Mailing to Vets Seen as 'Missing Link' to Boost Pet-Food Supplement

Simply increasing brand recognition through advertising is no longer good enough for Designing Health Inc.

The pet-food supplement manufacturer rolled out its first direct mail effort Aug. 15, a test campaign targeting 5,000 veterinarians in Washington, Oregon and California to introduce them to The Missing Link Veterinary Formula. Recipients were invited to request a 90-day free supply of the granular powder added to a pet's food for “their most needy patient,” be it a dog, cat, horse or bird. The piece included four unhealthy-looking pets with the words “Give us your tired, your scratchy, your achy.”

The other side of the piece features an energetic dog leaping through the air to catch a Frisbee. The piece was designed by North Hollywood, CA-based Virtual Concepts.

“We tried just print and radio ads, but we didn't see good results with either,” said Jennifer Puckett, marketing coordinator at Designing Health, Valencia, CA. “Overall, that produced nothing other than brand recognition.”

The offer for the free 90-day supply includes a promise that the products will work within that time to reduce inflammation and skin rashes; alleviate hot spots and itchy skin; improve joint health; restore glossy coat with decreased shedding; help with “drippy eyes”; fight allergies; decrease hairballs; and increase and brighten plumage.

Tracking results, along with getting the product to veterinarians to drive sales, is part of the direct mail piece's mission.

A veterinary office or clinic that calls Designing Health is asked to provide contact information and patient specifics for the 90-day supply in order to determine product formula and sample size. Forty-five- and 90-day calls are placed after initial contact to check on the patient's condition and obtain comments. The information is given to sales personnel for follow-up.

The campaign cost of $4,749 included: printing and design, $1,500; postage, $1,300; product, $500; shipping, $750; labor, $300; and $399 for obtaining the list of names. Temporary labor was used to affix labels and sort via U.S. bulk mail regulations, which saved more than $400 in postage.

The anticipated response of 3 percent would account for 150 offices, of which a 20 percent anticipated return would give the company 30 new veterinarians as customers. This would produce an estimated sales increase of $25,000 next year based on a veterinarian buying an average of six cases annually.

As of Aug. 23, 17 responses have been received.

Campaign results will be evaluated in January, and if they meet or exceed expectations, the campaign will go, database nationwide in regional increments throughout 2002.

“We tell them to give it to your worst-case animals and see if we can't turn it around,” said Michelle Sathe, the company's public relations coordinator. “We can't blindly send out samples to people because we couldn't track that. This establishes a relationship with a vet and a consumer. The vet would turn into a distributor for us.”

Puckett said the offer is for an exclusive veterinarian line unavailable to consumers. The company provides a commercial label and a veterinarian label.

“The veterinarian would order and sell the product and recommend it, adding a testimonial aspect to the campaign,” Sathe said.

The names were obtained from Vet-Dek, a division of Machalek Communications, Burnsville, MN, which maintains a nationwide database of veterinarians.

“The overall cost was about $4,000, and that would have gotten us very little in advertising and nothing to track,” Sathe said.

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