One of the great things about nosing around the pet industry for over a decade, is the fascinating pleasure of watching it evolve. Plus, since I’m not just in the pet industry, but a marketing person too – I’ve watched that world change over the 12+ years I’ve been helping businesses get noticed. Let me say, what a time to be in marketing in the pet industry!
One of the most exciting alignments between these two worlds is happening right now, as we speak. What is it you ask? It is the wild, wooly and very profitable world of the ‘pet influencer’. I know many of you are curious about what it is, and what it means to be a pet influencer, so today I wanted to shed some light on this mysterious concept.
What is a Pet Influencer?
The most common reference I hear and see in the pet world, when referring to a ‘pet influencer’, is an ‘insta-famous’ dog, cat or other critter who has a large following on Instagram (usually 10k+) and gets paid for ‘sponsored’ posts, ‘celebrity’ appearances and endorsements.
However, having an insta-famous pet is not the only way to create influence in the pet industry. In fact, I’d say that if you are a pet writer, pet podcaster, pet youtuber, pet blogger or pet photographer, you are MUCH more suited to become an ‘influencer’ than a pet parent with a frenchie and an iPhone. You, the storytellers, have a decided edge in the influencer game. Here’s why…
What is the ‘Product’ of an ‘Influencer’?
The product of any influencer, is obviously influence. But that’s intangible right? How do you monetize influence? Well, primarily in these three ways:
- Endorsements & Sponsorships
The number one product of influencers these days, is content. Valuable, entertaining, interesting, multi-media content. Typically ‘content’ includes: articles, photos, videos and audio. Sometimes one at a time, sometime all mixed together. Can you see why I mentioned that writers, podcasters, youtubers, bloggers and photographers have an advantage here? If you are a storyteller, you already have the hardest (and most expensive to outsource) skills required to be a successful influencer. Brands will pay you to create content – for your own platforms and often for them to use in theirs as well (see endorsements below). This type of content plays into the power of ‘word of mouth’ marketing and your ‘review’ or the general association of their product/service with your influence, is one of the most comprehensively successful ways a brand can get potential buyers to buy.
At Superzoo this year I had the opportunity to meet Manny the Frenchie and the Dogist, two of the biggest pet influencers of the moment. They were at Superzoo on behalf of pet brands who had hired them to be in their booth to draw buyers, press and attention generally in their direction. Influencers get paid to show up, smile and take selfies.
3. Endorsements & Sponsorship
Often Endorsements and Sponsorship lead back to content- especially if you’re endorsing a partner on your own media (ie your own instagram, blog, website, youtube channel, podcast, whatever) or it is a sponsored trip or experience that you’re creating content about. But often, you’ll also be paired with your partner brand on their platforms as well, through your content and their own, on packaging, advertisements, their website, social channels etc.
How Do I Become a Pet Influencer?
In addition to being able to produce the ‘products’ of an influencer, there is an even more important element to becoming successful at building and wielding influence.
I mentioned earlier that I met Manny the Frenchie (well technically Manny’s dad, the human behind his instagram account) and the Dogist… Sure it was fun to get that selfie (and get tweeted by Manny), but I can tell you, there is nothing remarkable about the humans behind the instagram-led fame of these two influencers. They are not superhuman geniuses.They are very different people, with totally different platforms of influence… The Dogist doesn’t even have a dog!
However, they did have one thing in common (which is something many influencers have in common), can you guess what it is?
They both have a background in Marketing.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. It’s not a miracle that these guys built audiences in the multi-millions… They are marketers at heart. Whether or not they set out to be influencers, their brains are wired to build audiences and lead interesting conversations. They’re naturals at consistency. They have a knack for telling stories… For leading a movement.
When I asked Elias (@thedogist) about what makes him so successful, and any advice he could offer to you, the petpreneur wanting to have what he has, he said simply:
“You have got to have an audience first and then monetize it. I am a photographer but I am an instagram influencer. If it weren’t for instagram, you wouldn’t have any idea I exist”
The reality is, whether your dream is to land that book deal, get paid a living-wage for sponsored posts about your dog, get invited to speak, or to build influence so you can help change the world in some way, then you have basically one route to getting there:
You need to build and monetize an Audience.
You need to lead a tribe.
With me so far? Ok good. Now to make this something actionable, let’s break it down into four bite-sized pieces… [if you are a pet photographer and you want to know more about why some pet photographers seem to become overnight heroes while you’re stuck, check out this article for a blueprint for audience-building success]
Get more juicy tips for Petpreneurs
1. You need to be a Leader.
In order to lead a tribe, you need to be a leader. Leadership is something that anyone can rise up to. You don’t even need to be an extrovert! The beauty of being an influencer online is you can do almost everything from the quiet, non-invasive world of your home or wherever you wander – all you need is your phone, or laptop + camera. What you definitely need to acknowledge, however, is that the role of an influencer is one of leadership, not sitting quietly, invisibly in the corner. Accept it, and then live it. Leaders are not always cheerleaders or gregarious sales people, leaders are often subtle, gentle, quiet people. What they do have in common however (at least the good ones), is the ability to lift up everyone around them, and keep the focus on their common goal (see #2 Vision). Here are some qualities to aspire to as a leader:
Authority & Credibilty
For people to follow you, they need reasons to believe in your ability to lead. These can be as varied as the stars, but generally some level of authority on some topic is helpful. If not authority though, credibility can be found in your sincere desire to help, or your authentic voice as a human being (in other words have a personality and an opinion!) You don’t need to be an expert in anything to have authority and credibility – as an online influencer – you don’t even need to have a strong physical presence when you walk in a room – you simply need to be willing to go first, and to be genuine in your communications.
Leaders are likeable. They make other people feel good, so people want to be around them. A huge part of being a likeable leader online, is being inclusive and humble. Not playing favorites. Engaging as much as possible with people who take the time to engage with you and your brand. Go for Snow White level sweetness at all times. Avoid cattiness, gossip, getting sucked into trolls or being too high on your horse. Being likeable starts with being willing to stand up and out for exactly who you are, because it makes other people feel good about who they are.
Live by the Dogly Principles
Much like being likeable, an effective entrepreneur lives by the 5 Dogly Principles (this becomes even more important when you start selling stuff!)
2. You need to create a Vision.
Your vision is what draws people to you. It’s the movement you’re leading. It’s what you believe in. It’s what gives your message punch. It’s the theme of your content. It’s the voice that people love about you. In short, it’s your brand. Every blogger, photographer and pet owner seems to want to be an ‘influencer’ these days (and who can blame them, right?) If you want to truly stand out and get noticed (which is what is going to need to happen for you to make that money) then you need to get to work building a brand for yourself (or your pet, as the case may be).
Also, as part of all the structural stuff, there is an aesthetic aspect to your brand that becomes extra critical online. Consider it your ‘curb appeal’ or ‘shelf appeal’ – when you only have 2 seconds to convince someone to stay awhile, or get to know you, you have GOT to suck them in visually first. This means a visual strategy for your instagram or a swish looking website or blog. Making sure that your brand shows up in an aesthetically pleasing way is absolutely essential to building your audience and nailing the ‘authority & credibility’ piece of leadership.
Want some inspiration? Check out some of our awesome Working with Dog members who are building platforms as influencers and have recently created stronger visual strategies for their instagram accounts and blogs:
3. You need to build a Tribe.
Your influencer platform is not a ‘build it and they will come’ situation… It’s more like a ‘know what you believe and share it constantly and eventually momentum will build’ sort of deal. You have to put serious work (and probably a bit of cash) into bringing people together in the name of your cause, vision, etc. There are a couple essential hurdles here:
Building a platform online often involves overcoming a bit of tech fear. If you want to build a tribe you have got to give that group somewhere to hang out. Want an easy and cheap solution to this? Use Instagram and/or a Facebook group. Make sure you set a tone for the space that keeps it a positive, safe space for people to chat and share.
Once you have the space you need to be present there on a regular basis to ensure that it remains a buzzy, active space full of support, ideas, answers and kinship. Want some inspiration? Check out these amazing spaces started by Working with Dog members:
and of course our own, Working with Dog
4. You need to monetize that tribe
Of course the most critical part of all of this, is eventually asking for the sale. Some of the best influencers did not start with money in mind – and that’s why they are so successful. They are operating for the pure love or craft of it. However ultimately when you build an engaged audience, or a powerful tribe, the money becomes an obvious benefit… if you create ways for people to give it to you!
Content & Endorsements
Do you know how much the Kardashians make on average for their sponsored posts? About $250k – sometimes a lot more. Those ‘products’ we discussed earlier that are the domain of influencers? Those are your primary outlets for earning revenue in connection with your platform. Just so you know you don’t have to be a Kardashian – and you don’t even need to wait until you have a huge amount of followers to start earning… ‘Micro- influencers’ are quite popular now (for example instagrammers with under 100k followers, often under 10k) but you must have an engaged following (lots of comments, likes, shares).
Start sooner than later, planning how brands can interact (and pay you) for content in a way that fits organically into what you do (ie it doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb and it doesn’t annoy your audience – it adds value).
To make this actually happen, you will need a Media Kit and a Rate Card that details who your audience is, what kind of reach and influence you have, and what you charge for sponsored content, endorsements or appearances. What you charge will be a direct result of how much influence you have.
Want help knowing what should go in it and what you can start out charging as a micro influencer? Become a member of Working with Dog and dive into the ‘Pet Influencers’ Theme.
To get paid to appear on behalf of brands or sponsors, you will need to build up a strong enough reputation (ahem, BRAND) that companies will see the value in using you and your name (brand) to attract people to their world. Your ability to charge for appearances will probably rest in the size of your audience, or how much press you’ve received as an influencer, or both. Get to building!
Own Brand Products
One of the best side-effects of having a strong, engaged audience, is that you learn what these people want to buy from you. Once you know, you build it and sell it (not necessarily in that order, often it makes sense to sell it first!) The key to doing this well, is to find the perfect mash-up between your unique genius, skills, platform and brand – and what people want and are willing to pay for (<That second part is crucial to actually making money!)
When you have an international audience, digital products can often be the lowest risk, with the highest possible profit margin. Things like ecourses, ebooks, guides, video series, etc. can be very easy products to create, market and sell to your people. Oftentimes teaching other entrepreneurs how to do something is the easiest to sell and the most profitable: influencers like photographers @Jenna Kutcher and @JasmineStar have done this brilliantly.
Some of you may have a hugely strong desire to create something tangible. If that’s the case then I double-emphasize the importance of growing an audience BEFORE you invest any money in your concept or product because having these people available to ask, test etc. is the BEST decision you’ll make for your business. Testing the viability of your idea before you sink a bunch of time or money into a thing, is critical. Makers like @frenchie_bulldog, @zee.dog have done this beautifully.
If your desired product is a book, like @thedogist , @carli_davidson , @momosface or @thegracechon – having an audience is an absolutely ESSENTIAL element of getting a traditional book deal or an agent these days. You’ll have to help sell those books – so having a big, engaged audience is a great step towards proving you’ll be able to do just that.
Want more on this Topic?
Get Help LIVE in Person
I have two events coming up where I can help you LIVE and in person. My particular genius is helping you find the soul of your success as a brand: your unique competitive advantage. I can tell you from experience, it is a very difficult to find people like me to help pull your unique gifts out of you and help you communicate them in a meaningful way!! Here are the two opportunities we have coming up:
Business by the Beach for Petpreneurs
P4 Luxe Retreat for Pet Photographers & Pet Influencers
Grab the Book
A great starting point for figuring out how to find your vision and the right words and voice to engage an audience is my book, the Million Dollar Dog Brand. It’s available on Amazon or you can download a couple free chapters here:
I did a summary of social influence from Superzoo 2017, so if you’d like to read more about my meeting with the Dogist and Manny the Frenchie, and who brought them to one of the world’s biggest pet trade shows, check out ‘Social Influence at Superzoo 2017’
Complete How-To Content:
As a Member of Working with Dog you can access tons of very helpful members-only content related to becoming a pet influencer, most notably: