The pet parent journey: A guide for brand managers

By Pat Thomblison, DVM, MS, Medical Director 

Capturing pet parents on their path to purchase has always been a venture of twists and turns but now that journey is even more complex. Along with significant advances in veterinary medicine, expectations for pet therapeutics and care are at an all-time high. Particularly since 95 percent of American pet owners consider pets part of the family.1 This dynamic has changed the animal healthcare industry dramatically. It also presents new opportunities for brand managers to influence decisions at critical points on the pet parent (and pet patient) journey including:

Point A: The search for veterinary care

Whether they’re bringing home an 8-week-old kitten or adopting a 2-year-old mixed breed dog, pet owners may rely on their veterinarian for the best treatment recommendations and product advice. However, a growing number of pet owners now start with their own research. According to one study, 59 percent of survey respondents researched the veterinary treatment/procedure and said it takes 21.3 days on average to make the decision to purchase veterinary treatment.2

What research path are they likely to take? For pet parents of all ages, family/friends and Google searches are the sources used most for information about illnesses and care.3 In fact, the role of the Internet continues to expand, as more pet owners shop online for pet supplies.4 The use of social media is gaining, as well, as a way to educate pet owners on new pet products and services.4

      What’s the point for brand managers?

      • Details about your products/services need to be easy for pet parents to find and access online.

      • Mobile apps, online advertising (with direct links to your website) and traditional ads are vital to build and reinforce awareness.

      • Your brand needs a strong social media presence as pet owners “chat” with friends and family to get opinions, reviews and advice.

Point B: The voyage to the vet

A trip to the veterinarian can be a stressful ordeal for a pet parent and pet, especially if the pet is sick or anxious. When pet owners arrive, they may be worried about a particular problem with their pet and be looking for answers, expert advice and reassurance from the veterinary team.

Once they’re settled in the waiting area or exam room, pet owners may be open to learning about new options that can help keep their pets healthy. Since they’re already on a mission to find solutions, they’ll notice branded signage and reach for product literature when it’s on display. In fact, 69 percent of dog owners and 70 percent of cat owners say brand name is very or somewhat important.4

      What’s the point for brand managers?

      • Don’t underestimate the opportunity at veterinary practices, where you can reach a captive pet owner audience and build brand presence.

      • In-clinic literature and displays are versatile and most effective when tailored for reception areas and/or exam rooms. 

      • Reinforce brand presence with everything from product guides or pocket cards, table tents, kits and brochures to counter or floor mats, window clings, educational videos and posters.

Point C: Clearing the way to best pet care

Significant advances have been made in veterinary medicine, which means a high level of care previously unavailable for pets is now possible. However, many of these therapeutic breakthroughs come with higher costs, and the decisions pet parents now face for their pet can be difficult — for everything from allergies, anxiety and pain control to managing diabetes, heart conditions and cancer.

 Before pet owners can make an informed decision, they want and need to understand and compare all their options. They look to their veterinarian as the expert they can trust for the most knowledgeable advice. This puts an even greater demand on veterinarians and staff to help educate their clients about the brands, products and solutions they recommend.

      What’s the point for brand managers?

      • Gaining acceptance among veterinarians needs to be the first priority. If appropriate, start with building awareness and trial use among key opinion leaders.

      • It’s critical to educate veterinary staff about the advantages of your brand so they’re prepared to answer pet owner questions or address concerns.  

      • Plan to provide a combination of educational resources for clinic staff (e.g., detailers, webinars, white papers, research studies) and support for pet owners (e.g., brochures, hand-outs, website).

Point D: Staying on a healthy pet path

Pet parents want their pets to feel good and stay healthy, and yet sometimes they just may not understand or realize what their pet needs. They forget that disease prevention and a healthy pet are more than a shot, a toy, a trip to the dog park, or surfing the web for veterinary information.

To make the pet’s lifelong journey as healthy as possible, veterinarians encourage pet owners to follow their recommendations and return for emergency and routine care. In between visits, digital connections will continue to influence the pet patient journey. Since Millennials now comprise the largest pet-owning generation, and social media is one of the top three ways they prefer to communicate,5 pet parents are searching, sharing, shopping and reviewing pet care brands in record numbers.

      What’s the point for brand managers?

      • It’s essential for pet owners to encounter your brand on the various paths they take, so be ready to connect with them in multiple ways:

         √ Educate: Effective use of your website, social media and traditional media is key to keeping savvy pet parents informed.

         √ Entertain: Special promotions, videos and events can generate curiosity and build loyalty among pet owners while helping to support veterinary recommendations and encourage compliance.

         √ Guide: Sponsorship support of veterinary associations or other pet healthcare-related initiatives is an excellent way to elevate your brand as a leader in the industry.

No two pets are alike, no two pet parents are the same, and there’s no such thing as a universal path for a pet patient. There are, however, some critical milestones most pet owners face. At these points, brand managers are more likely to build brand awareness and capture sales.

1. The Harris Poll, May 2015, TheHarrisPoll.com.

2. Path To Purchase Research, Veterinary, conducted for CareCredit by Rothstein Tauber, Inc., 2016.

3. Generational Health and Well-Being Research, August 2016, Chadwick Martin Bailey.

4. APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 2017-2018, American Pet Products Association.

4. Pet Product Retailing in the U.S.: Channel Competition and Consumer Shopping Trends, 2nd Edition,
Packaged Facts, April/May 2014.

5. Generational Health and Well Being Research, 2016, Conducted by Chadwick Martin Bailey on behalf of CareCredit.