Over the last few years, Pet360 has transformed itself from a pure ecommerce play to a true media company, devoted to being a top information source for what the company calls “pet parents.” We had a chance to get a peak behind the curtain of the company’s approach to content strategy with the woman who’s driving that strategy, Rose Hamilton.

Since 2011, Hamilton has served as Pet360’s EVP – Customer Experience and Chief Marketing Officer. She’s responsible for consumer strategy, marketplace positioning, brand development, merchandising, and P&L for Pet360, Inc. brands.

I interviewed her via email, starting by asking her to describe Pet360’s evolution into a content-driven company:

Rose Hamilton: “When I joined the company, we were a simple pure play ecommerce company, operating as PetFoodDirect.com, selling pet supplies and prescription/RX medications online. The importance of differentiation became strikingly clear as more competition entered the landscape offering free shipping and low prices. The burning platform was born! We needed to find a way to de-commoditize the business and create unique value to attract new pet parents and build lasting loyalty beyond price.

“As we got closer to pet parents’ challenges, we learned that they are seeking a ‘trusted one-stop-solution’ to cover all of their needs. We found a unique space at the intersection of content, community and commerce, combined with a personalized experience.  The foundation of this intersection is quality and trusted content that [has] served to build the Pet360 brand and value proposition.  The company has transformed into a multifaceted digital media, commerce, and customer engagement organization delivering solutions to pet parents at every stage.”

RH: “Customer Engagement is the New Marketing at Pet360, with content at the core. Thus, Content Marketing is extremely important to us to create differentiated customer engagement. Content, community, and personalization are the foundation of our value proposition. We know pet parents have busy lives and providing all the right products, information, connections and expert advice–personalized to an individual pet–differentiates the brand.”

Of course, content marketing means different things to different people. I asked Hamilton what her philosophy of content marketing is; she said the company is putting customers at the center of all of its marketing.

RH: “Our goal with content marketing at Pet360 is to create a differentiated customer experience by creating world-class customer engagement around pet parents’ needs.  Content is the foundation of engagement.  Defining a content strategy requires knowing your customer segments, defining their journey, and their various unmet needs.  Successful content marketing builds authority and credibility in a brand throughout the customer journey and results in increased customer engagement across touch points.  We leverage content marketing to build personal relationships with pet parents, focused on providing valuable and relevant information, education, solutions, and entertainment.”

In terms of raw numbers, they’ve built a sizable audience – Hamilton says they average 12 million monthly unique visitors across all the Pet360 web properties. They track a variety of metrics, from the top of the funnel until well past the sale.

RH: “We track our progress in a number of ways, including increased customer/traffic acquisition, retention, engagement, satisfaction and lifetime value. We attract new customers through content marketing in search engines, social media, our branded community, email marketing, digital advertising, media coverage, and syndication of our content.  Additionally, we build loyalty and lifetime value through increased engagement on site, in our community, through the call center and our email campaigns.  We find higher purchase rates with customers who engage with [the] Pet360 content and community.”

Hamilton leads a customer engagement team that encompasses the entre continuum of marketing across the company’s core brands: pet360.com, petMD.com and PetFoodDirect.com.

RH: “We have a robust team of experts and contributors including vets, journalists, behaviorists, trainers, groomers, and even professional pet sitters.  This group not only knows what pet parents want to learn about, they have the expertise to deliver.”

SW: Pet parents can be extremely engaged. How do you manage user-generated content?

RH: “We have a community on Pet360.com, reader comments on content, along with product ratings and reviews. Our community manager, merchandising team, veterinary advisors, and moderators are available to members, making meaningful connections and answering questions.”

SW: What’s working? What needs work?

RH: “As customer needs evolve, so must customer engagement strategy and execution.  The best advice I can give is to “test, test, test” and engage your customers in feedback on the content that you’re offering.  If you ask, they will tell you! Co-create your content marketing strategy with your customers and you’re sure to win!”