Do you get irritated with shelters and rescues who are able to find a loving home willing to support a dog who is missing a leg, an eye, an ear, and also has severe issues with reactivity or fear? It sounds terrible to say it, but I’m going to say it, sometimes I look at that stuff and think, how in the world are people wanting a dog that has so many problems when I have a perfectly good puppy right here; one who is healthy, happy, has never been neglected and has all working, moving parts?
It sounds TERRIBLE for me to say that, but it is frustrating. It makes you wonder why is it that people are choosing that over my puppies? This would be fully ridiculous in any other situation in marketing…”come a buy our dilapidated used cars! They only have three wheels, the windshield is cracked, and one of the side mirrors is scratched and virtually unusable, she’s looking for a garage where she’ll be parked and subsequently kissed at night.” Ridiculous right?
Yet somehow with dogs—and live animals in general—we, as humans, eat up these crazy tragic stories and want to be a part of the solution. Now, you’re probably thinking I’m a terrible person for saying this…I’m actually noting that myself right now. I actually caught myself doing it the other day! My kids’ are taking horse riding lessons and the majority of the horses there would technically be considered “rescues.” One horse in particular I caught myself talking about with a friend, I was explaining how amazing it was how this wonderful horse was almost put down because they were worried they couldn’t keep her sound. Which, sound, in the horse world, essentially means the horse isn’t lame, nor sick, she’s a healthy horse. It appears she had some injury to her leg that’s pretty knotted and scarred, she steps a little deep on that foot, but all in all, she’s a feisty thing who loves to go.
And there I was, endeared to a horse because she overcame an injury, she overcame a struggle in life. I think that’s really what it is, we are all overcoming something in our lives. We are all struggling to get through some unfortunate event, whether physical, mental, or emotional. It’s how we relate to one another and a lot of what makes us feel close to people. You ever notice that you connect easily to those people who have been through the same crap as you? That’s exactly it, we bond over our scars. That’s why it’s important to create some trauma for your children, that way they’ll be able to make friends in high school, okay, just kidding.
Yet, as business people we have to ask ourselves…what is happening?! Why does this story of trauma work? It’s not that an abused dog is rescued by someone who has also been thrown in a dumpster. What is it that people are drawn to? Why does this work in marketing? And, of course, how can we steal these tactics without maiming our puppies?
EVERY PUPPY NEEDS A STORY
It all comes down to the story. People love a good story. You ever notice how you’ll binge watch a show on Netflix because of the characters, when the story has good characters and an interesting challenge to overcome, it just sucks you in. Let me pause and say that in the past I’ve had to delete Netflix off my phone to stop myself from watching Outlander because I was going to bed too late. It wasn’t because I loved watching sword fights or people who can’t shower on the regular, it was the characters. I was so endeared to them, I just had to know what happened next. I felt the pain they felt and I saw parts of my life in them.
This is why people become interested in rescuing a dog, they want to be a part of that story, the happy ending for that dog’s story. We often get so wrapped up in this hero complex that we actually forget the logistics of that process. We forget that we have a three-year-old at home who is likely to be bitten, we forget that we have only thirty minutes at best in a day to work with a reactive dog who is poorly socialized, but people will make the effort to step up the plate when presented with such a challenge and having the story of an abusive history looming over your shoulder provides the often-needed motivation to keep going when its hard.
So, back to the topic of where I see breeders often making mistakes, the biggest mistake I see breeders make when advertising their puppies is they forget the story.
While I have a whole MasterClass inside the Dog Breeder Society for stories, you can check it out here. The biggest thing to remember is: we don’t sell dogs, we sell the lifestyle they provide, so your advertisement should shed light on what people’s lives will be like with one of your puppies. Build that story and you will sell that dog.
Next mistake I see is sounding desperate. I’ve been guilty of it, too. It’s like there’s a little bit of pleading in our advertising or conversation with a prospective buyer. For many breeders, we see our puppies, we love them, we know they’re all special and will make amazing dogs for the right family, if only people could see how awesome they are. This is where we get bottled up, we aren’t communicating our puppies’ value as well as we could.
We’ll say something like, “isn’t she cute?” or “wouldn’t he be the best addition to your family?” And it’s as though we are asking our audience for them to validate what we said about our puppies, like we are asking their approval. We don’t sound confident in the puppies and the buyers pick up on that subconsciously.
It’s sort of like us saying, “we hope you think they’re as special as we think they are.” But that’s not great because the lack of confidence in that that tone translates to a lack of confidence in your dogs.
Much the same, you’ll see this lack of confidence perpetuate in the way you tell people your price. If you are confident in the dogs and the price you’ve set for them, you’ll say, “they are such and such price.” If you aren’t confident, then you might say, “We are asking…such and such price.” When you say, “We are asking…” it automatically implies that you are flexible on price. This can be useful, especially with selling returned dog or an older puppy, but only if you come across with a confident tone. The tone of “We are asking…” has to be carried with a business tone that implies you’re playing the game of business, not that you’re not confident in the dog.
Another way breeders often sound desperate is by trying to push a sale too much. They’ll offer a discounted price for the puppy for a limited time, such as, “if you put your deposit in by tomorrow I’ll give you $300 off the puppy.” This, again, devalues the dog, and truly, you don’t want to be selling puppies to people who are looking for a deal. When you’re bragging to your friends, tell them about the sweet deal you got on kennels or stainless-steel feeding buckets on Black Friday, you don’t want to be like, “I got this puppy for a steal!” Instead, you want them to pay full price and years later tell their friends the price and feel like it was a steal because of how amazing the dog is.
When you discount a dog and add time limits, it not only feels like the dog isn’t worth the normal price you’re asking, but it feels like you’re less concerned that they are going to the right home and more concerned about getting rid of the dog or getting your money…neither of which are fun for buyers…well not the good buyers you want to be working with.
Anyways, this is all where the art of sales comes into play.
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YOU DON’T LIKE THE PUPPY
Another subtle mistake I see happen a lot is breeders who don’t like the puppies they’re selling. I get it. We all have puppies in the litter that we love and others we are anxious to place in a home and get them out of our house. Often it’s because a puppy is a screamer, maybe they’re the worst combination of the traits of the parents, or maybe they aren’t as cute in their pattern or their coat type came out wrong. For whatever reason, we just don’t like the puppy as much.
I’ll tell you, if you find yourself in this situation, don’t feel bad, it’s super normal. There’s at least one puppy in nearly every litter that I think, “I can’t WAIT to send you off to a new home.” A lot of breeders deny this feeling, they’ll actually subconsciously lie to themselves about how they do like the dog, or at least won’t acknowledge that they don’t.
This really screws up marketing. You won’t even notice you’re doing it, but you’ll be unable to write anything positive about the puppy when you don’t like them and you have that tension towards the pup. For example, I know for me, I like to pee by myself. I don’t like an entourage when I go to the bathroom. Mochachino can join me once in a while, but dogs that are trying to climb all over me when I’m in the bathroom drive me crazy. I also don’t like puppies that just scream about everything, not like a “Hey I’m Hungry” bark, but more so just scream because they’re impressed with themselves and their newly found voice. I have found that those dogs, at least amongst my dogs, tend to do best with people who are home all day and want constant engagement. They want to follow you into the bathroom, they want to sleep by your feet in the office, they’ll steal some of your pillow at night…this makes my skin crawl, the idea of a dog on my pillow and all the dust they have on them, I just can’t do dogs in the bed…BUT a lot of people love it.
Often we’d write the ad for the puppy and find that it is all about the negative traits, instead of the family that would love it. We might say,
“This puppy is a wild one, borderline feral, she loves to be up in your business, and if you forget to take her, she’ll let you know. At night, not only will she love to sleep with you, she’ll even steal your pillow.”
While we think we are being funny, that’s not really appealing. There is a better way to write it, something like this,
“This little lady is full of personality, she’s always up for an adventure, and will be most happy when she can spend her whole day with you, whether that’s sleeping under your desk while you work or helping you cook. She’ll even make sure you stay warm at night, although we recommend a king-size pillow, she’ll want to share.”
Notice how they’re different? They essentially say the same thing, but the first one makes the puppy seem unappealing and a pain, while the second one speaks to a lifestyle where the puppy will do well and succeed.
If you aren’t sure if you wrote it in a positive or negative way, have a friend read it and see. They may not be able to tell you why it sounds weird, but they’ll probably know that it does. It helps if they aren’t a breeder friend and aren’t familiar with the puppy.
I find that once I gave myself permission to not like a puppy, it made it a lot easier to sell the puppy. I was able to look at the puppy more for the qualities and traits it did have, rather than seeing all the lack of the traits and qualities I felt it was missing. This made it easier to evaluate the type of home, owner, and lifestyle that would be better for puppy. Often I wasn’t the ideal puppy buyer, as in, I wouldn’t be a good fit to own the dog, and that’s where the tension was, once I understood that I wasn’t the right fit, I was able to shift my thinking to finding the right fit, as the best way to provide the dog a high quality of life.
I’m also hearing so many breeders telling me they are deflated because they’ve reduced the price numerous times and their dogs still aren’t selling. This one really eats away at breeders because it makes them feel like failures.
An interesting thing I’ve seen in my own breeding program and selling dogs is that dogs who were discounted were not appealing. I would list one puppy lower and another full price and most of the time the full price puppy sold. From what I can tell, it was because the difference in price was perceived as a lower quality. I offered a discount to my email subscribers for my kennel and it was not even asked about.
Part of this could be my ideal puppy buyer, my dogs are a lot higher in price than the average GSP in the state, this means that my buyers are coming to me for reasons other than price, they’re coming for what sets me apart from other breeders and dogs. This is probably why my buyers aren’t interested in price discounts. HOWEVER, I’ll say, if you want to offer someone a discount for being a previous buyer or for some other reason, like they’re military or law enforcement, you can, this way the discount is because the buyer is special, not because the dog is defective—it’s a big difference.
Yet, with all the price stuff, I’ll say, you have to be careful you aren’t dropping to an entirely different ideal puppy buyer, one who no longer values what you value.
By and large, the biggest reason I see reducing price not working is because the price was never the problem, it’s much more likely that your price is fine and that you just aren’t getting in front of enough people, as in your marketing isn’t reaching enough people. The other thing I see is that your advertising isn’t speaking to your ideal puppy buyer, the ideal buyers for your pups aren’t getting sucked in to your advertisement. In this case you’ll want to go back to the ideas I pitched earlier in this podcast. If you look like every other breeder in your breed, then people won’t know why you’re different, why they should get a dog from you instead of another breeder.
Figure out how to speak to your ideal puppy buyer and selling dogs becomes easier and easier and price becomes less and less important.
Well, there you have it, the four reasons your puppy advertisements may be falling flat. To recap, they are:
- There’s no story, the puppies don’t stand out and buyers can’t envision them in their lifestyle.
- Your advertisement sounds desperate.
- You don’t like the puppy and it comes across in your advertisement.
- Reducing price, when it’s really your advertisement not speaking to the right buyers and not getting in front of enough buyers.
If you’re guilty of one or two of these, it’s okay, know that I’m guilty of all of them many times, it’s all about bringing awareness to these things, then you can tweak them, fix them, and use these tips to sell more puppies to the right homes.
If you’d like to get the MasterClass on using stories in your marketing, you can grab it here.
If you’re feeling like you’re failing, know that you’re not, dog breeding is a lot harder and more dynamic than you’d think. Try and think of these struggles as growing pains as you learn new skills and tactics that make you and your program even better for the future.
Thank you for joining me for another episode of the Honest Dog Breeder Podcast, with me, your host, Julie Swan. I feel lucky we get to spend this time together, I feel honored to be a small part of your breeding journey. Thank you again! And I’ll see you in the next episode!!