Putting yourself in the mind of your customer seems like it would be the result of thoughtful meditation, but in reality, it comes from constant, minute testing and open lines of customer communication.
Read the case study below to see how the My Pooch Face team utilized these tactics to influence product development, website design and email marketing, among other efforts.
Editor's Note: This case study is the final installment of a two-part case study, the first of which focused on the inbound marketing tactics My Pooch Face has utilized since launching. The first part was published last week and can be viewed here.
My Pooch Face was established 15 months ago, and “I think we’ve grown very rapidly, and we've been able to achieve a lot,” David Lefkovits, Founder and CEO, My Pooch Face, said.
MyPoochFace.com is a pet portrait service, where artists create the likeness of customer’s pets both digitally and in acrylic.
“When I first started this … I had never been in ecommerce. I read about 12 books to really get an idea of the environment, of the different components that I need to start paying attention to,” he said.
The eventual goal of My Pooch Face, he explained, is to sell differentiated products to the ecosystem of pet lovers that they’re building up currently with the core product of pet portraits.
Because of this, the website “has a remarkable technology framework that may even sound to many as an overkill for selling portraits,” he said.
However, tracking, testing and building up customer feedback is going to enable My Pooch Face to grow into that goal.
The audience already “is extremely loyal. They love their pets, their ‘fur babies’ as many call them, as part of their family,” Lefkovits 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, is 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 transcends “way beyond pet art. It's just pet art in these really high quality portraits are a great way to engage our audience initially,” Lefkovits said.
One of the biggest challenges so far has been conveying that value and quality to the customer.
“By and large the first main reason why people were not buying when they responding to our abandoned cart survey as a third step was because of price,” he said. “Obviously if anybody has commissioned art before, for a 16x16 at the quality that we do, $245 is really, really cost effective, right?”
For much of the My Pooch Face audience, that is a lot of money, he added. That realization has told Lefkovits and his team that they need to focus on customer value proposition.
“If somebody doesn't have the money to buy one of our portraits, that's perfectly fine. But what we don't want is people to feel that $245 is too much for a portrait. We want them to understand and feel that it's a really … good price even if they can't afford it at the moment,” he said.
In focusing on establishing the value for customers, “it's all about understanding what our audience wants and needs, not about what we want to push out,” Lefkovits said.
All of the testing, website design, developing partnerships, segmentation and customer feedback that make up this campaign, he said, “is our way of really listening.”
Step #1. Build a website that adheres to the needs of your audience
Before going live with the My Pooch Face website, Lefkovits and his team took the time to process orders through email, using social media to generate traffic.
“We had a very basic landing page, and I had a team that was just responding on a daily basis to email inquiries. So we [could] really formulate and understand what the market wanted and needed, so we could build the right website,” he said.
In the first five months of operating, essentially manually, the team listened and learned about the My Pooch Face audience. This phase fostered a big product change, Lefkovits said.
“We were getting a lot of questions, ‘how can I dictate the level of colorfulness?’ So based on that, we came up with three styles that you [see] on the website. ‘Granola,’ which is no color added; ‘Happy,’ which is slight color; and then ‘Hippie,’ which is bold streaks of color,” he said.
They also learned that a large portion of the audience wasn’t necessarily affluent, and “some even had to wait until they got paid before they could afford to purchase a portrait,” Lefkovits said.
So when building the outbound marketing initiative, the team decided to schedule the company’s bimonthly email broadcasts to coincide with pay dates.
“We could have come up with a website and invested, but we didn't really understand [customer] requirements … we all want to grow our businesses rapidly, but the key is to take the time initially to really understand your market,” he said.
You only have one chance to develop a strong brand that adheres to the needs of your audience, he added, and taking the time to bootstrap at the beginning allowed the team to lead website design with a customer-first mentality.
It’s important to Lefkovits that the customer-first mentality continues, and a lot of the strategies they have put in place have to do with that learning process.
“We're still learning every day,” he said. “We try new initiatives. We try new messaging. We try new imagery. We try new products. We try all kinds of new things and let the market tell us, let our audiences tell us what they like and what they don't like.”
Recently, My Pooch Face launched the second version of the website, after testing another version that was highly customized. Evolving a website is about phasing, he said, and understanding how it will grow in order to meet the needs of your company at certain points in time.
“We realized for all the things that we wanted to do, we needed a platform that was a lot less customized and a lot more efficient and scalable. So after three months of having the website live, we decided that we were going to scrap it and start over from scratch,” Lefkovits said.
On the former website, it was difficult to evolve using the testing mentality. While the team could add pages and edit, “we really couldn't edit the funnel for the order process once the customer came and started configuring because that was highly customized,” he said.
While they could change elements on the front end, there was no way to fine tune and tweak the funnel to make the process easier for customers based off new observations. They also didn’t have the ability for robust SKUs and were only able to have two, for portraits and gift cards.
“Now we have the SKU structure down to whether it's digital or acrylic, whether it's a dog, cat or horse, this size or that size, whether it's granola, happy or hippie,” he said.
While it was a “huge, huge undertaking in configuring the new site for that,” it has been well worth it because it provides the team a superior level of data to utilize in guiding future marketing and segmentation.
Step #2. Develop partnerships
In order to expand the community, Lefkovits began making lists of influencers in the pet sphere. This was comprised of veterinarians in the country, top groomers and pet bloggers.
“We're going to do a campaign in the next month where we're targeting the top groomers and pet sitting businesses because we feel for their top customers this could make an excellent gift,” he said.
An important aspect to this program is to make sure that each influencer has its own coupon code. That way, it is easy to track performance and see which partnerships should continue, and which should be scaled back.
The nonprofit arena has turned out to be an interesting source for collaboration and conversions, Lefkovits said. My Pooch Face has worked with many, the biggest of which being Ronald McDonald House Atlanta, and another being Angels Among Us Pet Rescue.
Every nonprofit that the company partners with has a dedicated webpage with My Pooch Face that focuses on the partnership and gives customers a dedicated discount code that when applied at checkout, means that 10% of the proceeds will benefit that charity.
For Angels Among Us, as well as some of the other non-profits they work with, My Pooch Face provides co-branded imagery for the charity to send in email broadcasts and social media to help promote the partnership.
“We provide them an image that's sized for Facebook, one that's sized for Instagram, one that they can put on their website and create a link back to their [My Pooch Face] landing pages. Basically through this program, their audience gets ten percent off, and then they get ten percent of the sell. So it's a win-win,” he said.
The key is to keep the partnerships tailored specifically to them, and their audience, and to ensure the story behind the non-profit is front and center.
“One of the things that we're talking about Ronald McDonald House about now is having a monthly feature where we take on these therapy dogs, we paint a portrait, and we have a story behind it to draw people in. And then maybe they auction off that portrait to their users as a fundraising tool,” Lefkovits said.
Step #3. Leverage customer-centric tactics to differentiate the brand
“In our world, our policy is: If you don't love it, return it for a full money back guarantee, no questions asked,” said Lefkovits, adding that even with that policy, the return rate is minimal.
Controlling the experience from first interaction to post-purchase is vital to that customer satisfaction and growing brand prestige and loyalty. Technology around customer touch points is what differentiates My Pooch Face from competitors.
“There's nothing unique or revolutionary about pet portraits,” he said. “But there aren't any other folks out there that can do this with the level of sophistication and the scale.”
This dedication to detail even drills down to the box that customers receive their pet portrait in.
“The reason we spend almost $5 on our packaging is because it's a memorable experience. It's the emotion the end user gets when they see that box and it says, ‘I have arrived.’ It makes it more special,” he said.
The portrait is also sent with a certificate of authenticity and a note by the artist who painted it. Since customers have an emotional tie to these pets, the personal note from the artist — it might say how much they enjoyed painting the customer’s pet, or if the animal passed away, how sorry they are, and hope the portrait helps — adds an extra element.
After considering the emotional experience receiving a pet portrait gives most people and looking into leveraging that emotional reaction in order to get customers to refer or encourage other to purchase, the team came up with an idea for the new website.
They are working on rolling out a customer ambassador program, where they can encourage customers to bring in others. Referral will get the person, as well as the person they refer, 10% off the sale.
Interact with customers on their terms
When attending physical events, “we would get minimal conversions because people would forget about it. That level of excitement would fade away. People get busy with their lives,” Lefkovits said.
So, My Pooch Face implemented a mobile tool where someone can quickly text a special message to a specific number, receive a link to click, and quickly enter a contest. Then, the company has those leads, instead of handing someone a post card and waiting for them to go home and participate on their own.
“It’s too much work to ask them to … enter the contest while they're talking to you. So we found an abbreviated way to get them engaged, get the link, and then remind them about it,” he said.
Step #4. Nurture customers through email
Of the 60,000 email subscribers, more than 50% were just acquired during the past three months, according to Lefkovits.
Lead capture strategies have proven to be the most significant drivers for newsletter growth, he said. This includes:
When leads come in, the team puts them into a five-week nurture sequence, and after that, they move them into the regular newsletter. Once people become customers, they can track whether they’ve purchased larger portraits as opposed to smaller ones and target follow up sequences accordingly. If the information is available, customers are even segmented by animal — dog, cat or horse.
The team also deploys a three-part abandon cart email strategy that tries to garner additional feedback on why the person didn’t convert. The third email, for example, asks customers to give feedback in exchange for a 10% discount.
This all circles back to the team’s quest to “constantly and proactively [get] feedback from our audience,” Lefkovits said.
The monthly newsletter, ‘Pupdates,’ is filled with mostly blog content, and serves as a simple reminder to keep interacting with the company. It was recently changed from a bimonthly newsletter, and the team saw a 4% increase in open rate and a 1.5% increase in clickthrough rate.
“Even though we have experienced this increased engagement, we are contemplating going back to the biweekly as it has a greater impact on conversions,” Lefkovits said, citing that sending at pay periods has a significant increase on actual conversions.
Step #5. Transparent workflow phases
Because My Pooch Face has a large team of artists, there is a strict style guide and a set of benchmarks to meet before any portrait goes out. There are six to eight different statuses to hit throughout the process, and for transparency, customers receive an email updating them when each step is completed.
“We have a workflow system that helps drive the order fulfillment of each order,” Lefkovits said. “When you're doing high volumes, you need to be able to track and manage each [step].”
Portraits are on a tight timeline — two weeks for digital, and four for acrylic — so it’s important that each project meet these benchmarks on time.
“Throughout the process we can flag portraits that should have changed statuses and have not, that way we can identify when there's something that's not going out. For us, the key thing is always meet or exceed expectations. We don't want to ever be late with a portrait,” he said.
The customer receives an email when each of these steps are hit:
The addition of the option to upload a picture after purchasing was added later, as a result of customer feedback. Not having the photo ready that they wanted to use was a barrier to purchasing, so by having the option to upload it later, customers could purchase immediately.
There is also a dedicated section of the website called “In the Making” where customers are lead through every step of both the digital and acrylic processes, with integrated FAQ that apply at each stage.
Step #6. Use constant customer feedback as a tool to adapt
No matter how much technology is put into place, “customer service is key,” Lefkovits said.
“We have live chat. We have the phone. We have email. And of course, we've got all these other tools that help us constantly reach back to the customer because we want them to tell us if there's anything we can do to improve,” he added.
The majority of modifications made are based on feedback from emails and live chats, he said, where customers are asking questions.
“We see what's the barrier or bottleneck; we address those through the website. The polls and surveys you see, we use that information to address the concerns of our audience,” he said.
Through a customer survey, the team realized that one of the barriers to purchase was price, which is why a clear value perception is vital at every customer touchpoint.
In the current version of the website, there is greater “detail and effort to explain the process behind the scenes even with images to show this is all hand painted, carefully and meticulously done. Now we have the side by side images that we didn't have prominently in the homepage that you see now. So anyway, that's one thing.
The website currently has videos that cover parts of the process, he said, but they’re currently developing one that will take people “from A to Z, so they can see the whole process that is done and how meticulous it is.”
This also led to the development of an entirely new product — the option for less expensive digital portraits instead of the classic acrylic. Starting out at a price point $100 less than the acrylic version, it is still put on museum-quality etching paper and a display mount.
Next year, Lefkovits said, they’re going to be offering even more options for customers, with gifts like t-shirts, hats, mobile phone covers, stationary, puzzles and other small accessories.
“Again, keep in mind that we've only been doing this for 15 months,” Lefkovits said, adding that there are many more marketing efforts he wants to implement in the coming years.
It’s vital in any industry to be educated on your product and customers, not just digital marketing or ecommerce, he said.
Since launching version 2.0 of the website Monday, Oct. 2, the team has seen the following:
“More importantly, over the past month we have seen a 22% decrease in our cost per conversion,” he said.
One of the biggest factors in the growth My Pooch Face has seen has been tracking, Lefkovits said.
“You can put in all the sophistication you want, but if you don't have the proper channels to measure for attribution, [and] you know what came from where, then you don't know where to add fuel, where to pause and where to become more aggressive,” Lefkovits said.
Inbound Marketing: How a pet portrait site grew its audience cross-channel using content and social media – the first part of this case study series.
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