How Bark Is Building A Partnership Playbook

Bark is best known for BarkBox, monthly boxes filled with toys and treats personalized for your pup. It's also expanded into retail. But as it works harder to add customers, brand partnerships play an increasingly important role in adding to its customer base.

"We're still Target's No. 1 dog brand, but when you go into a Petco or a PetSmart, it's tough to tell our stuff apart. We're flattered, but they're making it a bit tougher," said David Stangle, vice president of activation. That's made customer acquisition even more important, "which means reaching new people in new places."

He told attendees at MediaPost's recent Brand Insider Summit D2C that brand partnerships are vital to building that top-of-funnel awareness. And with the brand sticking with its distinctive "Who's a good boy?" voice – and its commitment to making sure it never takes itself too seriously, it's earned high net promoter scores and 10 million followers on social media.



Partnerships are also a good fit because of the brand's commitment to cultural currents. When it noticed more people sporting tattoos of their dogs on social media, it created a giveaway to pay for 500 tattoos, generating "thousands and thousands of incredible stories about what their dogs mean to them."

Bark has had long-term partnerships with both Subaru and Dunkin' that, with each iteration, create "the surprise and delight that we are constantly striving for," said Stangle. "We try it bring our partner's brands to life through the eyes of a dog person."

The evolution of its partnership with Dunkin', and its Dogs for Joy Foundation, is a case in point. That organization trains therapy and comfort dogs for pediatric hospitals. "Initially, we thought, 'We'll put a limited amount of toys in stores, give all the donations to the charity, do some PR and see how it goes.'"

The promotion started in 10 regional stores. Several years into the partnership, "we're now in just about every store in the country," said Stangle. "We get tons of press each year, and there's fun storytelling. And we've moved from one point of sale to multiple points, bringing it online and direct-to-consumer."

Stangle says he hopes the partnership will generate $5 million in donations this year. "And in three or four weeks, we'll see everything is sold out."

That creation of scarcity is essential. "We purposely put limited quantities in every single store to ensure that they sell fast. As more stores sell out, that demand moves onto the platform, where we have more inventory available."

In essence, the promotion acts as the ecommerce arm. "So Dunkin's audience becomes our audience." With QR codes in stores leading back to Bark, it creates opportunities to upsell, remarket, and provide email contacts.

The success with Dunkin' has led to increased demand, with many brands asking to form partnerships. Usually, "they just want to put their brand in our boxes, which we would never do," said Stangle.

Still, the brand is on the hunt for partners which, like Bark, are light-hearted and irreverent. "Dogs are inherently silly, and for the most part, people are not looking for a serious message about a dog product."

Bark is also  looking for a bit of risk-taking. With Dunkin', for instance, Stangle's been angling for a dog doughnut with every iteration. "I've pitched it every year, and the Dunkin' team has said 'No' every year. We're going into year four, and this time, they said, 'Well, we can talk about it.'"

The big idea, he said, always comes back to fun, introducing new people to the tail-wagging vibe the company's 2.3 million subscribers already love: "What Disney does for kids, we want to be able to do for dogs, dog people, and families with dogs."

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