On this week’s episode, we talked to Caroline Buck about her unlikely journey from the world of UX and brand marketing to direct-to-consumer pet food.
And we did it live! Check out our guest’s beautiful faces below:
About Caroline Buck
Caroline is the co-founder and chief marketing officer at Petaluma, a sustainable dog nutrition company. Caroline’s background is predominantly in product marketing, business development, and growth marketing. Most recently, Caroline was VP of Marketing at Mexico-based software services company Wizeline, which she helped scale from 200 people to >1,200 people in three years. Prior to Wizeline, Caroline was a Product Marketer at Yahoo! in the advertising technology product team. Caroline’s background of leading and building teams, creating differentiated brand positioning, and sales/business development, provides a broad set of tools for growing Petaluma. Caroline graduated from Dartmouth College.
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About Voices of CX Podcast
The Voices of CX Podcast is a podcast that covers all things business strategies, customer decision insight, empathetic leadership practices, and tips for sustainable profitability. With a little bit of geeking out on behavioral science, A.I. and other innovation sprinkled in here and there. The guests span multiple industries, but all of them have years of experience to bring to the table.
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Mary: Welcome to Voices of CX Season Eight, as usual, bringing you the very best thought leaders, practitioners, and academics all in one place. Our goal is to make your job easier by providing you with the tools and inspiration that you need to lead through empathy, one new idea at a time.
Hello, and welcome back to one more episode of Voices of Customer Experience podcast. We are in season eight and today I am joined by Caroline Buck. Hi Caroline, how are you?
Caroline: I’m doing well. Thanks so much for that.
Mary: I am so pleased to have you on here, and I’m going to give Carolin chance to introduce herself in just a second.
I just wanted to remind everybody to subscribe if you’re on here through one of your podcast streaming services and hit notifications on YouTube, you know, the drill basic stuff. Caroline’s, The reason that you’re on here today is due to not only your experience in marketing, but also the job that you’re doing nowadays, which is really exciting.
You are currently a co-founder of a pet food startup. Is that right?
Caroline: That’s true.
Mary: Yeah, this is an interesting thing for me as a pet lover, a lover of all things animal and pet. It’s really good to be talking about these things, but most importantly, you’re getting started in the tech world.
Can you give us kind of a rundown of what it is that you do right now and what your mission and passion is about this project?
Caroline: Absolutely. So as I said previously, my name is Caroline. I co-founded a company called Petaluma, with my now fiance Garrett Wymore two years ago – although in COVID time, it feels like that was a decade ago, the summer of 2019 – really with the mission to build a pet care company that was centered around compassion and sustainability. And we’re huge animal lovers ourselves.
We felt like there was an opportunity to build a sustainable brand in pet. And our first products are in the nutrition space. So we have an adult dog food that’s baked, and we’re working on a few other products and it’s a huge departure from both of our previous lives, but we’re crazy dog people, huge animal lovers.
And it’s just been a passion project from day one, and we’re really excited to see it grow. We just launched our first official product to the public earlier this summer. And it’s been a whirlwind few months, but really, really exciting to see things start to scale and to see customers love the product it’s been so fulfilling.
Mary: That’s really great. And how about your background? You said that it was a huge departure from your background. So tell us a little bit about that. So we get a better picture.
Caroline: Yeah. If I weren’t talking about it all the time, I think my previous colleagues would have been totally shocked that I was going into dog food, but they knew me well enough that they weren’t surprised.
But previous to starting Petaluma, I was VP of marketing at a company called Wiseline, which is a software services company, for about four years. And prior to running marketing at Wiseline, I was a product marketer at Yahoo, and worked in ad tech for a few years previous to that. So I was very much entrenched in Silicon Valley tech world.
But you know, it’s a really exciting time, I think, to be in direct-to-consumer. I’m learning so much, it’s so much harder than I thought it would be. I think a lot of B2B marketers maybe feel that way, that like B2C seems easier, and I can definitely, humbly say it’s not. But yeah, there was some really interesting crossover, but it is a huge change industry-wise, and it’s been wonderful.
Mary: Yeah, an interesting thing that really stood out to me when you and I were having our pre-call was that for most people that come on this show, they work in organizations that are trying to digitize. So legacy or brick and mortar, or, I’m going to say analog businesses that are slowly migrating into digital.
And for you, your background is mostly in the digital sphere with technology and now going into direct to consumer. It’s almost like an opposite version of what we normally get. So that tells me that your initial exposure, let’s say, to experiences is in the realm of UX and how people navigate through digital technology.
And now you’re stepping into the, in-real-life version of that outside of digital. We talked a little bit about this, but it’s really curious. I wanted to get your perspective on it.
Caroline: Yeah, absolutely. I think that when you’re in the B2B world, you think of user experience as like a standalone thing, potentially from customer experience, like maybe there’s the UX department on one floor and then there’s the customer service team someplace else.
And I think, moving into direct to consumer and thinking about an online retail business, like UX is a component of CX for sure. And I think it’s interesting, it feels like you’re almost being acid tested more in the direct to consumer space. You’re just so much closer to your customer.
Like literally socially on social media, people have such a direct tie to your business. It feels more personal. So in some ways, when we were thinking about the digital experience of the product, it was really thinking about, usability, I guess, always. But like, how can we delight the customer?
How can we ensure this is frictionless? How do we minimize clicks for them? Like the invisible customer experience questions you would ask when developing any product or starting any business. I want to keep, I want to ensure that my customer is engaged when they walk through my store or, when they will go through my website.
I want to pull them in, and I don’t want them to be confused, I want them to feel like they can easily reach out or they can get to know us. It kind of felt like first-impression focus that I think a lot of CX experts do a really wonderful job of, of let’s ensure that the customer feels taken care of and they can understand how to navigate this business.
I think when you’re thinking about a product that can only be purchased online, so much of that has to come to bear in UX. I think that’s been a really fun part of developing the business. I think having that background and perspective has been really helpful. When my co-founder and I were toiling away on the website for years, we questioned many times if we were being over the top, developing the site.
And I think it’s paid off because you have fewer questions raised by customers or people reach out and say, oh, it was really intuitive to adjust my subscription frequency. Those are things I think a lot of UX designers and CX professionals think about all the time, but maybe is a bridge to cross for more traditional industries moving into digital.
Mary: Yeah. I was going to ask you that. What sort of advantage do you think that Petaluma has, being born already with these concepts, so built-in and ingrained into the philosophy of what you’re doing? Do you think that that provides you with some advantages?
Caroline: I think in some ways it has, I think it’s been a challenge test in others.
Thinking about the digital marketing experience, I think we dialed that in really quickly. It was like, Let’s ensure we have these really thoughtful email flows to walk someone through how to get started on the product, or how to be introduced to the brand or, let’s make sure that if there’s an adjustment to their plan so that we reach out quickly or have SMS messaging to adjust your order.
And then I think there are some things that felt really scary that I’m sure folks who have been in retail for a really long time would not bat an eye at, but like the pamphlet and the packaging and the tape that you use to close the bag. There’s so many small decisions and physical products that I think when you’re in the B2B space, you just, you really don’t have to consider as often.
And they’re just as important. So I think in some ways it has been really helpful because there wasn’t a lot of ambiguity for us about, what do we want this digital experience to have and what does it need to include? And then I think when it comes to the physical pieces of your product, that was where it was just fresh territory for both of us.
And how do you tell a story to someone once they’ve purchased your product and it’s in their house? That was, it’s really fun, but definitely a big departure from the purely digital world.
Mary: Yeah, my next question is a two part question. The first one is, I imagine that you see yourself as kind of the personification of your customer profile and the people that you’re targeting with your marketing, given that you have pets, and that you’ve always been very passionate about animals and sustainability. This is kind of the value proposition that you’re getting across with your brand.
So, is that an advantage, is my first question? My second one is how do you intend to, as you grow, start reaching audiences that maybe aren’t a direct representation of you?
Caroline: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think, in product marketing, there’s a lot of focus on audiences and knowing your customer and being incredibly customer centric.
And there’s a danger to identifying with the audience, believing that you are the customer…
Mary: Creates all these biases, right?
Caroline: Totally, totally. You make some assumptions. I was definitely guilty of that at many junctures of like, oh, I would want this, or I would understand that carbon footprint trade-off, so that makes sense to me.
I think there are plenty of little mistakes along the way. But I think where we’ve been able to course-correct, it’s just the customer is the voice of reason, taking customer feedback as gold making adjustments along the way.
So I definitely personally identify with our customer who is part of our creation story of, Hey, I don’t really care about any of these brands, and that just makes sense to me. Because I should be like a, kind of a layup audience target for these brands like, I’ve got dogs. I’ve always tried to buy dog food on the internet, and I want to engage with my dog food brands. Like I’m one of those people. I think in some ways it’s been helpful because I can try to make decisions based on what I think our audience will resonate with.
But in some ways, like we just have to constantly check those biases of, yeah like, you might be the target audience, but your level of involvement now in the dog food makes you super biased. So it’s a balancing act for sure.
Mary: Yeah. Well, you know, one thing that we constantly refer to is the fact that even though we think we know what other people want, and we’re using all this empathy. Like you said, it’s a really important part of the creation of the brand and the storytelling of how it all started.
But at the same time, what ends up happening is that we apply so much to our own reality, that we forget to consider little tiny bits and pieces that could be a make-or-break for customers.
So is there a practical way that you try to do a workaround for this? Do you do any kind of product testing? Do you have a unique way of collecting customer feedback?
Caroline: Yeah, I think we did a lot of surveying, for the first few years while we were still refining the products, both from a mission and vision of how we want to talk about the product, but also literally in making ingredient selections.
We did so much surveying. We tried to understand where people had trade-offs because I think that was a place we didn’t want to introduce too much of our own bias. We had our own non-negotiables around what we would develop. It needed to check these boxes that needed, or we wanted to include over 50% organic.
We wanted to go through certifications or our product could be vetted to be super sustainable. Those were some of our non-negotiables, but we had room for trade-offs and we wanted that to be informed by data, by people who we had a good suspicion would be our customer. And I think that that was just a really helpful foundation in building out the product.
I have an inkling this way, but like there’s a perception that this flavor or this combination is healthier, even if that’s not literally true. There’s a perception or there’s a bias towards these things. So I think that was regularly leaning on survey data and customer feedback versus, intuition in some moments I think has been really helpful and a good fallback option for us.
When, in doubt, what does the customer want to see? Knowing we’re not going to compromise on our core values, but we have more room to make this product adapted to what they want.
Mary: Do you have any practical examples of things that you changed after looking at the data and looking at what the survey responses provided you with?
Caroline: I think like one, one area and, you know, it’s something that I think is changing really fast, and I get questions about this all the time in my inbox, so I think we may pivot back. But early on, we wanted to try to do, we’re really interested in compostable packaging, for example. And it’s really hard to do with heavy bags.
There’s a limit currently, like five pounds is the threshold. When you go above five pounds you need to introduce some kind of plastic to reinforce that. And I think we were like, you know what, maybe we’ll do, if someone wants to order a larger order, we’ll do, five five-pound bags.
That way we don’t have to use any plastic. It turns out that wasn’t like a critical thing for some of our customers. They wanted the larger bag. It’s more convenient, it’s cheaper to ship. There were lots of reasons why you might want a larger bag and we really waffled back and forth on that of like, will we be isolating our customer or not?
If it has a small, it has 40%, less plastic than most bags, but if it has some plastics in it, or it needs to go to recycle. And customers were not as interested in that as we had thought that they were. We didn’t have a solution anyways, for a compostable larger bag.
I think sustainability is becoming less of a throwaway item for people, that we’re seeing folks ask about that now. So the survey at that time, when we were creating it, it wasn’t a make or break. It was a nice to have. So we made that decision in the interest of the customers. I think that’s something that it’s not a frozen in time situation.
We need to stay on top of it because preferences are always shifting. But one small thing that we definitely spend a lot of time thinking about, but ultimately wanted to side with what customers would prefer.
Mary: Yeah. You know, you kind of hit the nail on the head when it comes to understanding impact, and how little things- sometimes we think things will have a really big impact on customer’s perceptions and on their decisions.
And ultimately we find out that something that wasn’t even on our radar, that we weren’t even considering could be breaking your experience. So I talk about that so much on this podcast and we discussed so many different ways with all the amazing guests that I have on this show of, how do you figure out what truly matters to your customers and which things are deal breakers?
Because when you identify what the deal breakers are, then you can pad and cushion that off and make sure that that’s sacred and that that won’t be touched.
And that you’ll protect that at all costs while changing things around it. But if you don’t know, it kind of becomes a guessing game. And at the end of the day, you start losing all these customers or you stop gaining customers, or if you even gain all these customers and you don’t know why or how, you don’t know how to make a replicable process so that that, that growth is sustainable for your organization. So understanding those tiny details of the make-or-breaks is so important.
Mary: Yeah, that’s great. Tell me a little bit about initially what inspired you to co-found this company? What were some of the pains that you perceived? Going back to the storytelling and talking about how you truly identified as a consumer in this space from a marketing perspective that something was wrong, something was broken. What was that?
Caroline: Yeah, it’s interesting because I think marketers, we’re always looking for moments to differentiate. How can we make this feel like a unique product, or what makes this product unique from other products in the market? And what was so exciting when we first started develop Petaluma was it was, for better, for worse, it was going to be extremely differentiated.
There was nothing, there are very few companies like it on the market. And it’s controversial in that way. And I think marketers, maybe not all marketers, but I certainly would prefer to market a highly differentiated, slightly controversial product than one that’s super similar to others.
Then you’re white boarding all day, how to like spend. So it feels different. So in some ways it’s so much easier to market a differentiated product. But we started the company named Petaluma. We had stayed at a farm for a weekend getaway in Petaluma, which is, for folks who aren’t familiar with the area, it’s like a rural, really cute town in Sonoma county.
And we brought our dog along and it was this really adorable hobby farm, and our dog just fully assimilated with the other animals on the farm. It was just hilarious. This San Francisco city, dog, who is afraid of his own shadow was like, playing, it was a moment of reflection for both of us.
I had been changing the way I was eating for a couple of years, but it was kind of a little wake-up call of, Hey, we can make some drastic decisions. We can make some bigger changes for ourselves. We can think more sustainably, we can eat in a different way. And it was part of many years on the back burner thinking and talking about, what it would look like if we created a brand like Petaluma.
So that’s a little bit of where the name comes from. And I think when I thought of myself as a dog food shopper, most dog food buyers are women. It’s increasingly true that they’re buying food online, especially over the pandemic and especially younger shoppers. And they’re looking at brands with a bit more skepticism than maybe their parents did.
They maybe have some eyebrows raised at how dog food is made and where it comes from and what goes into it. And I think people are a little more comfortable sitting in that than maybe past generations, like Hey, I will seek out something different because this dog that I have is like maybe a placeholder for a human child.
The dollars spent on this dog are ridiculous relative to past generations. Right?
Caroline: I think those dogs, like we’re not even ashamed usually of buying them Tempur-Pedic dog beds.
Mary: Zero shame.
Caroline: Zero shame. Yeah. It’s forgone situation now.
So I think when I looked at the dog food space, and my co-founder comes from the pet care industry, there were so many brands that felt like they were repeating really old school or like mid-century marketing techniques of a dog that looks like a wolf catching a salmon in a stream like, Eagle Scout vibes, and I didn’t identify with it.
So I think that was kind of part of the spark of like, there’s something interesting we could do in being this incredibly transparent brand, where people are starting to question what they’re feeding their dogs and if it’s healthy and if it’s safe and if it’s effective, et cetera.
Then there’s also this trend that I’m not sure has totally taken hold yet: I’m bored by these brands. None of them are really speaking to me. I don’t identify with the person in the packaging or on the app. I’m not going fly fishing with a husky. I’m like sitting on a couch with really spoiled crusty dog.
Mary: Watching Netflix?
Caroline: I’m like, yeah, I’m spending a ridiculous amount of time with this dog. So I think that was also part of it too, of like, I’m sure there are plenty of other people like me or not like me who don’t see themselves in these brands and don’t care about them.
And I think partially because there’s been very little disruption in this space for a long time. It is a really traditional industry. And I think there was a really exciting opportunity to build a brand, that at least superficially would capture eyes maybe as looking different, the packaging is different, the storytelling is different.
And then the ingredient label is different, and the story behind the brand is different. So it’s been really exciting and interesting, but I think as marketers, we love an opportunity. It’s easier to market a brand that knows what it stands for and has a really clear reason to exist.
Mary: What were some of the issues that you faced and probably still face regarding the idea of sustainable dog food?
Because this was something that you mentioned to me previously, where people already think that dog food, by nature, is sustainable. So what, what are some of the standing perceptions that the market has and how are you trying to reshape that?
Caroline: It’s interesting. I think a lot of people, myself included previous to learning about it, don’t know what goes into conventional dog food. It’s not pretty, and there’s a reason why it’s extremely cheap.
The standard go-to brands that like like to target the protein, the animal protein that they’re getting for those dog foods is almost free it’s pennies. And if you talk to folks in the industry, they’re not going to market it this way because it’s not palatable to customers, but they would view those product lines as inherently sustainable because they’re taking the scraps and the remnants and the four D’s of like disease, dying down, et cetera animals and using them as, , dog food ingredients.
And there’s lots of reasons to be sad about that or to be grossed out about that. But I think for that reason, that industry views themselves as oh, we’re taking the leftovers from human- they don’t view themselves as subsidizing an industry or perpetuating it or benefiting from it.
I think that they really, a lot of folks really do truly believe that it is intrinsically sustainable. In some ways, I guess you could argue that it is, but the trends in the dog food space over the last 10 years have nudged more and more towards fresh food, and human competitive protein.
So it’s certainly not becoming more sustainable over time. If that were true, maybe 20 years ago, the trends now are nudging towards fresh and frozen meat -centric products that are very, very unsustainable and usually shipped in dry ice and with a bunch of plastic.
Mary: So how do you get around that?
Caroline: Yeah, I personally don’t think it’s going to happen really quickly. I think there’s some really interesting trends. Or if you look at the person who’s buying like a super premium dog food product, which is going up and up every year, they just care a lot about their dog. They just want their dog to have something really great that they love.
And I think that’s a relatable emotion for a Petaluma customer as well. We have lots of folks who switch over to our product from those. I think I’m curious to see how much COVID has accelerated this, but I think when you start to see how much stuff gets shipped to your house, when you’re home all the time, that there might be a little more reflection of wow, like this is a lot of like, stuff.
Caroline: For sure. Yeah. So I think we’re seeing a little bit of that and I think it’ll take time for people to get comfortable with feeding their dogs something different. Our food is plant-based, it’s baked, it looks different. It crumbles differently. It smells like some people say potato chips, some people say peanut butter.
It’s a very different products. And it’s not traditional kibble and it’s not a fresh, meat-based food. So it is something new. It is something novel and people, I think one of the, one of the big marketing challenges we have is I think a lot of people don’t know what they’re looking for when they’re looking for Petaluma.
There isn’t like a built up keyword base. If you’re doing SEO research, there’s not like a built of keyword based for like sustainable dog food. It just doesn’t exist. It’s not in the public consciousness. But I think with brands like Impossible and Beyond, others who have just accelerated and hit the gas so hard in the last few years, I don’t think it will be forever before this is a big conversation in pet.
It’s just kind of funny that you can immediately think of, what’s the most sustainable brand in retail? Maybe you think of Patagonia, some other brand like an Everlane. But no one can really point to a brand in pet. So I think that’s it’s just chugging along like, we’re not quite there yet, but I think it will happen for pet.
I think it’s just a matter of time.
Mary: Yeah. At least, especially for the demographic that you’re probably targeting, which is really hyper aware of all of these different values that you’re focusing on. And, when you talked about smell, that’s something that’s so important. My daughter, when she has to feed the dogs, she is horrified and she like takes a deep breath and plugs her nose, really dramatic about it, you know?
And it reminds me of when I was a kid and I spent more or less a year living on a farm. And it was really far away, but since it was all kind of like grasslands and open, from a dog food factory. It was north of us. And every time the wind blew in from the north, they carried the smell from the dog food factory into the home.
And it was nicknamed the North Wind. That’s how terrible it was, because the smell was so atrocious. It curdled your stomach and made you like, just from the smell of it. You know? So I think that that’s one thing that’s interesting because dog food has always been stinky and it’s just one of those things.
It’s stinky. And, but we kind of forget that, Hey, our nose is actually one of the main things of our nose and how the nose protected humans was by smelling that something is foul and you should not eat that. Right? Yeah.
Caroline: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. It’s funny too, because I think that’s one of the most common reactions we get to the product.
We started doing a free sample program a month or so ago, because there wasn’t an opportunity to do in-person pop-ups or little like brand applications. And everyone would open it and be like, I almost wanted to taste it myself because it smells like a human food product. And then I think that’s like the new bar to clear for pet food products and for pet products in general.
We’re so attached to these dogs. And if you do think of them as family members, that might come into play. If you think that this is good enough for you, or, “human-grade” is bandied about quite a bit. I think it’s interesting and it’s changing really fast.
We’ll see, especially the demographic you mentioned, I think that that group is holding a magnifying glass to lots of things, whether it’s skincare, cosmetics, or the car that they’re driving, they’re just a little more sensitive than they may have been in the past.
Mary: Yeah. So what’s interesting to me, I think is the fact that this product was delivered – not delivered, it was created based on a type of customer. And if that isn’t customer centric product building, then I don’t know what it is, but it was truly designed for a specific type of individual. And I imagine that you’re considering this individual in every single step of the process.
Off the top of your head, cause I know it’s hard to just pull out a nowhere, but what are some of the things that you realized that this specific profile of individual, other than sustainability and wanting to provide the best for their animals?
Is it a generation? Is it cross-generation? Are you targeting a very specific age range? Are there other urban dwellers? Are there some particularities about this target profile?
Caroline: So, I think early on, we definitely made some assumptions that the people who would be attracted to our product out of the gates we’d have these core bases in like Brooklyn, LA, San Francisco, like the places where we felt like sustainable brands already have their foothold.
Or maybe you have folks who are already searching for a brand like this. I think we were surprised, just to have a very, fairly well-distributed customer base, geographically demographically, lots of customers in Florida and Texas. I had a conversation with our digital marketing consultant soon after we launched.
And I was kind of scratching my head, all of these random rural towns ordering our product. His reaction was like, oh, I’m so unsurprised. Those are huge states. It’s just like, yeah, I know that, intellectually, but I just made these assumptions to be like an urban dweller product. And I think that that’s, it’s been super exciting to us because it feels like it could become a national product more quickly than we had thought.
I think we were maybe scaling our expectations that we would start urban and expand. And, I think it’s been really compelling and exciting to see that there are folks all over the place who are trying to adapt their dogs diet, or they’re just trying to think differently about what they buy.
And that’s been really motivating to us and it’s giving us richer feedback, which is great.
Mary: Now does this kind of surprise, does this make you want to A, start maybe broadening your message to reach a larger audience or B, continue doing exactly what you’re doing because somehow it’s working?
Caroline: That’s such a good question. So I think in designing the product originally, it’s so challenging, but like when we were originally developing our marketing message, those are the trade-offs you have to make. How specific do we get here? Or which storytelling device is going to be the most compelling?
Is it animal welfare? Is it health and wellness? Is it the environment and social responsibility? Is it just plant-based diets attracting certain people who want to feed plant based diets? And we left it intentionally open-ended in that we wanted to try out all of those messages in our ads. Then just follow the numbers.
If we were betting, we would definitely be trying to put all of our money on the environmental sustainability story, because that’s what attracted us to build this business. And that was our core DNA. And I think we’ve been really delighted that that is one of the more compelling messages to come out of some of those, just following the numbers types of exercises.
I think that that might explain some of the wider appeal and the wider customer profile, because it draws in a broader mix than just one of like where a plant-based message might isolate huge swaths of people who aren’t there yet or aren’t interested. So I think that’s been really exciting for us and, I think it’s been reinforcing a message that we can really lean into that.
It’s an authentic story about our brand and know that that’s a wider net. It’s something that I think people can identify with. One of the stories you want to tell about our brand is that, what you feed your dog is really important. It’s a big decision, and it can make a giant environmental impact.
Like they consume a huge amount of meat every year. It’s not insignificant at all. The trade-offs are huge. It’s like switching your dog to this diet is the same as, instead of driving your car, taking the bus, it’s very big. And you can make a really big change without having to change your diet.
I think that’s where it gets exciting for us. This is a thing that you could feel really good about without needing to be like the Prius-driving, vegan-eating Birkenstock-wearing person, like you don’t need to be that person to be compelled. We have lots of those people. We don’t need to be that person.
So I think that’s, what’s really exciting as a marketer. We can use this kind of broad message and be really authentic in that message and hope that that’s what lures people in or what attracts people to the brand. And it’s exciting to see that that’s a bigger group than we had initially thought.
Mary: Yeah. You know, you’re talking here and it got me thinking about the packaging of the dog food that I buy. And even though I have the pickiest dogs in the world who are allergic to everything and they eat super exclusive bougie dog food, the branding is still a wilderness, a river, wild salmon jumping around. And the food, you know, what it reminds me of, it reminds me of like Axe, body spray.
The names are always like Titanium Ice or stuff like that. And then dog food is like, wild boar, and, it’s always something that refers to going back to nature and the ancestry of the dog and never, Hey, you know, your obese pug sitting in your living room, watching TV with you.
Yeah. So this, this thing could not survive in the wild. That’s why I always laugh about with some of that, like ancestral marketing. Yeah, they might have this common ancestor, but that’s dog, my dog would not survive a day on its own.
Mary: Not a day.
And why do you think, like your background in marketing, how does it, can your brain form a plausible excuse as to why these big box companies are overlooking such a big portion of the market?
Caroline: Yeah. I think part of it is, they’ve been super successful. It’s been a really lucrative, giant industry for a long time. Their messaging of “more meat is healthier, more meat is better” has gone unchecked for a while. In some ways dog food was, as a concept was invented by marketing.
So it’s an interesting, strange little corner of retail that I think has just had the luxury of going fairly unchallenged for a really long time and building these huge businesses.
One thing that really surprised me, but it’s certainly not surprising to anyone in this space, but coming from the outside, the same companies who own all the veterinary clinics own all the dog food brands, they own all of the dog DNA companies. They’re huge and they have their fingers in everything. I think it’s easy in some ways to maybe not move as quickly on trends or not respond, because maybe you haven’t had to.
I think that’s maybe part of it is just having these really established players has meant that they haven’t needed to be as responsive potentially, or maybe a little more risk-averse, because they’ve gone unchallenged or they’ve had these really successful decades of running these businesses and being really successful in it.
It’s interesting. I think it’s a good opportunity for small brands, but small brands do have to compete with these giant forces in the industry, which I think is unique. Maybe relative to other categories like retail or super crowded, or other brands that have gone through like in environmental-related disruption.
There were tons and dozens and dozens of players, and dog food has these big monoliths in it that take up a lot of space. So it’s an interesting little corner of direct to consumer.
Mary: Yeah, well, I guess their day of reckoning has come. Like you said, they’ve been comfortable for so long. It’s about time a contender came along, try to at least get a little bit of space.
Well, thank you so much for coming on today, Caroline. I think it’s so interesting. If any of our listeners are interested in getting to know a little bit more about your product, how do they learn more about Petaluma?
Caroline: Sure. And they can go to feedpetaluma.com.
It’s spelled just like you sound it out and we would love to send you a sample. See if your dog likes it. The pickier eaters, the better. Follow us on Feed Petaluma for some cute dog content. But thanks so much for having me, Mary. It was delightful to get to speak with you.
Mary: Thank you so much into our listeners and viewers.
Thank you for joining us once again, and we’ll be back next week. Thank you, Caroline, thank you folks. See you soon.
That’s our show. Thanks for joining us. We hope we’ve brought you one step closer to leading through empathy. It’s our way of making the world a better place. One business at a time. Don’t forget to subscribe and hit the bell if you want.to know as soon as we publish a new episode. Voices of CX is brought to you by Worthix. I’m Mary Drumond. This podcast is hosted and produced by me, edited and co-produced by Steve Berry. See you next week.