Company: Royal Canin Canada
Contact: Andrew Cannon, Direct Marketing Associate
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Industry: B2C
Annual revenue: Confidential
Number of employees: 125

Quick read:

Royal Canin Canada puts an enormous budget behind creating customized, breed-specific pet food that is sold in specialty stores. But many pet owners don't realize how much their dog or cat could benefit from a food that is specially formulated for their pet's breed. The company needed to educate existing customers in order to gain their loyalty and prevent them from purchasing less-expensive brands. 

By creating a loyalty email program that was extremely targeted with information on specific breeds, Royal Canin was able to earn the role of trusted adviser. Only eight months old, the email program now reaches about 8% of current customers, maintains a remarkable 80% click-through rate for its articles, and has an unsubscribe rate of less than 2%.


Royal Canin has spent an enormous amount on research and development—far more than it did on marketing—to create customized food for a variety of dog and cat breeds. Yet it has been difficult to convey that message to consumers—because its product offerings were so broad: It sells 150 products just on its retail side. 

Even getting the message across on the bags of pet food proved difficult. "We have German shepherd food, so we slap a German shepherd picture on it and people think it's a marketing ploy," said Andrew Cannon, direct marketing associate for Royal Canin. "That's one of our big consumer myths we have to overcome." 

The products may have looked as though they were created by a marketing company, but Royal Canin spends many millions of dollars on research to create the breed-specific pet food.

This was the challenge that the company faced: How to educate consumers about the benefits of a diet created for specific breeds while letting them know that these benefits were backed by scientific research—and how to do so cost-efficiently.


Cannon and his team decided to test a highly targeted, content-rich email program, dubbed Pet First, designed to educate its current customers in Canada. The goal was to bring in high-quality subscribers—those who would be active, loyal members—rather than large numbers of them.

If the test met with success, Cannon planned to roll out the Pet First program on a larger scale, hoping to reach potential customers.

Cannon and his team knew they wanted to impart the detailed research on pets that the company compiles. They incorporated a couple of smart features into the Pet First program:

Element No. 1: Incentives to join

To gain subscribers, Cannon had stickers attached to the bags of pet food and signs placed in stores pitching the program. The stickers said, "Learn about what makes your pet unique," and drove people to the Web site to join the Pet First program.

He tested the stickers both with an incentive—the chance to win a year's amount of pet food—and without.

Element No. 2: Incredibly detailed targeting

Using email delivery company Lyris, Cannon decided to segment the new list of subscribers to literally dozens of groups, based on a number of attributes he learned from the sign-up form on the Web site, including these:

  1. Animal breed
  2. Animal age
  3. Size of pet
  4. Customer geographic location
  5. Indoor/outdoor pet

He also targeted emails based on the level of activity within the Pet First program: Subscribers who tended to read most of the articles or who tended to download the videos were sent special offers, such as incentives for referring a friend. 

No two program emails are the same, because they are all personalized to the pet owner, and targeted based on the pet profiles. (Subscribers could enter up to 10 pet profiles when they subscribed to the program.) 

Element No. 3: Top-notch content

Each group received content that was highly relevant to their segment. Breed-specific content included articles, videos, and quizzes on topics such as "How well do you know your German shepherd (or Dachshund, or Labrador, or Cavalier King Charles Spaniel...)," and "Your growing puppy: different age, different needs." 

Element No. 4: Trigger-based emails

The emails in the Pet First program were not sent in large batches. Rather, they were sent based on triggers, such as when a pet reaches a certain age—so that no two Pet First members received the same email at the same time.

Pet First members receive emails, on average, 1.5-2 times per month.


The campaign, eight months old, has an open rate of more than 95%. Of course, open rates can be a tricky metric. Some email providers show an email as opened if a user views it in the preview pane. 

Cannon prefers to look at his click-through rate, which is also high: Of those who receive the email, 80% click through to read an article. 

"With the core group of subscribers we've attracted over past few months, it's been extremely successful," said Cannon. He knows subscribers love the content not only because of the high click-through rates but also because he receives many responses via email. In fact, one member of his staff is designated each day to respond to reader emails. 

Royal Canin's Pet First program has attracted about 8% of its customer base (a figure arrived at by looking at the overall bags of pet food sold and dividing that by how much food each particular breed eats). 

Interestingly, the offer to win a year's supply of food did not increase the number of subscribers significantly. People who buy Royal Canin's food tend not to be concerned about price. 

Now, says Cannon, as he is ready to begin reaching out to consumers who shop at grocery stores for their pet food, the incentive may be more successful.

Lessons learned: 

  • The right email delivery provider is critical. Cannon originally was using a different provider, but it wasn't able to provide all of the customization he wanted. "So we pulled the plug. Having the right tool is really, really important."
  • Build in more resources for content. At first, the Pet First program was divided only into certain breeds, and by dog and cat. "But we have a very engaged group of subscribers, and that's where we learn a lot," said Cannon. Via customer emails (often with stories and pictures of their pets), he learned quickly that subscribers wanted even more detailed and targeted information. That meant that more content needed to be created.

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