customer is? Are you reaching them in the right place, or are you taking more of a shotgun approach to finding new business? Are you leading with price, or trying to build up to a more compelling value proposition.

There are lots of marketing lessons that we can learn from my local dog walker.