5 Key Steps to Engaging Pet Parents
At Emergent, we love pets and have a passion for the pet care category. It’s an area of special expertise for us built partially on our love affair with our four-legged family members, and on our excitement about the dynamics and challenges of this exciting, unique product category.
In 2014, we began work on a new marketing platform we call Validation Marketing™. And in 2015 we honed the platform specifically for pet food brands. It’s based on variety of consumer behavior studies that chart the migration from selling features and benefits to brand relationships built on lifestyle relevance and activated through emotional triggers.
If any product category on earth deserves the Validation approach it’s pet food. So why is validation important?
To begin with, in terms of formulation and claim the separation between premium pet food brands is quite narrow.
- Pet foods look the same, are delivered mostly in common formats in similar packaging that make similar statements about benefits.
- A credibility gap exists driven by past transgressions such as the 2007 Menu Foods crisis and the fairly routine appearance of recalls.
- The ubiquity of analytical messaging focused on percentages of protein delivery and ingredient priorities.
- The important implications of social and digital consumer behavior on the pet food marketing landscape.
Validation Marketing helps answer the pet parents’ need for reliable evidence, proof and confirmation of same – leading to belief. And no, we’re not talking about food science. This is about a very human approach that’s respectful of the relationship pet parents have with their animals, while also acknowledging that purchase decisions are based on the heart rather than the head.
We’ve summarized the model in five principles that inform marketing planning and roll from there into creative communications. Here they are:
Principle 1 – Higher Purpose
You are not singularly in the pet food business. Brand authenticity has never been more important and your mission as an organization must transcend strict balance sheet objectives or formulation integrity. Consumers want to “join” the brands that matter to them as “members and ambassadors.” To do this, a pet care brand must define its true north at a higher level that aligns with the lifestyle aspirations of your core customer. Health and wellness, for example, may be a part of this conceptually.
Principle 2 – Trust and Transparency
And yes, one begets the other. Openness and candor are essential and should be served early, generously and often. Trust is at the core of healthy brand relationships. Assertions of quality are not nearly as important as evidence and proof of it through your transparency on sourcing and manufacturing. Pet parents trust brands that are forthcoming about country of origin, quality certifications and clean ingredient labels.
Principle 3 – Role of Influencers to Validation
Respected third-party experts and thought leaders have a critical role to play in affirming your proposition and the value you bring to pet health and wellbeing. These external voices help validate what we want pet parents to believe about who you are and what you do. Veterinarians, pet trainers, experts and well-respected pet bloggers are more trusted – and considered to be a more reliable source.
Principle 4 – Emotion and Lifestyle Relevance
People buy with their hearts and not with their heads, yet this category is rife with fact-based analytical selling splashed all over packages, POP and other forms of outreach. Insight research is required here to fully understand the lifestyle interests of your pet parent community and then how to align with their interests. Emotional forms of messaging are far more important than relying on protein percentage specsmanship.
Principle 5 – Power of Endorsement
Social proof. It is delivered by the authentic voices of your most ardent fans and followers in your online communities – who can help drive purchase decisions. Tactically, this begs the question of how pet food brands invest in building and enabling user communities, engaging them and encouraging open conversations – even asking its followers to share stories about your products, their pets and pet-related lifestyle aspirations. The research shows: there’s no more powerful arena of trust and credibility than real pet parents weighing in.
Operating independently of one another, these components are not nearly as impactful. But when coalesced strategically into a unified plan, it can be a powerful game changer to help combat and rise above a sea of sameness in pet foods.
We stand ready to help.
Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent Healthy Living. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.