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How Bark is Creating Products and Experiences that Pups (and Pup Parents) Love

Bark Chief Revenue Officer Suzanne McDonnell shares details on how the brand is using data to create product and experiences that pups (and their parents) love.
Photo credit: Bark

Americans spent $136.8 billion on their pets in 2022, up from $123.6 billion in 2021, according to the American Pet Products Association. Half of these pet-owning households are run by millennials and Gen Zers, who don’t just look at their pets as “furry friends” but as their children.

Bark is one company that is laser-focused on engaging these pet lovers — specifically, pup parents. The company was founded in 2011 with its core product offering, BarkBox. Known widely as one of the first subscription boxes to make a splash in the retail market, BarkBox has become just one piece of a much larger organization.

The Bark product portfolio now includes toys, food, treats, dental kits and dental chews, and the brand is forging deep relationships with retailers like Target and PetSmart to bring this growing assortment to consumers. However, the big opportunity, according to Suzanne McDonnell, Bark’s Chief Revenue Officer, is to go further into services and experiences — like  the company’s recently unveiled Bark Air, an air travel experience for dogs and their “human companions.”

“Bark stands for creating magical experiences and exceptional products and services for dogs and their people,” McDonnell said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “Bark does this best because the brand is built upon a dog-obsessed culture that’s original, authentic, and dedicated to making every moment special for dogs and their guardians.”

McDonnell shared more details on the evolution of the Bark brand and how it is embracing its community of pup parents to drive business growth.

Interview with Bark CRO Suzanne McDonnell

Suzanne McDonnell, Chief Revenue Officer, Bark

Retail TouchPoints (RTP): What have you and the Bark team been able to learn about your consumers, the pup parents, since the company’s inception in 2011?

Suzanne McDonnell: From the beginning, Bark’s founders knew that our consumers love their dogs passionately as their family, children and soulmates. They aren’t owners — they are parents — and that makes all the difference.

Over the years, we’ve learned more ways to take this to heart. Consumers want what is best for their dog; it’s personal. The more we can learn about the dogs we serve, the better we can make their experience with us. We are constantly collecting data from a myriad of sources, including product scores, consumer feedback on each and every product and Box, and through our ongoing customer interactions through our best-in-class customer service team, Bark Happy. We then funnel our insights and data back into our development process.  

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RTP: How have these insights informed the business’ overall evolution and priorities?

McDonnell: Dogs aren’t pets; they’re family. The industry calls this “the humanization of pets,” where we attribute human values and traits to dogs. At Bark, it’s more than attribution. The reason we work so hard toward our mission to make all dogs happy is because we believe dogs and humans are better together. It informs our priorities and evolution as a business; for example, we design toys that engage and that are meant to be shared together.

Our stories and characters speak as much to the human as our quality, innovation, constructions, ingredients and materials surprise and delight the pup. We focus on products that lead to experiences that dog parents and dogs can enjoy together.

RTP: How are you balancing your marketing and advertising to drive traffic not just to your owned ecommerce platform but also to your wholesale retail partners like Target?

McDonnell: As much as we look through a dog’s-eye-view as we develop our products, we look through a consumer lens when marketing them. Our mission is to make all dogs happy, so we want to make sure that we are connecting with consumers on their terms — when, where and how they want to shop. While we look to leverage the insight and data we gather in one channel to make us smarter across the board, we also design and communicate with the specific channel needs in mind. The result: a natural balance across platforms, channels and points of distribution that support sales for sure, but are always coming from a pure brand perspective that consumers have grown to expect from Bark.

RTP: What is Bark’s overall vision for wholesale moving forward?

McDonnell: We are very proud of the retailers with whom we are privileged to partner. As we grow, we want to grow with them, working together to meet the needs of our shared consumers. We work with our partners to advance our product offering — leveraging their insight along with our own to drive product development and innovation.

With the support of our partners, we are expanding our offerings and launching into new categories. Our recent Snack Pack dog treats launch is a great example of this. We were approached by Target with the ask to make their treat aisle more exciting, less bland, and to infuse some disruption. We take a lot of pride in being the brand a retailer approaches to help solve a problem, and we rise to the challenge. 

RTP: What are your priorities in terms of product innovation and development moving forward? What white space do you plan to capitalize on in the market?

McDonnell:
Making all dogs happy is the inspiration behind all of our innovation and development. It also means we go beyond the core function of a product. As we continue to design and develop the highest-quality toys and consumables, we also work to make sure that the consumer moment, the shared experience, is full of magic and joy. Bark products are thoughtful, intuitive and high quality. They also make you laugh and smile. When we’ve done that, we know we’ve done it well. As far as white space, we see a lot of opportunity in providing more services — ways to enable a more complete lifestyle with your dog — and we’re rolling up our sleeves on that. 

RTP: And what about from a customer acquisition and retention perspective? What are your top priorities?

McDonnell: Today, the majority of our marketing is done through social media, where we have a very large following. This has been highly successful, particularly for more impulse purchase products like a BarkBox. However, it will be less effective for more considered purchases like food. To that end, we need to build more awareness for Bark and our products in new ways.

With Bark.co alive and well, it’s a perfect time to begin to show the world that we are a lot more than a subscription box company, but rather a company that strives to improve the lives of dogs and their people with best-in-class products and services. Over the coming quarters, we plan to invest more of our marketing budget toward driving brand awareness with creative campaigns that showcase Bark’s mission of making all dogs happy. It’s too soon to give specifics, but you’ll start to see us launch some of these campaigns throughout 2024, so stay tuned.

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