Q&A: Bark’s Vice President of Brand Reach and Affinity on How Innovation Powers the Company

'Good enough' isn't good enough, said Allison Stadd

Allison Stadd will take the stage as a speaker at Challenger Brands: A Brandweek Event, Feb. 6-7, in New York.

Scroll through Bark’s social media feeds, and you’ll find photos and videos of frisky canines ripping into their latest bundles of toys and treats. It’s classic unboxing, but with teeth and slobber.

It also captures the tone and personality of Bark and BarkBox, its direct-to-consumer subscription service that creates more than 430 products a year and counts upwards of 7.5 million social followers. The brand, with 600,000 subscribers and $200 million in 2018 sales, relies less on traditional marketing and more on comedy with original content like Dog Mom Anthem. (Sample lyrics from the rap music video that went viral: “Never leave the house without my lint roller, hell yeah, I got a geriatric pug in this stroller. His Instagram is popping, I don’t mean maybe, he gets more likes than my sister’s baby.”)

Allison Stadd, Bark’s vp of brand reach and affinity and a veteran of Sweetgreen and Shake Shack, will take the stage as a speaker at Challenger Brands: A Brandweek Event, Feb. 6-7, in New York. Ahead of that gathering, which will feature C-suite executives from Levi’s, MeUndies, Peloton, Skinnygirl and other companies, Stadd talked with Adweek about evolving DTC trends (BarkBox has a thriving Target presence now), launching a country club for dogs (Nashville’s experiential BarkPark) and using data as a way to innovate in the $86 billion pet industry.

Adweek: What do you see as your most significant marketing challenge of 2019?
Allison Stadd: Our focus is on figuring out how we market the experiences of our products to consumers that don’t live online. So many dog parents still shop in-store and don’t know the excitement of the hashtag #BarkBoxDay. How do we convey that same experience in our retail touchpoints and via traditional marketing efforts? Those are the questions that my team is focused on right now.

So much of what we have done at Bark has been for the fun of it. We made a rap music video (Dog Mom Anthem) because we wanted to laugh about the silly quirks that all dog parents know about, and yet we ended up building brand recognition from it. The Dog Mom Rap became the best performing piece of brand content in May 2017 and 2018 (determined by Unmetric), which is incredible. As much as that did for us, the strategy of “build it and they will come” doesn’t work like it used to. All direct-to-consumer brands will face this challenge in 2019.

"[T]he strategy of 'build it and they will come' doesn’t work like it used to. All direct-to-consumer brands will face this challenge in 2019."

Talk about the trend of DTC companies like yours heading into brick-and-mortar retail. Why is it important, what is it doing to build your brand?
Digital marketing and online engagement can only go so far to accomplish business goals and milestones. Being direct-to-consumer is great for building trust, engagement and a community, but there’s a limit before you have to look elsewhere for new customers. Swaths of potential customers aren’t interested in the on-demand nature of subscription boxes or DTC offerings, so reaching them where they already are—in places like Target or a pop-up shop—is incredibly important. Those people have dogs, too!

It’s fascinating to see the way retail is changing at the hands of direct to consumer brands, because everyone has a different strategy. We’ve taken a slightly different approach because our customer is the dog. A traditional brick-and-mortar storefront won’t work for us, because dogs don’t typically enjoy browsing the aisles listlessly—they like to run, play, touch, chew, taste. A members-only dog park with toys, treats, coffee and WiFi (for the humans) makes sense because that’s where our customers are—at the dog park—so we built that exact concept in Nashville. BarkPark is our version of brick-and-mortar, but the goal is less to sell product and more to build brand awareness and engagement with those folks that don’t already know us from BarkBox.

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