Posts in Pet food

Simple, clear, concise communication needed in pet care business

The re-graining of the pet food business

February 12th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Pet care, Pet food, Pet food marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “The re-graining of the pet food business”

Will shift feed further confusion?

If anyone has any questions about the power of editorial (earned) media to impact consumer behavior and swing marketplaces, look no further than the DCM crisis of 2019 and the FDA’s announcement stumble.

The FDA publicly announced an investigation into an asserted link between certain grain-free diets and the onset of a heart condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. They included brand names of pet foods fed to some dogs included in the study. Irrespective of the merits of the investigation, whether or not a tangible connection exists to dietary formulas, the assertion of DCM (allegedly instigated by grain free foods) sent shockwaves through the industry.

Consumer uncertainty quickly followed. Most brands made a concerted effort to investigate, analyze and educate users. At the same time, a number of industry players who had previously embraced the grain-free juggernaut that has defined category growth outcomes for nearly a decade, quickly formulated alternative diets that use ancient grains, wholesome grains or a version of this. The objective was to answer any pet parent who is worried and wanting to make a switch – and keep them in the brand family.

Like anything, when a business launches new products, efforts are made to distribute it, gain shelf placement and promote to buyers. This momentum generates a self-fulfilling prophecy by helping bifurcate the premium market and throw a cooling trend on the sales heat that has followed grain-free pet food for a long time.

On-set of grain-free march to fame

The real momentum driver of the grain-free phenomenon can be traced back to the Menu Foods crisis of 2007 as hundreds of pets perished when tainted melamine ingredients from China showed up in US pet food. The fracturing of the industry, however, really resulted from a revelation that one company, Menu Foods, was manufacturing more than 100 brands of pet food. This stunning surprise to the consumer marketplace reversed decades of brand building that implied pet brands themselves were carefully preparing unique food solutions in their own kitchen, while also refocusing pet parents on examining what’s really inside that bag of kibble.

Smaller boutique brands that had quietly made higher quality, more protein forward foods jumped into the spotlight and web sites sprang up right and left to weigh in on recipes, ingredients and a redefined view of what constitutes a healthy, quality pet food. The emergence of ancestral diet that connected wolves to dogs and what animals would eat in their natural habitat, fed the grain-free segment headline as use of corn and related low-cost ingredients was vilified.

Marketplace confusion

Universally, human beings have an unassailable quirk – they refuse to tax their brains when confronted with complicated or confusing messaging. People quickly opt out and refuse to engage if the story is too dense or requires a PhD in nutrition science to understand what’s going on.

The merits of grain-free food have been a foundational aspect of pet food communication for years. As is always the case, the story generally attempts to elevate grain-free solutions at the expense of grain-based diets that had been a hallmark of the pet food industry historically.

The march to protein specsmanship was on after 2007 and the pet food business category posted year to year volume and share gains for brands that removed grains while adding protein. The story of meat-based diets made intuitive sense to people if you buy the wolf connection and that dogs and cats are essentially carnivores.

Now grain-based solutions begin to come back as a response to the FDA moves on DCM, opening another industry chapter, while at the same time creating a potential stew for communication disconnects. The finer points to grain or not to grain aside, while this appears on the surface to simply be offering choice, another gambit opens when these two formulations compete for attention and potentially contribute to confusion on the merits of both.

The antidote to pet food marketing confusion

Simple. Clear. Short. Concise messaging will be necessary to navigate the re-graining of pet food. No taxing of brains allowed. If the pet diet is primarily protein based, and the source of those proteins are from animal, poultry and fish, then the role of grains or legumes isn’t a mission critical part of the nutritional delivery story.

That aside, this emerging condition offers pet brands an exciting opportunity to enhance engagement and relevance. The love pet parents have for their pet is an important area to mine for communication that resonates — without adding to confusion on the grain and re-grain debate. The human/animal bond steps outside the protein percentage messaging wars to provide a rich arena for relevant brand-to-consumer conversations.

Transparency in the supply chain is yet another pathway into the product quality story that doesn’t require stepping on the jargon landmines of formulation detail and nuance. Trust and belief are paramount and best served when consumers can see the openness and honesty manifest in how the brand behaves and what it communicates about product creation.

In sum, clarity and emotion are two fundamental anchors for pet food brand communication that can help steer wide of the potential confusion of grains vs. no grains.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Understanding the unique requirements of pet brand marketing

February 2nd, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Pet care, Pet food, Pet food marketing, Pet nutrition, Transparency 0 comments on “Understanding the unique requirements of pet brand marketing”

Avoid marketing misfires and create opportunities

The pet care business is dynamic, growing and vibrant, while also highly competitive with more new entrants arriving every year. Pet care is also unique in its aligned requirement for better, more strategic and consumer-centric marketing solutions.

What other food category is there where the most popular product form, kibble, is identical in appearance brand to brand. This alone requires significant leaps of faith from buyers to believe the assertions made about the quality of food ingredients inside the nugget.

It is a highly-emotional category where pet parents strive to provide the best diet they can afford for their furry family members as an active expression of their love. Yet the predominant pet food storytelling mechanism is analytical – not emotional – and based largely on protein wars “specsmanship” around percentages of real meat in the food.

Sameness on the hunt for uniqueness

One trip through the aisles and the similarity in messaging trumpets from the shelf. Meat to carb ratios, nutrition superiority, ancestral diet, grain-free, wholesome grains – offering snapshots of beautiful whole chicken, salmon filets, steaks, fresh vegetables and fruits. Human grade food images, often reminiscent of stock food photography, suggest pets are enjoying the same dinner-table fare people consume.

The similarity in brand messaging and imagery creates a blur of confusion for pet parents, who must turn to recommendations from others to get through the gauntlet of like-sounding food claims and complicated label terminology.

Messaging mayhem

At a Pet Food Forum convention, Emergent presented on marketing best practices. We created a chart showing random primary claims made at the shelf by 10 different pet brands on the left and a list of brand names on the right. We challenged the audience to match the message to the brand. In truth, they were all inter-changeable.

But more important, in every case a fundamental miscalculation was at work that embedded a disconnect in the communication.

With few exceptions, typical pet food storytelling casts the brand as the hero of the story rather than the pet parent and pet. Everyday people wake up believing they are the hero of their life story. When encountering messages that cast the brand as competing hero they continue on, still looking for an expert guide to help them solve the problems they face.

When the brand is presented as expert coach to the pet parent, dynamic changes and communication lines open up.

More often than not, pet brands focus on themselves. Understandable, given the enormous efforts to create a top quality, highly nutritious food, but inadvertently inoculating the marketing with a message that doesn’t allow the pet parent to see themselves and their profound pet relationship in the story.

The solution here is to put the pet parent at the center of strategic planning and work backwards from there. Insight to their lifestyle wants, aspirations, needs and the connection to their pet provides the grist for marketing and messaging that works.

Leap of faith?

If ever there were a product category where trust creation is paramount, pet food is it. There is significant marketing mileage to be had for brands that embrace and understand that today, people no longer accept at face value the assertions and claims made by pet brands.

People don’t trust companies – instead they trust other people.

This helps explain why year to year social media continues its upward trajectory as a key element in the marketing mix. Especially when it is respected as an independent forum for pet parents to share anecdotal stories of transformation and change for their pets.

  • All too often social channels are viewed simply as another broadcast vehicle for self-promotion. The goal in pet brand marketing is to earn trust. This is where strategy lives, embracing the opportunities offered when the brand decides to be completely transparent, opening the door to the entire product creation process for people to see and experience.

When belief is an objective, then the voices and messages employed take on new and deeper meaning. Pet parent ambassadors and outside third-party experts like Veterinary physicians and breeders can be instrumental in helping ascend the credibility mountain. Videos with the journey to the farm and kitchens that are constructed around a documentary format (unscripted interviews) rather than ad-like, help elevate the story believably.

An often-overlooked aligned opportunity are the high standards pet brands create for food safety and ingredient quality. We often find these sacrosanct rules exist, but remain largely hidden away and not brought to life (in the context as consumer as hero) as another reason to believe.

Efficiency through integration

For the most part the pet food industry is populated with small and medium sized premium players amongst a smattering of big, legacy brands. Most cannot win the marketing battle on the basis of tonnage in paid media spending. Every dollar invested needs to work like 10, and this condition amplifies the importance of an integrated approach. Even big media budgets no longer guarantee victory (ad-like outreach is increasingly ignored).

The power and effectiveness of awareness building around the important “why” of heavy user re-purchasing, works optimally when all relevant channels are operating in concert from packaging and shelf promotion, to editorial media, to branded social channel posts and how user-generated content is curated and served. This reinforces why the messaging is mission critical.

When the messaging isn’t right, nothing works to greatest impact.

All too often we find complexity in pet brand messaging that runs squarely into a roadblock on the receiving end. Too many distinct brand messages competing for attention forces people to sort through too many claims. Humans will never tax their brains to find relevance, so they simply tune out and walk away. Clarity and simplicity are stronger.

The pet business also consists of thousands of independent retailers, alongside big box and grocery. Trade relationships are critical in this environment manifesting in share of retailer perceptions and resulting linear feet. Trade facing media presents an affordable opportunity to be a dominant voice and another venue where paid and earned can be integrated to maximum effect, especially around key periods such as Global and SuperZoo trade shows.

Earned media opportunities

Earned media is a unicorn non-paid channel, in that editorial sensibility is required to successfully leverage it. Ironically, when the brand casts itself as expert guide (focusing on the issues and concerns of pet care and strives to embrace transparent operation) earned media opportunities multiply. Why? Because it’s more relevant to the audience than self-promotional brand rhetoric.

Trying to leverage ad-like promotion and self-serving events, in a media channel based around what’s newsworthy, is a recipe for non-performance. That said, there’s never been a period in the pet business when news can be served more often, than at a time when virtually every media property out there has turned to lifestyle advice and guidance to enhance their own audience relevance. Just remember the story has to look, walk and talk like news.

What’s next

The winners and losers in pet brand marketing will be driven by those who optimize their messaging for pet parent resonance, making them the hero of the brand story, while working to align company behaviors and operations with the consumer’s demand to do business with brands that embrace similar values and truths.

  • The most valued brands will prevail because they recognize ‘trusted by’ pet parents must be earned daily, and that actions speak just as loudly as words.

Previously we’ve mentioned a complimentary messaging audit as a no-risk way to have a conversation, one that provides added value. We offer it again here. If you would like a fresh perspective on your current messaging approach, let us know.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. 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.

Transparency Is a Brand Trust Generator

November 10th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Pet food, Pet food marketing, storytelling, Transparency, Validation 0 comments on “Transparency Is a Brand Trust Generator”

Case study: How to become a truly transparent brand

The impact of the ‘always on’ digitally-enabled world we live in is an emerging consumer desire to know the backstory and details of how products are created. Not surprising when you factor in the number one lifestyle concern for people across all age segments is health and wellness. This seek-to-understand behavior is transforming the human and pet food industries.

In parallel, consumers now care deeply about the businesses’ respective mission, purpose, and authenticity – seeking to connect with brands which share their values. As a result, consumers want to understand what’s in the food they’re buying and how the company’s standards and mission are brought to life inside the products they make.

Why is this happening?

Relevance:

First, consumers have connected the dots between the quality of what they ingest and the quality of their lives. People care about the foods they’re eating – and want to know more about them. Equally true for pet food.

Belief:

Second, because of eroding, declining trust in the claims and assertions made by brands about their products – consumers are seeking objective, credible sources of information to help them make their own informed judgments.

Personally symbolic:

Third, purchases have become emblematic of what people want the outside world to believe is important to them – so they seek reassurance of high-quality ingredients, ethical standards, healthier and made sustainably.

The concept of Transparency has floated to the top as shorthand for this intense, growing desire to experience and verify what brands claim about their products.

Why this should matter to you:

Consumer trust precedes any kind of relationship and willingness to engage with a brand or product. Trust is earned, not inherently owned – and is based on intentional investments (that don’t look, smell or feel like advertising) to secure it.

If you want your marketing to be welcomed (rather than click to avoid) and believed, then trust is a fundamental requirement. Transparency provides an operable platform for how this is achieved.

What is transparency?

Being truly transparent is about openness, disclosure, access and operating in a trustworthy and forthright manner. Call it actively encouraging observation, scrutiny and reporting from outside sources.

Verifying and validating what you want others to believe about your quality and integrity commitments creates the opportunity for a meaningful conversation with consumers and stakeholders. Respect and reputation are not commodities that come along with simply existing. They are difficult to create and hard to hold onto over time.

Best practices case study: Champion Petfoods

Disclaimer: this is a platform Emergent created and brought to life for Champion after a comprehensive audit of their operations, strengths and unique company commitments.

It goes without saying the pet food industry universally demands trust from its core customers. Given the nature of the product form (ubiquitous brown kibble) pet parents are required to buy into the statements and claims made by brands concerning ingredient quality and how the food is prepared.

Driving this interest is the intense desire pet parent have to express their love for their pets through the quality of the diet provided. Engaged pet owners try as best they can to discern product labels to understand the meaning of words, phrases and insider language used in the pet food world (like meat meal).

Still, a trust gap exists between what’s claimed by brands versus what can be credibly verified.

  • According to a recent study reported in Pet Food Industry magazine, 75% of consumers are willing to switch from their current brand to one that provides more in-depth product information than what appears on the physical label. That’s up from 39% in 2016.

Champion Petfoods is at the forefront of the protein forward, meat-focused, biologically appropriate approach to what has been popularly described as ancestral diet. The company’s early success was attributed to pioneering the focus on percentages of high-quality proteins in the recipe. Champion uses comparatively high levels of fresh and raw animal meat respectful of the physiology and eating anatomy of dogs and cats.

Additionally, to deliver on their mission the company started early to invest in an extensive network of regional farms, ranches and fish supplier partnerships to provide real food ingredients, many within driving distance of their kitchens. This helps enable Champion to be fully transparent about their ingredient sources, sustainability commitments and aligned production standards for its Orijen and Acana brands.

The Champion Transparency Council

The Transparency Council platform was created by Emergent, to address consumers’ evolving need to know more, and in so doing, begin a new conversation with them that addresses their questions about ingredients and safety, nutrition and quality.

This more earnest and authentic approach – galvanized by the Council’s independence and third-party voice – manifested as a sophisticated content engine designed to cement trust and generate a more informative and engaging brand communication.

Highlights:

Emergent conducted a comprehensive recruiting effort for expert Veterinary physician members and a social media based public search for two pet parents to join the four-member Council.

Their mission:  to observe, verify and report on everything Champion does related to making pet food.

Given the significance of trust and transparency to the Council’s mission, it was critical to leverage Champion’s unique supply chain relationships, state-of-the-art kitchens and knowledgeable personnel to underscore the integrity of its stated Biologically Appropriate pet food mandate.

Outcomes:

  • The Council delivered an ongoing content creation platform that carries with it the authentic voice of outside third-party experts and pet parents, offering valuable communication that people want rather than seek to avoid.
  • Champion secured the mantle of Transparency industry leadership at a time when this is an important consideration on the path to purchase.
  • Champion went from zero to 60 quickly as an industry leading editorial voice, in part because the Council and its activity was precedent-setting and newsworthy for the industry.

Emergent Guidance:

  1. Transparency is best served with embedded credibility, using the voices of independent, third parties to report and verify what the company claims about its products.
  2. Openness is a prerequisite and underscores a perception of inclusiveness and honesty.
  3. Seeing is believing, so the deployment of third parties helps fuel an ongoing source of reporting that, over time, can evolve into a channel of helpful, useful guidance on issues and topics important to core customers.
  4. Transparency-based information is ready-made for social channel distribution and helps close the loop on what brand fans believe and say is the reason for their advocacy and brand evangelism.
  5. We have left the era of brand-voiced assertions of performance, and entered a time when trust is paramount and earning it is a requirement for success. Invoking the transparency word in a sentence isn’t nearly as powerful as backing it up with authentic behaviors and actions.

If you’re exploring the power of transparency and would like to know more details about this case study and the tactics, activation and media we deployed, let’s find a time to talk.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. 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.

Pet food transparency

The Pet Food Business Dilemma: Obfuscate

April 10th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, Pet care, Pet food, Pet food marketing, Pet nutrition, social media marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “The Pet Food Business Dilemma: Obfuscate”

When communication is intentionally blurry, muddled, cloudy and befogged

It’s not often I get to employ a $50 word in a story, but in this case obfuscate may be the perfect verb to characterize the occasional disconnect from a pet parent’s desire for more clarity and transparency in how pet food is presented, and the sometimes confounding and less straight-forward information actually served.

Is it crystal clear to you?

Dirty water makes it hard to see the bottom of the pond.

In the eyes of the consumer, pet food is a leap-of-faith business. Brands make assertions about the quality, origins and freshness of ingredients; the correct and superior combinations of real food ingredients that ultimately make a difference in the health and wellbeing of four-legged family members.

  • What’s in the little brown kibble pellet? We’re required to believe it contains fresh, deboned chicken, wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef or vegetables, fruits and other human-friendly whole food ingredients. We also know that animals can’t talk and consumers aren’t food scientists. So trust and faith becomes the currency that defines brand relationships.

Transparency means transparent.

When at the butcher counter in your food store you can see the steak, its marbling, height and color. You can make judgments on its quality before buying. In contrast, kibble or canned pet food from brand to brand looks roughly the same and so verification of food quality by visual examination is not possible. Casting statements on ingredient decks can be confounding to many but the most ardent students of pet food ingredient terminology; those able to translate code for higher-quality proteins from something less than that.

Transparent behaviors in this industry couldn’t be more important. The frequency of pet food recalls serve as the reminder for vigilance…and can breed consumer skepticism. This uncertainty is amplified against an evolving food culture where people today want to know the backstory behind the foods they buy for themselves and for their pets. How did this new-found interest in ingredient transparency come to pass?

The desire for transparency is a cultural phenomenon that got traction when people fully connected the dots between the quality of the food they eat and the quality of their lives.

They expect no less of their pets’ diets.

If ingredients are sourced from local farms and ranches, brands should show and tell this story. If there are standards on the quality of ingredients to be used, they should be stated clearly and simply so it can be understood by anyone. The curtain raised on how manufacturing is done, what form ingredients take, how and why they are combined – the trail from farm to can or bag that helps belief materialize in a trusted, credible way.

  • If belief is to be achieved in what is essentially a faith-based business, truth must be multiplied by transparency and clarity. People want to see all the way to the bottom of the supply chain pond, so to speak. The sum of these interactions and conversations is to validate, rather than obfuscate, what we want people to know and believe about pet food.

Wordplay vs. Openness

The core essence of trust creation is the deployment of words and what they mean. When honesty and integrity rule the relationship with pet parents, then parsing definitions to create more palatable descriptions – while obfuscating the truth – is at best misguided and not based in sound strategy…and at worst is disingenuous.

Pets are no longer owned assets to be maintained. They are family. The impact of quality nutrition of their health and welfare is a real thing. Moreover, when answering what the customer wants, it is this: “healthy, high quality food choices, just like I prefer for myself and my family.”

  • So how are honesty and openness best served when the form the product takes leaves no trace of evidence on which to base judgments? Pull back the curtain and tell the story, fully, completely, in video where words and pictures combine to let everyone in to see for themselves.

Outside independent verification testing and deployment of Blockchain technology may close this loop fully to provide the assurance people want. But importantly, what’s embedded in your brand values and mission will inform how all this goes, and whether or not crystal clear is the true call to action for company behaviors.

What’s at stake?

Trust and brand reputation.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Time to Pull Back the Curtain on Pet Food Creation

December 9th, 2017 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, Pet care, Pet food, Pet food marketing, Pet nutrition, Sustainability 0 comments on “Time to Pull Back the Curtain on Pet Food Creation”

The case for super transparency…

For all of the talk about a desire for greater transparency in the food system, much of the pet food world’s product creation work remains behind closed doors. Is it time to open up the curtain and shed more light on ingredients, sources, standards and processes in service of securing greater consumer trust?

Unrelenting premiumization of the pet food business is being driven by the continued humanization of furry family members. At the apex of this anthropomorphic trend is a near lockstep upgrading of pet nutrition formula and nutritional bona fides that closely follow the food culture preferences of people.

No surprise the primary fuel for all of this is a belief held by consumers that the quality of the food they consume impacts the quality of their lives. Therefore, the same rule applies to their pets and the perceived nutritional benefits they can receive in their diets. In sum, people want healthier food solutions for themselves. Pet foods now face the same evaluation.

Thus the current drivers of human food preferences quickly find their way into the pet nutrition business. Chief among them is an increasing demand for transparency. According to a recent study by Innova Market Insights, the number one priority in 2018 for both human and pet foods will be cleaner labels. Innova calls this the arrival of  “Mindful Choice.”

What is that? Health and wellness is the leading call to action. However embedded in this trend are the same concerns people have about the food they personally consume – interest in sustainability, visibility to ingredients and sourcing, ethical production and safety. The Innova research study reports, 70 percent of consumers want to know and understand (human) food ingredient lists. This can be challenging in pet food where historically ingredient decks expressed on kibble packages are lengthy, complicated and employ terminology foreign to most people.

Additionally, the rapid migration of grocery shopping from packaged food center aisles of the store to the fresh perimeter departments is evidence of preferences for real, fresh, simpler food that is less processed. ‘Real’ food ingredients on labels are wanted. According to a recap of Innova’s study published in Pet Food Industry magazine, the number of human food products launched this year with a healthier claim increased to 49 percent. It’s a reflection of the growing desire to address consumer demand for healthier foods.

So, how foods are made will matter. Right now clean label is center stage. It should be noted that ‘clean label’ itself is an outcome of efforts made during product development; work which includes standards for ingredient sourcing, optimizing nutritional benefits, and committing to higher integrity around recipe formulations.

A recent study on the topic by Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute found that:

  • 73 percent of consumers read ingredient lists
  • 66 percent examine the nutritional panel
  • 94 percent say they would be loyal to a brand that adopts complete transparency
  • 99 percent say they will also pay more for a product that is transparent

Pet diets are for the most part a highly processed food where the more popular delivery vehicle of dry kibble in varying shades of tan to brown, appears to be identical from brand to brand. Deconstructing the kibble is another matter and it is in this arena where differentiation (and consumer trust) can be found.

What’s needed in pet food: super transparency

The Hartman Group’s Sustainability Report for 2017 says consumers expect companies to “openly share sustainability practices” and 73 percent of consumers are aware of what transparency means with respect to business practices.

Pet food brands with a strong nutritional story to tell could benefit from a super transparency approach. Kibble can’t really telegraph any specific information one-way or other. The ingredients used to make it, on the other hand, present an educational opportunity.

Pet brands that tell stories about ingredient sources, suppliers and product creation can effectively address integrity questions in a meaningful way.  What’s really bubbling underneath: issues surrounding health and quality of life.

Traditionally the pet food industry has operated behind closed doors, but the consumer is asking that the door open more fully. Far enough for consumers to have improved access to knowing more about the ingredient standards and food quality that goes into their pet’s diet.

No question; pet food and people food are not the same thing, even though some brands would like you to believe that the steak you had for dinner is inside the kibble bag.

  • When higher quality pet food makers take their commitments and standards on ingredients and bring them to life, they can improve their ability to secure trust and belief from the humans selecting foods for their four-legged family members.

Ultimately the desire for product transparency is a demand for validation and evidence of what most pet brands claim in their package messaging. The move to super transparency (which really means taking the consumer behind the product creation curtain) is a way to bring better understanding about what their pets are eating. And yes, pet parents truly care about this in the same way they care about how foods are made that they eat themselves.

Super transparency is now a furry business-building opportunity!

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. 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.

woman and cat

Pet Care Marketing Upended by New Consumer Insight

April 12th, 2017 Posted by Pet care, Pet food, Retail brand building, retail brand relevance, shopper behavior, shopper experience 0 comments on “Pet Care Marketing Upended by New Consumer Insight”

Emotion Outperforms Rational Outreach

Are pet food purchase decisions rational and considered? No. Here’s why…

Ever wandered through a pet store and noticed the similarity in how brands present themselves and their benefits? The focus on ingredients, nutrition advancements, and percentages of real meat-based protein dominate the conversation.

For the most part, these rational arguments in favor of the competing brands are an outgrowth of a long-held, pervasive view that decision-making is largely a rational act.

We know that’s completely wrong.

Examining the latest studies in behavioral economics, neuroscience and psychology reveal we’ve generally constructed pet marketing on the wrong foundation over the last 20 years. Turns out, human beings operate on two brain systems – the ‘effortless’ sub-conscious and the ‘effortful’ conscious and learning brain.

Here’s the headline:

System 1 – The Nonconscious Brain – is actually in charge of our actions and decisions. And the rational System 2 side routinely defers to its non-rational cousin on a daily basis.

Why does this matter? Because fact-based presentations of information and data play almost no role in the purchase decision. We don’t recognize this is happening because, yes, it’s subconscious.

Pet food organizations work overtime to refine and improve their nutrition profiles, enhance the quality of their ingredient sourcing, optimize their formulations for a healthier pet – and then tout the efforts they’re making. Ironically, all of it largely ignored by System 1. Instead this information comes round in the post-purchase environment as a justifier for making the right decision and remaining loyal.

Is the commitment to superior nutrition a wasted effort? No, it is fundamental to brand efficacy and the outcomes for pet health and wellbeing. But this is a different issue from what actually drives purchase.

System 1 has all the fun

Nonconscious System 1 is capable of processing up to 11 million bits of information per second; System 2 just 40. Thus, our subconscious is far more intuitive, smart and capable than we’ve given it credit for previously. Here’s how it operates:

  • Acts without deliberate analysis
  • Generates impressions, feelings and inclinations
  • Exerts powerful influence on choices and judgments
  • Drives the options we choose; originates the actions we take

This news may rankle pet food C-suite executives who pour such energy and investment into the rational argument stream on nutrition and ingredients. However, this does not mean that purchase decisions are subject to mere whim.

Here are six insights that help optimize and influence System 1 conditions:

1. The Exposure Effect

Science proves we have a natural inclination to favor what comes most easily to mind. In fact, we imbue brands that are familiar to us with a host of beneficial qualities. It’s not the features and facts that are driving this, rather it’s the familiarity.

This desire for familiarity prompts planning a holistic, multi-channel media strategy that’s always on and aimed at breeding awareness. To help along this path, it’s important to deploy sticky, memorable phrases and ideas.

2. The Power of Social Proof

We are drawn to prefer products other people like and endorse –whether in a live setting or online. We make positive assessments of brands that are well liked and recommended.

Our depth of affection grows with perceived popularity.

3. The Primacy of Emotion

System 1 responds to emotional communication because it uses emotion. So a surprising, personal, heart-rending story from a pet parent is far more effective than a surprising statistic.

The goal of pet care marketing is to fulfill one of the most important motivations for buying a high quality pet food – the expression of love for your pet. Emotional tugs are far more powerful than rational reasons.

4. Role of Reciprocity and Reward

We are hardwired to reciprocate in the presence of unexpected and magnanimous acts. If we want to ask pet parents to do something, to take action, make a donation, or attend an event – doing something generous and unselfish ahead of the ask will cause reciprocal obligations and behaviors.

Similarly, rewards should be viewed differently. System 1 loves immediate and assured rewards. And rewards that are emotional and social in nature are more motivating than financial.

Case in point – are we motivated by saving 50 cents or being perceived as a smart, caring and sophisticated pet parent?? Are we motivated by the superior nutrition in a bag of kibble or acquiring a path to a healthier, happier pet?

5. Actions more powerful than words

We are impacted by what people and brands do more so than what they say. We place greater stock and belief in actions over words. By tapping into real-world events and experiences, this emotional connection helps make the stories you wish to tell more meaningful

6. System 1 responds to Art

As ad legend David Ogilvy once said: “You cannot bore your customer into buying your product.” System 1 responds positively to artistic expression. So it’s important for brand communications to be clever, interesting and entertaining.

The creative use of words, pictures, sound, style and images can combine virtuously to help make communication compelling and memorable.

System 2 is rarely used

The learning part of our brain isn’t inert. However, it is lazy and allows the subconscious to hold sway over our actions and decisions. Because this is happening outside of our conscious awareness, we don’t really recognize it’s happening.

For example: Was your choice of spouse or significant other truly driven by a deliberate analysis and evaluation of the pros and cons before you took the leap?

Of course it wasn’t. That life-changing decision was based on your feelings, your gut instincts – and that is System 1 at work.

Now we are designing a new go-to-market platform for pet brands that incorporates this new understanding about how people operate. As we respect System 1’s power to drive how people operate, we gain discipline in our marketing approach and confidence in the outcomes of marketing investments.

What do you think?

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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. 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.

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