This story begins with two friends — both dog lovers, both graphic designers — lamenting the fact they could't find cool, custom dog bandanas for their pets. Tina Chen and Sara Jean Kunz started brainstorming all the different types of bandanas they would buy: holiday specific bandanas, special occasion bandanas for weddings and birthdays, and the list went on and on. Not long after this conversation took place, Bacon Bibs became a reality.
What makes Bacon Bibs a good topic for social media? Tina used the Instagram account for her Labradoodle Peanut as the one and only means of promoting their bandanas — and to great success.
Platforms like Instagram and Pinterest have been heavily promoting the idea of social commerce using their tools. But as marketers, we have to be very careful not to "oversell" on our pages. Nothing turns fans off faster than constantly advertising to them in posts. So, what's different about Bacon Bibs' approach? How have they managed to promote their product, with no paid advertising, and still be a success?
Launching Bacon Bibs On Instagram
Bacon Bibs launched on November 1, 2015. The first thing they did was announce to the 4,254 followers of The Nutty Doodle that Peanut's mom had launched a new business. That was enough to get a buzz started and orders began rolling in. Tina started a Bacon Bibs Instagram account and keeps most Bacon Bibs related posts on the brand's page. Although Peanut does share the occasional Bib related message, Tina wants to keep The Nutty Doodle page about Peanut's crazy antics with only occasional Bacon Bibs offers.
Up to this point, each of their posts on Instagram has resulted in sales. Their posts range from supplied client photos to special promotions (see below).
Instagram has been a great place to gather user generated content. Customers post photos of their pets with the hashtag #baconbibs and Tina asks permission to use their photos on their website or social media pages.
One of the most important things they have learned from using Instagram for social commerce, is how much you NEED to participate in the platform. You can't just post your content and sit on your heels, you need to like and comment on other people's photos as well.
Tina: You need to follow and comment not only on your followers' photos, but on their followers. I like and comment on any post that has our hashtag #baconbibs or a @BaconBibs mention. Otherwise I notice a loss in momentum and reach. People especially appreciate it when you leave a comment. If you really want to reach your potential audience, you need to take the time to engage with them, it's worth it.
Capitalizing on the Instagram Dog Culture
Tina started her Nutty Doodle Instagram page about a year ago. She soon discovered that the dogs of Instagram are a tight community and very supportive of one another. Best buds send each other birthday presents and schedule meet-ups.
Dogs with a large followership receive free products from companies hoping the toy or treat will be featured in one of the "top dog's" photos. And if you're lucky, your pup might be hired by a pet company to officially promote their product.
The community obviously likes Bacon Bibs', because news of their bandanas is really getting around. They are being approached by dog owners with 60,000+ followers wanting to promote their bandanas and bow ties. The community even comes to their defense when people complain that the Bibs are too expensive — countering these suggestions by saying the Bibs are high quality and "totally worth it!"
Instagram is full of niche communities like this where people with the same interests can share photos and ideas. But before you can capitalize on them, you have to BE one of them. They can spot a poser a mile away.
Social Commerce and the Makers' Movement
Sara and Tina aren't just designers, they're Makers. They hand produce each bandana which includes screen printing each design and sewing the bandanas themselves. Tina and her husband Tung taught themselves how to screen print and Sara rocks the sewing machine. Everything is screen printed in Tina's backyard and Sara has turned her spare bedroom into the sewing and packaging room.
As you can imagine, they work late into the evenings and most weekends.
Sara: Oh yah, there have been a lot of late nights! But it's worth it. We have a personal connection with our customers. They share their dogs' stories with us on almost every order. It's an amazing feeling, but also puts extra pressure on us to make sure their orders are perfect.
They are taking advantage of hashtags unique to the makers' movements including: #handmade, #handcrafted, #madeinsac, #local, #sacramento, #screenprinted, etc. The handmade quality of the products really resonates with their Instagram audience.
Custom Is Key
Although all the designs have been popular, the custom name bandanas have far outsold the others. It has been a little over a month since they launched, but they are already seeing a potential for growth in this area.
Tina: We really thought the custom designs like The Bone Tie or Naughty or Nice would be the most popular. It goes to show you — you never really know what people are going to gravitate to. Now we're taking a step back and rethinking how we move forward with our future designs.
From the very beginning Tina and Sara wanted to create a businesses that gives back to animals in need.
Sara: One of the main reasons we started Bacon Bibs was the opportunity it gives us to donate proceeds to rescues. We also plan to make special bandanas for shelter animals waiting to be adopted. Giving back is one of the things that makes all the hard work and late nights worth it.
The first organization to benefit from Bacon Bibs' sales is the Sacramento SPCA. They are researching potential non-profit partners for 2016 now.
Looking to the Future
During their first two months of business Tina has been approached by several organizations with partnership opportunities. Right now, fulfilling their holiday orders keeps them very busy, but they are planning to take part in Bike Dog Brewing Co.'s Barks and Brews event on December 19th, 2015. The event takes place from 3-6pm at Bike Dog and benefits the Yolo County Animal Shelter. This will be their first event selling bandanas in person.
Tina: We were going to wait till March, 2016 to take part in any events, but we couldn't pass up the chance to partner with Bike Dog and support another local shelter.
Sara and Tina already have plans for new products including their recently launched line of doggie bow ties called Bacon Bows. These were Sara's brain child and she has spend a great deal of time testing the design to make sure they are durable and fit correctly.
They have completely new designs and color options rolling out for spring. They will be unveiling the new products in January and February, so stay tuned! Let's just say if you have a wedding coming up, and want your pup to be part of the celebration, these designs are for you.
The Secret to Success
Not every business can, or should, use an Instagram account to launch their product; however, it can be very successful for a specific type of company like Bacon Bibs.
- Instagram was the perfect place to find an audience for their niche products. There is an established (and large) audience already using the platform to find and share unique dog products.
- They didn't require a lot of orders right away to consider their new venture a success. Their business model is one of slow growth.
- Tina had created a follower base for Peanut BEFORE using it as a promotional tool. She built trust and relationships with potential customers purely through her enjoyment of the platform. Remember, she did not start the page with the intent of using it as a marketing tool, but as a place to have fun and maybe get some free dog toys!
- They have been able to take advantage of user generated content (photos shared on Instagram of dogs wearing their bandanas).
- Tina only promotes Bacon Bibs on The Nutty Doodle from time to time. Followers still get what they signed up for with her posts — fun photos of Peanut.
- They created an Instagram page for Bacon Bibs where they can focus on the products and continue to build a product specific audience.
- They are extremely active on their accounts and make personal connections with their customers there.
- They did a lot of research upfront to make sure that their product was unique enough, and in the right price point, to attract customers.
- Oh, and it doesn't hurt that they are both art directors with an eye for great design and the ability to create their own graphics!
Tina and Sara know they'll eventually need to purchase digital and traditional advertising, but for now Instagram is creating all the buzz they need. They are beginning to promote their Facebook and Pinterest pages, and plan to create a Vine page for videos. Sara has created an Instagram account for her two dogs entitled Brodeo and Desmo the Pitbulls and is starting to engage with Bacon Bibs followers through her own account.
I can't wait to see what's in store for this dynamic duo. Their combination of social knowhow, unique sense of humor and love of animals will no doubt endear them to the pet enthusiast community!
You can check out their website at www.baconbibs.com.
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