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Thoughts on breed popularity, marketing, and the power of the internet

23 Dec
Even the salt of the Earth BT is getting in on the meme!

Even the salt of the Earth BT is getting in on the meme!

The farther I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of purebred dogs, the more I’ve learned about the attitudes of others in the hobby.

For instance, I’ve been told that many breeders won’t build a website because they believe anyone with a website is simply breeding for money [probably they also don’t know how to build one]. While it’s true that anyone — qualified or not — can have a website and look like a pro, having a website does not by default make you a money-grubbing puppy miller. In fact many top breeders have websites, breeders who are highly respected by their peers.

I’ve also been told by some folks that they don’t want people to know about the breed because then the breed will be ruined. This is most likely based on the negative effect that widespread popularity often has on a breed: backyard breeders spring up from the bushes, puppies show up in pet stores, health testing is a rarity (because BYB don’t do that), and for several years the breed experiences a downward spiral. I agree that trending is not beneficial to any breed, however I don’t think treating your breed like a Disney princess and hiding it away is the solution.

My personal opinion is 1) you should always market your breed to the public and 2) of course you should have a website. Let me explain.

Since the word “popularity” has negative connotations for many dog people (including myself) let’s retrain ourselves to think in terms of marketing our breed to the general public rather than popularizing it. Marketing is the process of communicating the value of something to another person. In other words, if we’re marketing our breed we’re simply sharing with the uninitiated how awesome it is.

How many times have you heard people say “I’ve always wanted a German Shepherd [or Westie, or Great Dane, or whatever] because my neighbor had one and it was the coolest dog I’ve ever known.” When they get serious about buying a dog they might realize they don’t actually want a German Shepherd, but for all those years they thought highly of the breed and spread their positive opinion to other people. You’re marketing the reputation of your breed just by owning one! If you don’t believe this is true just talk to anyone who owns a Pit Bull. Responsible Pit owners are fully aware that, for better or for worse, their dog is a constant ambassador for their breed. More than any other, the fate of the Pit Bull rests squarely on public opinion (a tenuous tightrope to be sure).

The other thing about marketing your breed is that you must bring new converts into the fold if the breed is to have a future. From my own personal experience with the Border Terrier I can tell you that there are very few young people (under 30 years old) involved in the breed. In fact, aside from two Juniors, I’m the only person I’m aware of who fits that demographic in the entire PNW region. That doesn’t bode well for the Border! As the older enthusiasts retire from breeding and showing there must be younger folks to take up the mantle and sustain the breed. Without new people you risk losing the breed to the sands of time.

Let’s look at some numbers, shall we? Here are the AKC Registration Statistics, viewable here. Keep in mind that there are currently 173 breeds registered by the AKC.

      Breed                                   Ranking:        2011                  2010                  2006                  2001

Border Terriers
        80
83
81
87
American Foxhounds
173
166
151
146
French Bulldogs
       18
21
36
64
Borzois
                         102
96
96
88
Affenpinschers
             139
136
125
117

Fortunately for the Border there’s been a slight uptick in registration over the past decade [I correlate ranking with popularity]. Things don’t look so good for the Affen or the Foxhound, however, as they’ve seen massive drop-offs in registration numbers which translates into fewer Affen and Foxhound puppies being born. Without some enthusiastic rallying from the parent club the Foxhound may no longer be a genetically viable breed within my lifetime, which would be a very sad thing indeed. When we read about the histories of our breeds we are introduced to now-extinct breeds that we will never know; wouldn’t it be sad for the American Foxhound to become one of those breeds? Breeds ranked 100 to 173, or 42% of the breeds registered by the AKC, include thirteen terrier breeds. That means that 48% of the 29 terrier breeds are among the least popular breeds registered by the AKC! It’s a very real and frightening possibility that one day the Skye Terrier, ranked at 164, will be a thing of memory.

I say all this to emphasize the fact that some degree of popularity is necessary to sustain a breed’s existence. At some point there are so few individual dogs of a particular breed that the gene pool is too limited to be healthy. So keep on communicating the value of your breed to others (aka marketing)!

Moving on to the website thing, as a child of the digital age I think it’s critical for anyone seriously involved in their breed or dog sport to have a website. People don’t search for a breeder by contacting the parent club anymore. They Google it.

Earlier I mentioned that many very well respected breeders have websites. Here are just a few examples…

Minuteman Miniature Schnauzers – multiple BIS/BISS, Am/Can/Br CH, Devon & Montgomery placing
Foxfire Dobermans – multiple BIS/BISS/ROM, Am/Can CH, Westminster/Eukanuba BOB, DPCA Top 20
Meadowlake Border Terriers – multiple BIS/BISS, Am/Can/World CH, Devon/Westminster/Eukanuba BOB
Myshara Australian Shepherds – multiple BIS/BISS, Eukanuba/Westminster BOB, 2011 #3 Herding Dog
Kimani Rhodesian Ridgebacks – multiple BISS/ROM, Westminster BOB, Crufts Best Dog, 2012 AKC Hound Breeder of the Year

Obviously these breeders aren’t using their websites as a way to make a buck off of their dogs. A website is merely a tool, and like all tools it’s effect is entirely determined by the user. If a breeder wants to sell puppies with Paypal and a Buy It Now button they can. By the same token, if a responsible breeder wants to be a steward for their breed, they can.

Basically a website is used for three things: education/marketing, bragging, and selling. Here’s how I believe a good breeder (such as those listed above) would approach those aspects with their website.

  1. Education/Marketing: In addition to sharing the wonderful aspects of your breed you now have the opportunity to share with a huge audience the less spectacular points of living with said breed. Border Terriers are totally amazing except for the part where they can never be fully trusted off leash, have the attention span of a gadfly, and require 30-60min of grooming per week to keep them handsome. You can also get more in depth on health issues, rescue, performance events like obedience/agility, etc. If you want to make a positive impact on the public opinion and knowledge of your breed you now have a highly visible platform for doing so. Education helps people make good decisions, which means fewer people will go to Super Pets Plus and buy a Scottie puppy because he looked so cute with that tartan plaid bow tie around his neck, only to turn him over to the pound 6 months later because he snapped at the toddler and he wipes his stinky wet beard on the loveseat.
  2. Bragging: A good breeder has a lot to brag about! With a website they can share the success of their dogs and dogs they’ve bred. Since Eukanuba and Purina are the only shows with prize money these bragging rights are pretty much the only reward they get for spending thousands of dollars on dog shows. In addition to show brags they can also proudly display OFA and CERF health results, not to mention TT, CGC, obedience, agility, and other titles.
  3. Selling: This is typically a minor aspect of a good breeder’s website, mostly because they seldom have puppies available. When they do breed they usually have a waiting list so they don’t need to solicit buyers. Mostly you’ll see copies of contracts, an FAQ about what’s involved when you buy one of their puppies, current availability, and information about future breeding plans. In my experience the current/future availability is out of date because the wait list is so long it’s not worth updating the website. And in terms of stud service, imagine how much benefit the gene pool would see if males could be scrutinized by every fancier in the country instead of just folks at local shows.

Breeders aren’t the only ones who should have websites though. With the availability of free blogs (like this one!) anybody who is active with dogs should have a website. People with purebred dogs can brag and educate, marketing their breed to others. People with mutts can share their experience with adoption and training, marketing adoption to others. People who do performance events can share details on improving scores or addressing issues, marketing their sport to others.

In the end it all boils down to engaging the interest of passive dog owners. Most Americans are just people who own dogs, not active dog owners. The more engaged people become as dog owners the better it will be for their dogs. That means people making better decisions about what breed (or mutt) to get, getting the proper training to avoid behavior issues, and making their dogs happier. Knowledge is the only weapon I know of that’s able to conquer ignorance, and most canine suffering is the result of human ignorance.

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest” – Benjamin Franklin

 

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3 Comments

Posted by on December 23, 2012 in Other Stuff

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 responses to “Thoughts on breed popularity, marketing, and the power of the internet

  1. emma

    January 6, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    I read this back when you posted it, but decided to wait to write a comment until I could put some care into it. This is a very good read, as usual.

    The website-or-not-to-website issue is fascinating to consider. I am a website designer, so I think about this a great deal! For the sake of my clients, and my own ethics.

    As an art school grad, I’ve often thought about the same thing, but regarding art portfolios. Do you have a portfolio and look like a sell-out? Or is it possible to have one and maintain dignity? Will it just give people license to copy your ideas? Is it better to not have one, for the sake of integrity? Such interesting thoughts. In some ways, very similar, because it is about the fear of communicating the wrong motives — or the hopes of communicating the right ones — to people who don’t know you.

    As for breeders — I think a well-designed website is a great thing. Like you say, it is a fantastic way to enjoy and share one’s legacy, and also, a place to let people who are interested in the breed learn a bit more, and get excited about doing so. On the other hand, if the website is poorly designed, it can cause more harm to reputation than good. Nothing is worse than a shotty website… It makes one wonder why it was put up in the first place, which immediately leads to doubt.

    I believe when used as a “coffee table book” of their stock and accomplishments, a website can be a wonderful thing for breeders.

    I love the fact that a good breeder can offer information, contacts, and a prospective owner questionnaire form. I think people should need to fill out a lengthy form before even speaking with the breeder. It is a great step right off the bat.

    ***

    Of course, when you see a website bragging about billions of puppies sold, tons of different breeds, no affiliations with AKC — that is a great first RED FLAG to avoid at all costs. I am horrified by breeders that actually brag such things. Talk about basically saying “Hi I run a puppy mill!” Anyone reading this — that is your sign to avoid avoid avoid!

    ***

    Thank you as always for writing such an informative article. Your contributions on the web are important. The last paragraph has me shaking my head “yes,” with vigour.

     
    • Cassafrass

      January 8, 2013 at 9:02 am

      Thank you so much for such a thoughtful comment. I completely agree with you: quality makes all the difference. A really well-designed website will give a professional impression while a poorly designed one can make even the best breeder look second class. First impressions are important in every arena! I know I’ve looked at many, many breeder websites and can totally understand how newbies get suckered in by bad breeders. If people don’t know what to look for they’ll assume that something like “AKC registered!” or “health checked at 6 weeks!” are impressive selling points. They have no clue what OFA or CH or CD mean, or that they should look for them. Hmm… I sense a blog post being formulated for the future. :)

       
 
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