Marketing   //   November 10, 2022

‘Far less transactional’: PetSmart’s Chief Customer Officer on establishing a modern brand voice

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PetSmart is trying to maintain its dominance as a leading pet retailer.

The privately-held company, which has been around since 1986, reportedly brought in $2.5 billion in revenue in the second quarter of this year. But the retailer is also trying to stay relevant with its shoppers and find new ways to engage them. Stacia Andersen, PetSmart’s chief customer officer, joined the Modern Retail Podcast this week and spoke about her role and the evolving pet space.

PetSmart is not a startup by any means. Its loyalty program boasts 55 million members, and it works with a variety of talent, like HGTV’s Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent. But the landscape is getting more competitive. With that, Andersen said PetSmart has been evolving its marketing strategy.

“We evolved our brand voice most dramatically probably a couple of years ago, when we went back and looked at our customer base,” she said. “Our brand voice evolved from individually marketing different sales or individually marketing services … to this overall brand platform and voice about why customers do what they do.” The idea behind it was to connect with customers. “This is really what our brand voice is about,” she said. “It’s far more emotional, it’s far less transactional.”

With such a large business, figuring out the customer profile becomes difficult. But Andersen said the retailer has figured out a few things. For one, most of PetSmart’s customers are female; they often have multiple pets; lastly, they’re often from families with children. Understanding this overall profile, Andersen said, has helped PetSmart refine its overall marketing strategy, as well as its loyalty plan.

One of Andersen’s most important mandates is establishing a retail presence that is more than just a place to buy pet food. With that, she’s been leading various campaigns and partnerships to make the company more of a lifestyle brand. The idea isn’t just to grow sales, but to do something deeper and give the brand more credibility.

“There is a buzz factor,” she said, talking about PetSmart’s influencer partnership strategy. “There is a wow factor. And it also lends credibility to our own design.”

Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

PetSmart’s customer profile
“We really refer to her as she. … Our customers are much more likely to be female. And we are serving a lot of different customers. Obviously, they have pets in their home. They are more than likely to have children in their homes. And many times, they have multiple pets in their home — they might have a dog and a cat, and 25% of our customers also have specialty pets in their home. That means they might have a bearded dragon or a small animal or a snake, in addition to other things in their home. And so our customers are pretty wide-ranging.”

How Andersen approaches customer data
“We’re not interested in a data hamster wheel. So I would say we are not at that granular [of a level]. We are on a journey. We need to be better, and we like to be more personalized. But we will never get to that level. With that many customers — and that many active — the amount of machine learning that you would have [to use] and the amount of offers that you would have to manage… There’s too much room for error. We just want to be better tomorrow than we are today. And so today, we’re testing modeling, we’re testing things that will make offers more relevant, we will get better as our system learns.”

PetSmart’s partnership strategy
“We always want to surprise and delight our customers. At the highest level, we want people to go onto our site and come into a PetSmart store and go, ‘Wow, what is that? I can’t believe Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Breton did that for PetSmart.’ There is a buzz factor, there is a wow factor. And it also lends credibility to our own design. So we have 21 proprietary brands — we design a lot of our own product. We’re sourcing product and designing product every day. We have a brilliant in-house team, but they are not well-known designers. And when well-known designers come and work with us and our team, it gives credibility to us as a brand and as a design house. Because when designers like that are willing to work with us and we create product with them, it gives us some design cred.”