Episode 2: Mark Scott

Mark Scott founder of Bella & Duke on guerilla tactics against giant competitors

Mark Scott, the co-founder and CEO, that’s Chief Emotions Officer of Bella and Duke talks about his mission to improve the health of dogs and along the way building an ecommerce business with sales of £15m.

He competes with some of the largest companies in the world with equally enormous marketing budgets but stands out by taking a radical marketing approach.

To show how unhealthy processed dog food is, Mark himself decided to live off processed food for two months to demonstrate the damage to his health.

A real example of how the underdog can win.

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Andrew Veitch: Hello and welcome to the Joy of Marketing. This week, I’m joined by Mark Scott, the founder and CEO, that’s Chief Emotions Officer of Bella and Duke. Mark is a passionate advocate of raw feeding for dogs and has built a substantial business providing raw dog food direct to the consumer, or at least direct to the customer who feeds the consumer. And I think finally, just before kicking off, I do just need to disclose that I am an angel investor in Bella and Duke and a very happy investor indeed, I must say. Thank you, Mark. So, welcome to the show.

Mark Scott: Thank you. Thank you. Thanks for inviting me.

AV: So just kicking off, I think Facebook has been huge for Bella and Duke. You’ve got a huge community, a huge and passionate community there.

MS: Yeah, absolutely. I think ever since Google moved from the pages to the groups. And that’s where you really start building communities, Facebook’s been the leader in that which you just don’t really get on there. Twitter or Instagrams, and then the other social platforms.

AV: How many people have you got in your group?

MS: And we’ve got about 20,000, right at the moment. It’s private, it’s incredibly active. I mean, anyone joins a group, just if you love dogs, you’ll love being part of that group, because your Facebook is just full of puppies. And, you know, people just shared off their, that their dogs and what they’re eating and stuff like that. Because, you know, as they’re called pet parents, you know, many people are substituting dogs for kids.

AV: Yes. Well, I guess. I mean, people are just incredibly passionate about their dogs.

MS: Absolutely. Absolutely. And also because you’ve got the different breeds and ages and stuff like that they like to find other people, which you can easily on social, I mean, in the past, how did you find somebody else who’s got a Westie? You know, you maybe meet them in the park or something like that. So if you had an issue with your dog, your breed, it wasn’t as easy to find the people with the same breed to say hey is this common in the breed, or is it just my dog? And what you’re finding on social is, people are connecting with people with very much the same interests and and breeds and no more. I guess there’s no animal I know, which has got so many breeds that you can, you can do that with. So Facebook’s an absolute easy place to start building a community.

AV: And then I guess when you advertise on Facebook, I mean, obviously, when people see, you know, see all these passionate comments about Bella and Duke, that’s going to help a lot.

MS: Oh, absolutely. You’re right. Because we’re in the raw and we move ourselves from being a raw dog food to a pet wellness business. So raw food is one part of it. But if you haven’t got the food, right, you know, wellness is like humans, it’s very difficult to get the rest of it. Right. Right. And so a lot of people are skeptical or worried about raw feeding, because you think, Is that normal? Well, there’s 8.7 million species on planet Earth. How many actually eat cooked or processed food, funnily enough, which are the ones with the chronic diseases. So raw is very natural. But you know, through clever marketing over the years, we’ve really kibble so what I find the challenge of better and juke is getting people over the raw element of it. And that’s where Facebook is really, really good because it’s not the company seeing it. It’s a it’s the people with the Westies, it’s the people with the greyhounds is the people with the, you know, the the the Labradors all agree in saying that this is the best thing I ever did. Yeah.

AV: And I can see, I mean, in a way, you’re not really selling food. You’re selling better health for dogs.

MS: Yeah, absolutely.

AV: Yeah. Because I mean, some of the things I did notice on your website. I mean, there are some things on there you wouldn’t normally expect to see for example, you say, 99% of our customers have reported an improvement in their dog’s poop.

MS: Don’t you look?

MS: Yeah, I agree maybe that’s my experience. And yeah, so I mean, the one the biggest thing, I mean, it’s funny because normally in an industry you wouldn’t need we call it a jobbie, hashtag dog jobbie, you go in, and we do all these things. But these are the sorts of things that no one really talks about, but everyone has to deal with and it’s one of the biggest health indicators out there is is things that still and you get away with it on Facebook that you couldn’t get away with and say, traditionally, newspapers or something like that, you know, do the dog jobbie test, you know, it may get away with it, but, you know, it’d be very difficult. So I find it, you can be a lot more real a lot more honest.

AV: Sure. Certainly. I mean, let’s face it, none of your competitors would dream of doing that. I mean, I mean, this is really marking a path where Bella and Duke is doing something different from everybody else. Radically different.

MS: Yeah, I mean, we came in as a as a pet wellness business. So we understood why ingredients were put in, we understood how things were put together. But more importantly, it wasn’t this mad Geordie, who put these things together. I just was passionate about it, and then found the experts to do it. So I just had the questions and go why are we doing it that way? Why are we doing this way? And question things. And again, I find places like social media really good places to have those discussions with people?

AV: I know nothing at all about dogs or biology, but it does kind of seem to me more natural that dogs would eat raw foods, because we obviously in the wild, you didn’t see dogs, you know, cooking meat over the fire.

MS: Well, they don’t start with a barbecue. It’s because again, that’s what power marketing is, though, isn’t it? I mean, it’s just that we’ve trained people that something that is in a bag that can sit on a shelf for five years is better. And the way I explained the people, and again, on social, I can do this, because once I’ve captured here, I can do a video and I can do a one-on-one, do it.

MS: But if you went to your doctors, and the doctor said, “What do you eat?” And you said, “I eat fresh fruit, vegetables and meat”. And he said, “Stop, stop, don’t do that you should be eating highly processed food”. You’d get rid of your doctor.

MS: But yeah, this is what we do in the animal world, which is absolutely bonkers. So but people are catching on. And I guess it’s when you’re building a tribe, which is how I see our community, it’s a movement, you just find like minded people, and you just get that story across, and then they go right, I’m going to help spread the word. And that is the beauty. I mean, you know, if Tesla, I don’t think spent a penny on advertising. And now they’re the most powerful car brand out there.

AV: Yeah. And of course, you do have a problem that your competitors have got some of the largest marketing budgets in the world. So it really is, you know, a David versus Goliath sort of situation that you’re dealing with.

MS: But people love that, people love the underdog, no pun intended. And by the way, before, they could get away with crappy food, but they can’t do that now. And that’s again, you’re getting out there and you send a message you just meet with people think about what they’re feeding their cats and their dogs. And you can do that in lots of ways online that you can’t do in traditional newspaper, for example, didn’t get the same message across. And I think when you’re competing against big brands like that, on Facebook, Facebook’s all about authenticity. And I think it’s all about being real, and trusted, entertained, I think is a big part of this. And that’s what these guys have, can’t do. And that’s why, you know, they’re buying all these brands, because they understand that it’s very difficult to build a brand online, unless you’re authentic, unless you’re passionate. And now, this is the easiest business I’ve ever built and run. Which is crazy. I mean, it’s growing at such a rate. It’s ridiculous. It’s not that I haven’t had challenges, but because I love it. I don’t see them in the same way as maybe if I just ran a business for profit, I would have been doing my nut in and because of that, I’ll do a Facebook Live on a Sunday night at five o’clock, because that’s the time to do it and all these things. So that that that’s the difference.

AV: Yeah, and I’ll say from from, you know, a boring investor’s point of view. I mean, one of the things I like about the business is when you get a customer, you keep them and you keep them for a long time. But again, that obviously only happens because the product is so good.

MS: Yeah, I mean, there is brands out there that you know, got big marketing budgets, but they’re their churn, their loss of customer is so high, because the products may be not not right or not as promised. And it’s pointless this building that top top figure for a month just to lose 50%, 60% the following month, it’s just you markets over only so big. And I think to get raving fans, you have to come through with a really great product. It’s really, really important.

AV: I’m seeing that passion from your customers. So thinking about some things you’ve done that maybe conventional marketers wouldn’t have done. You did actually live off kibble yourself for a week.

MS: So for two months, we had considered a month to two months we had considered me eating the kibble and this is like in lockdown, we thought it would be quite irresponsible of me. The CEO start eating dog kibble. So what I did is I took the next best thing and I ate what would be equivalent in human and I did before and after photographs and I put like a ton of I was like, boom, I just got really, really big. And I felt just crap. And I had itchy skin, I had dry skin, I was just showing people, this is what’s happening to our dogs or cats. And again, I can’t see the ones of these high profile big brands that we won’t mention, I can’t see them doing it. But then what happens when you went to natural diet for human, which is the same as what we’re doing for, for cats and dogs, and then to show it, so it just, it was just a great way of just making it humanized? Because we’re cheap. Cats and dogs, more like humans. So the examples I find often are best to be done in humans, so people kind of get it?

AV: Yeah, no, I think is a great idea. And it’s something that really well just said something really out there that that you know, that nobody else would do, which I think is definitely what you want to be doing in marketing.

MS: Well, the good thing about it is it’s so easy to do these sort of things online, though, it’s not like you need high production, you can do it with the iPhone or whatever. You just do it you don’t need because people are watching, it tends to be on a you know, a smartphone. So you’re actually recording in how they’re going to see it. So it there’s there’s no excuse today, really, and not just being more prominent and just do it and testing ideas and not being afraid to test ideas.

AV: No, absolutely. I mean, when I did my first TV advert, I remember they said the lens and the camera was £20,000. Whereas of course nowadays, you could actually do higher quality filming just on an iPhone. It’s quite incredible. And all of that has changed.

MS: My best adverts on videos I’ve done so far just literally saying to my wife hold the camera, iPhone, and me just doing it. You know. So it just it makes it more real. You know, and people feel like they’re in your house that they’re getting to know you and they feel more connected. And I think that’s again, you can’t bullshit them.

AV: Yeah, absolutely. But on the more conventional side, you did do a TV advert? How did that work out?

MS: Well, let’s just say that that probably been about 15 of my ideas. Still trying to get the dog jobbie in. I mean, it’s a brilliant brand building exercise, a lot of ours has call to actions in it for us it’s worked incredibly well, incredibly well. I mean, we’ve got some really low CACs a surprisingly low CACs. But yet, it works well. But it’s worked well along with our online promotions and stuff. So you know, building up that brand and and our brand. Whenever we do TV, we see a huge amount of brand clicks on our Google AdWords and stuff like that. So we can tell it, it’s working. So but you have to take much more of a holistic view of it and much more of your CAC, but you’re all together CAC.

AV: Well, that’s what they do say is that it has an uplift, so that when you do TV ads, the direct sales from the TV ad might be quite low, but you see all your other things, you know, improving. I’d say that’s, that’s definitely what I think I saw when I first did TV. I mean, in some ways, we couldn’t really prove it. But then again, we moved from a small business working from home, it’s been quite a big business. So obviously, something must have worked.

MS: Yeah, absolutely and, we definitely see that so we can see it, we can see through the time of the day when orders come in. So we know that TV adverts, we’ve got certain parts of the day that we do it some days of the week. And we can definitely see an uplift in sales. There’s a correlation with it, but we can’t, they don’t often use the code. They just Google “Bella and Duke” or whatever, you know, rather than following the TV link. So that’s that’s the difference. But that’s why it’s always important to benchmark before you do any TV campaign. And do things maybe step by step by step, don’t try and do everything in one go. Because you’ll not know what’s really working. And it’s getting even more difficult to you know, was that Facebook was that Google? You know, was that Twitter? Was that TV? Was that newspaper? You know, it’s getting more and more difficult to track these. Albeit, you know, we’ve discovered now we’ve got maybe six or seven touch points before our customer signs up. So the more we get out there more we get in front of them more likely, we’re going to get that sale.

AV: What would be a sort of typical route for a customer signing up?

MS: Yes, good question. I mean, quite often what happened is, is you’ll hit either our website through TV or direct Google. And then what we’ll do is we market to you and we found that the remarketing is really really, really the big thing. So I think the way marketing is changing now is it’s it’s all about can you get cheap first clicks to your website. Because you’re not going to make a sale, often on the first one if you’ve got a product like ours, and then it’s all in the remarketing and getting that story across, after they’ve been to the website.

AV: Yeah. Yeah, well, I suppose also, I’m not sure it’s something generally people search for is it dog food because I think and again, I’m going to admit, this isn’t my industry, but I think people probably tend to buy the the dog food that they see in the supermarket or they see it at the pet store, rather than thinking of buying online.

MS: It’s changing and I think lockdown maybe played a big part of it and maybe accelerated things a little bit. But it definitely people are becoming wised up to to get in there, the cheaper products just off the shelf. I think people have become wise in food, full stop. And again, I think socials played a massive, massive role in that. Like, if you’re vegan, it’s so easy to find other vegans now, isn’t it? Where? How did you find vegans? 10 years ago, when you went the vegan restaurant, the vegan cafe, that was the easiest way to find people. So it’s easier for these groups now to find each other, discuss things, you know, work together collaborate. So I think that’s the difference.

AV: Cool. So your main marketing channels? And also I know, you’ve mentioned Facebook, Google, TV, is there anything else that you’re doing that’s working?

MS: Well, it’s all about the how much your CAC is in it, Andrew, you know, certain channels kick in once your CAC gets to a certain level. So it’s whatever your marketing budget is, and and I guess, if you know, what you got to do is figure out what the maximum is of that that channel, and the CACs going to go in. So for example, TV, our CAC actually came down. Now, that’s not usually the case. For our CAC, it went the other way. And when we spend more money, as you know, it typically goes up, but yeah, not with TV, it actually went the other way. So if you increase your budgeting on places like Facebook, and Google, you tend to find that your CAC will go up. But our blended CAC was the word I was looking for, the good old, blended CAC actually came down. So I think when you’re looking at your channels, you’ve got to just treat them as a touch point. So, you know, I’ve never found for example, Twitter being a great recruitment channel for us, it sends you a lot of traffic but really does it actually convert. I’m not convinced on that. I think it’s much more of a I’m not sure what Twitter is used for nowadays apart from to get rid of presidents.

AV: I have to admit that I, I have also, I don’t think I’ve ever got Twitter to work in terms of recruitment either.

MS: No, I don’t think it’s not really that. And LinkedIn, funnily enough, I mean, what’s important when you’re doing these channels, and you know, chat we have with our marketing team all the time, you know, people like Brewdog, doing an amazing job of being disruptive and putting different posts out to Joe Bloggs. And I think there’s a lot of corporate stuff on LinkedIn. And there’s opportunities on LinkedIn to do a better job for many companies. And I don’t think they do a great job of it. And that’s because it’s not spammed at the moment, I’m not suggesting to go and go out there and suddenly start marketing on on LinkedIn. But I think there’s great opportunities there. And their algorithms are still a bit older than how Facebook works, you know. So you can get a post to rank really well, just by getting lots of people liking it. Now, you can’t get away with that with Facebook anymore. But LinkedIn, stuff like that. So there’s a lot of tricks still still around that you can do.

MS: But I’m still old school, I still think SEO is really important. And a lot of people don’t put enough time and effort in building the SEO. And that’s definitely a longer term, but better brand building. Because your point going back to is people don’t necessarily search online for dog food, what they are searching on for solutions to the dog’s health. And often they don’t, don’t correlate the health of their dog with what the dog’s eating. So when you appear like on the first page for pancreatitis in dogs, and you have one of the most in depth guides to it, you know that you just converted that customer because they’ve seen it, they’ve trusted and it’s not about raw food at that point. It’s about what is the problem? Oh, by the way, have you thought about the dog food that you’re feeding your dog, and you show them stats, and then you show them customers who have talked about it, you share them on the Facebook group, and that’s the journey that I find works well. It’s a bit longer, and you have to play the long game with it. But once you get that longtail working for you. It’s phenomenal.

AV: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. The other problem you have with you know, just being in the auction is a big company can just come along and spend a lot of money.

MS: They tried but this again, it’s funny, I can’t name names but we’ve had a very big brand who you know of, who we’ve spoken about, actually requesting not to do brand bidding anymore because it’s costing them so much money to bid against us. So you know, again, if you do a good job, you can take the big lads on because that window is only so big. Now if they want to pay 17, 18 times more for your customer, let them waste the money. And again, that’s why I think having a good brand is so important to spend that time and, and building and it’s not going to happen in five months or 10 months, and moving away from a commodity kind of driven business. You know, if you’re just price driven commodity, it’s certainly a race down to the bottom. So you’ve got to differentiate yourself. And that, again, is what I find with social CEOs that really believe in what they’re doing can put a story behind it. You can really buy into that. And I think that’s, that’s what works really well online.

AV: And I mean, what are your sort of thoughts for the future? And particularly marketing? Is it just more of the same or if you’ve got any plans?

MS: I mean, we’re growing so fast. I mean, we’ve grow in £15 million run rate at the moment, that’s great. It’s just we’ve doubled the size of it. We went from 22 staff this time last year to 100 staff now. So all this brings challenges with it. Locked down, I’m sure has helpedl but we haven’t seen, we haven’t seen a change in our cohort, which is really, really interesting. So going forward, one of the challenges for is is just to make sure that infrastructure can to help us continue to grow is put into place. So once that’s done, and then we’ll be scaling up again, our marketing and saving more dogs’ lives and cats’ lives by getting them off poor quality dog food and cat food. So that’s our goal. We’ve proved the model works there, proven that the market shares there. And the reviews we get for for our website, and people don’t make enough reviews. I mean, reviews are really, really, really important. But you’ve got to proactively go out there because annoyingly even though customers love you trying to get them to write about you. nightmare. Courier, late by one day, Jesus, they’ll go everywhere. And bad, but that’s why you’ve got to work on this. There’s so many different parts of the jigsaw is the picture from start to finish. You got to make sure you complete them and you’re focusing on and them and spinning plates.

AV: Yeah, no, it was brilliant. I mean, I think the progress you’ve made has just been absolutely incredible.

MS: Thank you.

AV: I think there’s a lot people can learn from you. So what is the best advice that you’ve ever been given?

MS: I mean, every time I move on in my business, I’m always getting mentors, coaches, and that could be online podcast. And I’m a massive, by the way, a massive, massive advocate of listening to podcasts, especially in social as well.

AV: I support that!

MS: So one of my favorite lines was, and I use this a lot across the board in my company is done is better than perfect. I see people really going crazy about training and I half the time you think the stuff that is important, your customers don’t and vice versa. So just get out there. Make it happen. Keep trying, keep trying. The other thing I remember and this is going from when I was 18, 19, 20 is to have what most people don’t have you have to do what most people won’t do, that for me is critical as well as is you just got to do what most people wouldn’t do if you want to.

AV: So if anyone listening wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way for them to contact you?

MS: Just type in “dog jobbie”? Bella and Duke. I mean that’s probably the best way that just Google “Bella and Duke” we should be at the top there if my SEO guys are doing their job.

AV: Do you know, I’ve really enjoyed this. Thank you very much and appropriately enough this was episode number two. Thank you for joining me Mark.

MS: No problem at all Andrew.

AV: And, you know if you want to know a bit more about our marketing app for ecommerce, which can help you with segmentation, benchmarking and email marketing to get your business as successful as Mark’s, just search for “Machine Labs. So I’ll see you next time on the Joy of Marketing.

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