Adweek reporter Diana Pearl had a tricky question for Bark vp of brand reach and affinity Allison Stadd at Wednesday’s Brandweek: Challenger Brands summit. Pearl—who’s 26 years old, on the younger side of the millennial generation—said she can’t foresee herself getting a dog anytime soon because it feels “too adult.” So if some millennials don’t yet feel stable enough to own a dog during these tumultuous times, how many Gen Zers, the oldest of which are currently 24, have dogs?
In other words, are Gen Zers already a part of Bark’s base, Pearl asked, “or do you need to connect with them before they even get the dog?”
During the event’s next-generation marketing panel Stadd explained that, in a way, recent trends have laid some of the groundwork. “We’re seeing an interesting trend of college campuses becoming more dog-friendly,” Stadd said, highlighting dorms that allow dogs and on-campus therapy dog programs during exam time. “… In addition to that, anecdotally, we know that if you grow up with a dog in your household, you’re more likely to get a dog in your adult life.”
On #BarkBoxDay—which functions both as the day the monthly subscription box arrives and a hashtag consumers use to post about it, sometimes with unboxing videos—”a lot of families are posting content together,” Stadd explained. That means even if Gen Zers are heading off to college or have moved out of the house (sans dog), they “still have this connection to [their] family dog,” so they’re “still part of that BarkBox experience.”
Bark has been working to authentically capitalize on that digital link to Gen Z through its social media strategy. Stadd said the company has 11 million followers across its accounts and profiles, and while it certainly uses that presence for straight-up marketing, some of its strongest storytelling on social has had nothing to do with Bark products.
“One of the things I think that we’ve done really well is not [being] afraid to lean on social to not talk about the things that we’re selling,” she explained, citing the “Dog Mom Rap” Facebook video that was shared over 440,000 times.
While many Gen Zers may not have their own dogs yet, they’ve been engaging with BarkBox content apps like TikTok—and that’s entirely organically, as BarkBox has done “nothing to date” on the Chinese video app. “We have our eyes and ears open to … niche pockets across the internet,” Stadd explained.
The company has worked on creating interesting digital experiences, like with “Say Bark!”, a Snapchat-style app that lets users create and share animated cards starring your dog (or, in the case of possibly homesick Gen Zers, your family’s dog). “We’re trying to think about how [we] talk to these people across a wide variety of channels” without pushing Bark’s products too hard, she told Pearl.
The company is also focusing on innovation and experimentation, providing a variety of shoppable experiences from Instagram to Urban Outfitters to Target in order to hone in on Gen Z and millennials. “How do they want to shop? … We want to explore all avenues,” Stadd said.
That’s because—like many other brands, both challengers and legacies—Bark is “in the thick of it” when it comes to determining the ultimate way to access the next generation. “We’re learning a lot every single day,” she said. ” … One of the things that really makes us ‘us’ is … a relentless focus on innovation, trying new things [and] constant experimentation.”
Bark also leans on data that comes in monthly via surveys and product scores from 600,000-plus BarkBox subscribers for each item that comes in the box. “So we know, down to the location of the squeaker … what people think about it,” she said.
But while Bark is incorporating next-gen marketing, Stadd highlighted that the company focuses less on specific demographics and more on addressing known needs of dog owners as a whole. “One of the best things about Bark is that we’re a few hundred crazy dog people,” Stadd joked, explaining that a lot of the company’s inspiration comes from thinking, “What do we want? What is missing in our own world?”