After launching the company 15 months ago, David Lefkovits, Founder and CEO, My Pooch Face has tried and tested as many tactics as he could discover. With a test, tweak and test again philosophy, the company has found its footing with a niche audience.
Read the case study below to see how he and his team navigated paid and unpaid social media, content, giveaways, and soliciting near-constant customer feedback at every step.
Editor's Note: This case study is part one of a two-part case study, the second of which will focus on the B2C tactics My Pooch Face has utilized since launching. The second part will be published next Thursday, and sent out through MarketingSherpa's B2C newsletter. Please subscribe in order to have it sent directly to your inbox.
“The audience is extremely loyal. They love their pets, their ‘fur babies’ as many call them, as part of their family,” said David Lefkovits, Founder and CEO, My Pooch Face.
MyPoochFace.com is a pet portrait service, where artists create the likeness of customer’s pets both digitally and in acrylic.
“The goal was really to make the whole process of commissioning pet art accessible to all, and not only accessible to all, but extremely scalable,” he said.
The first group in this niche audience of pet lovers consists of those who want a portrait to celebrate their beloved pets — not only dogs, but cats and horses as well.
About half of the company’s volume comes from customers who want to memorialize a pet that has passed away or create a “pet family” portrait of past and living pets together. Then the third category, he said, are people gifting a portrait to the pet lovers in their lives.
“We've seen folks gift these as wedding presents, as engagement presents, as birthday presents, you name it. Holiday, right now for Christmas, our demand is going to spike up pretty significantly,” he said.
My Pooch Face’s style, Lefkovits said, is “a little more contemporary. It's fun. It's interesting. It's really artful. So it transcends just the pet, but it makes it also a really nice item to decorate your home.”
The value in pet portraits begins with the design and style, so one of the things he and his team wanted was a piece of art that would help bring the personality and happiness of the pet to life.
This business only started 15 months ago with such a niche audience, so Lefkovits and his team wanted to make sure that every element was tested to ensure it would resonate with customers.
“I believe in bootstrapping businesses … so the first step was to prove the concept. Social media is a perfect way of doing it because you can easily test things out and see how much your audience reacts to it. So we put some preliminary images, pet portraits out there. We started playing around with different audiences,” he said.
People began interacting with what was put up preliminarily; however, that meant that the My Pooch Face team had their work cut out for them.
“It’s a very complex environment, very complex matrix in terms of finding the right audience, and within your audience, figuring out what's the most conducive towards conversions,” he said.
It’s important to Lefkovits to build an ecosystem for animal lovers that transcends the product itself: “Ultimately our goal is to also transcend the art and offer many other products that are differentiated to this audience. This is a starting point. So we can build a strong brand known for quality, for innovation and then start cross-selling many other products to our audience.”
It’s important to explore the target audience at every step, he added, in order to accomplish that goal, and social media is one of the most effective channels do that testing and listening in.
Step #1. Social testing
Since My Pooch Face has such rich visual content, social media was the first channel Lefkovits explored to learn more about customers.
The team looked at demographic similarities and behavior patterns through social — utilizing the trends of people purchasing. This aspect is not just about “testing and trying, it’s also about tweaking,” he said.
They focused on Facebook in particular, mostly paid advertising initially. Because organic posts didn’t do much for them at first, they focused on testing different angles with paid advertising.
“We explored our audiences by, for instance, geographic location, [so] whether or not if you came from a metropolitan city that is known for high dog density … like New York City or LA or Miami or some of these bigger cities, whether they would be more conducive towards sales,” he said.
With time, they realized that geographic location “doesn’t necessarily dictate our most prominent customer base,” Lefkovits said, and they’re able to pivot marketing dollars in a different direction.
Given the fact that My Pooch Face has a higher price point for online sales, with acrylic portraits between $250 to $1,600 depending on the size and the amount of pets per canvas, they decided to target affluent areas.
“We looked at the top 20, 25 zip codes in the nation that are the most affluent and started targeting them and realized that wasn't necessarily more effective. In fact, it was a lot less effective. And we found also that a lot of our customers don't necessarily have the means. They're just dog lovers, passionate dog lovers, and that's the main commonality amongst our clients,” he said.
Through testing these hypotheses about customers, the team did find that women were by far the strongest demographic.
“Usually it's women that react to our messaging and our go to market. We've also found that our ideal market from an age perspective is 35 to 60,” Lefkovits said.
They also discovered a lot of activity in the millennial group, but not much of it lead to actual conversion.
“Within the millennials, we have a lot of activity, a ton of activity. But those folks are less candidates to actually buy. A lot of it does have to do with their financial means. They're probably still in school. They don't have the ability,” he said.
Because they explored that activity, the team knows that while millennials will hopefully become customers someday (with some proper nurturing), they don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of time or marketing dollars chasing after them just yet.
Knowing that the main audience to focus on is women aged 35 to 60 has been extremely helpful in a lot of ways, he added. For instance, when they discuss whether to start dedicating time to Snapchat, while it is a popular social media platform, it is mostly focused on targeting millennials — it might not be worth the resources.
The upside of this paid advertising on social media, Lefkovits said, is that it serves as a great “light bulb” for customers to discover the product and plant the idea of it.
“The one downside, it is expensive. It's all paid. Your cost per conversion is pretty high. So as a business, you start getting some traction, then your goal is, how do I increase the quality of my audience and their propensity to buy, and how do I lower my cost per conversion and therefore my conversion rate? So this was a very good first step, but it is expensive,” he said.
Step #2. Measure social media performance
Facebook is a key element for demand generation, according to Lefkovits, and the company even launched with it before fully developing a website and pushed customers towards email for ordering. This allowed the team to put together website requirements that customers would need on the first build.
“We launched it, and, of course, we've been learning ever since. But part of the key of what we do is really diversifying our go to market strategy. Facebook was a good start, but there are a couple of challenges with it,” he said.
The first being, he added, that they don’t want to have all of their eggs in the Facebook basket when it comes to Google’s algorithm and other SEO concerns. Also, of course, Facebook is constantly improving and changing its own algorithm, which can cause dips in performance.
They also realized that Facebook wasn't necessarily the most conducive towards scaling the business. It has its own limitations as a channel and couldn’t provide every angle the company wanted to present to customers.
It’s important, Lefkovits said, to “recognize the limitations of each channel and working to leverage its strengths in hedging their weaknesses.”
Just because a paid ad or post does well on one social media channel doesn’t always mean it will do well on another — or do well in the future, he said. Replicating success is “trial and error in a lot of iterations.”
My Pooch Face expanded to Instagram, which focuses on visual images and is a platform where pet-focused accounts have very large followings.
“Depending on the channel, we've got to provide the content in bite sizes proportional to the channel,” he said. He added this about the nature of the posts: “The image that just puts a smile on our face is what impacts [customers] and what gets them to keep coming at their leisure.”
Step #3. Work with influencers to grow audience
The team went to a conference called BarkWorld that focuses on influencers in digital marketing in the pet space, according to Lefkovits.
“A pretty niche conference, and you have influencers there with Instagram accounts that surpass the three million range of followers. So we're working now with many of the influencers to bring our message out to the market,” he said concerning BarkWorld.
Working with influencers is a growth hacking tactic they pursued in order to grow their network of followers as a new company — with the idea that they will purchase and become loyal fans and followers.
With that goal they believe that quality trumps quantity in terms of partnering with influencers.
For each influencer My Pooch Face partners with, they examine geographic location of followers — for example, the company doesn’t serve Asia currently, so a high amount of followers in that region wouldn’t be useful — as well as “the amount of likes, the amount of comments, the amount of interactions that these folks have,” Lefkovits said.
Step #4. Utilize compelling content to grow platforms
In the end, Lefkovits believes that the best way for My Pooch Face to become an influencer in its own right is by putting compelling content out there.
The bulk of posts are non-product posts, featuring “cute dogs with a story to engage our followers because we want to add additional value other than just the products that we sell. We want to have a place for pet lovers to embrace cuteness and happiness and all these other things,” he said.
On Instagram, this can come in the form of a series like “Weekend Wisdom” on Fridays, which features a quick expression for dogs. There are also pet portraits with their subjects sitting next to them or pet portraits displayed in homes to help people visualize the impact one could make.
However, the main star of any social media account has to be the customers. They are instrumental in lending you credibility and will provide the most compelling content.
“When you first start, the biggest concern is credibility of the market,” he said. “We have hundreds and hundreds, thousands, really, of portraits, a ton of customers, a ton of testimonials and a ton of photos, that adds to the credibility.”
Another way they have added credibility through content is with transparency about the process. For instance, they featured the master artist who oversees all of the other My Pooch Face artists. There’s a video on the Facebook page that shows off the artistry of the product.
There are other videos featured on Facebook as well that visually take customers through the process of purchasing. One video called “Your Pawtrait has Arrived!” was submitted from a customer showing her reaction to her dog Lincoln’s portrait arriving at her house.
Create opportunities for personal interactions with customers
Even with the large team of artists they have now, Lefkovits makes sure each artist follows a strict style guide and a high performance quality control process.
Part of that process is a handwritten note to the customer from the artist before the finished painting goes out.
“So, if it's celebratory, ‘We really enjoyed painting a portrait of Johnny,’ or, ‘We're so sorry for your loss. We hope this portrait of Tiger brings you much joy and great memories,’” he said.
That personalization goes into social media as well; customers receive personal responses that are more friend than company.
This is especially helpful as many customers are either suffering a loss or purchasing for someone who has lost a pet. Their pets, living or not, are a personal topic for all customers, so responding in a friendly voice helps establish trust and a strong connection with the company.
Step #5. Sponsor giveaways to engage customers
“One of the things that's worked very well for us … is contests,” Lefkovits said. “That's another way of bringing folks from the social media world into our website and acquire their emails, capturing the leads that we can nurture those relationships.”
Half of customers come and buy at the moment they visit the site, he said, while the other half “sometimes take a week, two weeks, six months before they buy. Perhaps they don't have the right photo, perhaps it's not the right timing for them, perhaps they don't have financials at the moment.”
It’s important to nurture those relationships and keep customers interested in a portrait despite whatever is holding them back from conversion. Weekly portrait giveaways, which are generally hosted on MyPoochFace.com/Giveaway, are also promoted on Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook.
The team recently launched a new contest where people can upload the cutest photo of their pet and ask their friends, family and colleagues to vote. The photo with the most votes wins a My Pooch Face hand-painted custom acrylic portrait of their pet.
Just two hours after being posted on Facebook, the contest saw 24 entries, 575 visits to the website and 142 votes (only one vote allowed per IP address).
“This far exceeded my expectations for a Facebook post,” Lefkovits said, adding that they will also be having an Instagram influencer, @mydogiscutest, post about the contest, as well as sending out an email to the subscriber base.
The goal of catching and then nurturing those leads is so important, that up until recently, there was a pop up when people first visited the site that prompted them to enter into the contest.
Lefkovits said the team used to use pop ups to promote the contests, and “we found that those leads that we captured through the popups for the contests were voluminous. There was a lot of quantity to them. We would get 100 to 500 of these a day.”
The capture rate for the first few weeks of having the pop up, he said, was 35%, and then normalized to the low teens after that point.
“We put a lot of effort into the quality because that's the underlying future of the business, and it's the underlying component for the brand so that … we're known for high quality and exceeding expectations,” Lefkovits said.
Currently, he estimated, 85% of marketing moves are made from listening to customers, and 15% are made from more sophisticated tools like A/B testing and multivariate landing page optimization.
“As we become more stable and we calibrate our model more, it's going to become more balanced to maybe 50-50,” he said.
In the 15 months since starting the company, My Pooch Face has typically driven site traffic between 1,000 and 1,400 unique site visitors per day. Alongside that, they have also seen:
“Listen close and deep to your customers. You can do that through sophisticated and unsophisticated ways,” he said. “One way is through your service reps, and you have to systematize a way of capturing that information.”
“Constantly test; constantly tweak; constantly try. If you're not constantly changing and evolving, you're not going to survive in this environment,” Lefkovits said.
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