Bark & Co chief marketer: We want our brand to be a "Disney for dogs"

Bark & Co CMO Pat Shores tells Diana Bradley about the steps the company is taking to create a ubiquitous dog care and entertainment brand.

How has Bark & Co evolved since it launched in 2012?
It started with BarkBox — [a subscription box of] natural treats and toys, full sized, and curated around a fun theme. From day one, it wasn’t just about throwing products in a box and shipping it - the founders tried to create an experience. We realized we’re as much about product and entertainment as selling toys and treats and evolved to try and create a Disney for dogs for a generation of people who look at their dogs as their children. We expanded into BarkShop, our online toys and treats site; BarkPost content around goofy and sincere stories about adoptable dogs; and BarkLive events for expanding experiences you can have with your dog.

How has your marketing approach changed?
From the beginning [owners] created #BarkBox content. Today, we have over 5 million followers on social who share our dog obsession and help dogs get adopted.

Our influencers are dogs and we have relationships with Instagram and Facebook dogs. We call it our BarkPack Arfilliate Network. Brands come to us when they want to work with dogs online and on social because we have informal and formal relationships with so many celebradogs, such as Tuna Melts My Heart and Marnie the dog.

How do you partner with brands?
We partnered with Swiffer to provide 10,000 welcome home kits [that included] specially designed BarkBoxes we gave shelters to help support and encourage dog adoption. When you get a new dog, the amount of cleaning can be overwhelming. We focus on the joy and happiness of adopting dogs. Actor Scott Foley was involved with the partnership [and announced the effort], which took place in November 2015.

Are you using any new social media platforms?
BarkBox [uses Facebook Live] to bring meaningful experiences to our audience about dogs and their people, including Wake up with Puppy, which we livestream every other Monday to [show an] adoptable puppy doing things for the first time. We also do a BarkBox Unboxing every month, showcasing what's in the box with our Destroyers Club president, Pimm the dog.

What is Destroyers Club?
We use a dog’s eye view in our marketing, thinking of a dog and its human as our customer. The human is the purchaser. If you’re trying to sell to a parent, you need to understand their child’s age, play style, and development. We recently launched Destroyers Club because dogs love the joys of destruction. The more your dog destroys and enjoys toys, the more we give them. We designed toys with extra thick seams and safe squeakers. When [customers post] photos of their dogs and their [toy] carcasses with the hashtag #DestroyersClub on social media, our Happy team gives them credits for more toys on BarkShop.com.

Tell us about the first BarkShop Live event in New York in June.
This is the first retail experience where the dog does the shopping. It’s for people who treat dogs as a member of their family and deserve a sense of what their dog likes. We’re also listening and looking to understand what makes a dog happy. In the shop, there was technology in the toys and the ones dogs hovered around gave [owners] a sense of what the dogs liked. The tech also alerted an app and told the humans where their dogs spent most time, what they seemed to play with, and how they interact with other dogs. Based on this knowledge, [products] can be shipped to [owners] from BarkShop.com.

You recently announced $60 million in new funding to expand. What are your plans?
We’re obsessed with making dogs and the people who love them happy. This allows us to do more, faster. It goes toward the vision of a Disney for dogs and marks a moment where we’re shifting from just reselling to creating our own products and productions.

What’s the biggest challenge for your company?
Most people know us as BarkBox and there is still confusion around whether we just sell samples. They may not realize it is full-sized treats around fun themes, such as Take Me Out to the Ball Game. In that box, we have a catcher’s mitt, a Barklyn Dodgers cap, and the treat is the shape of a pretzel. We also include a large baseball card you can poke a hole out of the middle, put your dog’s face in it, and share on social media with the hashtag #BarkBall. Most people don’t know about BarkShop, BarkPost, and our BarkLive events, so our big opportunity is to get word out.

How many people are on the comms team?
The team devoted to marketing and growth is approximately 10 people - and seven dogs - and will nearly double in size over the next few months to support our growth. We brought on PR firm Confidant in January. They are totally embedded in our team.

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