How surfing dogs helped VetShopAustralia drive customer engagement

Queensland-based ecommerce store leveraged technology and a unique competitive event to boost online engagement and generate sales

Today’s fiercely competitive online shopping environment is driving more ecommerce businesses to find innovative and creative ways to attract and retain customers.

One of these is VetShop Group, which is successfully leveraging the power of technology and a unique competitive event to drive digital engagement and boost sales.

“We have a lot of competitors, so standing out from the competition is hard,’’ VetShop Group co-founder and director of marketing, Steven Perissinotto, told CMO. “And selling flea and worm medicines can come across as pretty dry. We needed a fun and engaging event to grab people’s attention and then draw them in as customers.”

For the past six years, the Queensland-based online pet supply and medicines business has not only been hosting the Surfing Dog Spectacular for over 6000 residents in Noosa, Australia, it’s also been using it to drive digital engagement with both national and international customers.

“We wanted to attract a group of people who enjoyed dogs, the outdoors and the physical aspects of interaction with the pets, and then talk to them about things they really care about, like the health of their pets,” Perissinotto said. “And we wanted to find a way to stand out from the crowd, which for us was about getting out there and engaging with the community.”

Collaboration and content

In order to get the event underway, Perissinotto teamed up with an existing surfing festival that already had a promotion infrastructure. While the dog surfing event is owned by VetShopAustralia, it’s held within the framework of a wider, established event.

The company also sought sponsorship as part of its collaboration strategy from a firm whose pet medicines it sells.

“We identified one who had a product for dogs, which just happened to be waterproof, and pitched the idea,” Perissinotto said. “We explained we were targeting exactly the sort of pet owners they wanted as users and that we would give them heaps of national exposure. It made great sense.

“So our initial master plan not only involved selecting the right event, but also choosing the right sponsor and crafting the right lead generation pipeline to take curious consumers from browsers to buyers.”

One of the unique elements of the event is dogs surfing. This appealing novelty meant pictures and videos uploaded and shared on social media attracted a lot of views, allowing the business to boost social media engagement significantly with relatively little spend on content marketing.

“If your event is both clever and visual, you can definitely attract media attention and surfing dogs certainly do,” Perissinotto said. “But to take advantage of that interest, you must be able to provide pictures and videos quickly and keep them in shareable cloud storage.”

Since the launch of the surfing dog contest, VetShopAustralia has had over 19 million combined video views, with one video alone receiving over 16 million views, 160,000 likes and 12,000 comments on Facebook. On top of this, it’s received hundreds of media mentions.

“The event has also driven great loyalty from fans who travel from all over Australia to enter our event year after year," he added. "We get people fly up from Melbourne who come and plan their holiday around the event in Noosa every year.”

Converting engagement to sales using technology

While boosting engagement can be highly effective through a visually appealing novelty event, the next challenge was to convert that attention to actual sales.

“No one is going to say to themselves, ‘I really like that surfing dog event. I think I’ll buy stuff from VetShop’,” Perissinotto admitted. “Even if we get them to our website to look at pics or a video, the chance of them going on to buy after that casual browse is very small.”

The company offered to keep those engaged with the event updated on upcoming surfing dog events via email communications. These were managed via Oracle’s cloud-based commerce marketing automation platform, Bronto.

“Even after VetShop secures the address, the emails are content-oriented,” he explained. “When we finally try to sell something to the email subscriber, it’s often tied to an outdoor or waterproof-type product. We also track engagement switch up the content to those that aren’t engaging.”

As a result, the company saw a 12 per cent increase in traffic in the month leading up to the event in 2016, and a 36 per cent increase in traffic in the month following. Sales were up 4 per cent in the month after the event and 14 per cent the following month. This year, Perissinotto said the company recorded similar figures.

“There were intangible benefits as well,” Perissinotto said. “The event raises our status with suppliers. When you’re on TV, in the press, speaking at conferences, you’re considered a business leader. And business leaders have an advantage when it’s time to negotiate terms and get better support and more attention from suppliers. Overall, we're just thrilled with the results."

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