Posts in Transparency

New concept in pet brand building: kitchens

Will Pet Brands Stop Resisting Differentiation?

October 28th, 2020 Posted by Brand preference, brand strategy, change, Differentiation, engagement, Pet care, Pet food, Pet food marketing, shopper behavior, storytelling, Transparency 0 comments on “Will Pet Brands Stop Resisting Differentiation?”

How to punch above your weight and win

When shopping the aisles of a pet food store you’ve likely noticed an amazing array of new brand players on one hand, and on the other difficulty distinguishing anything truly unique between the options. Blurry at best as the protein percentage wars rage everywhere around you.

Pet care is a robust and growing business that works to float all brand boats. For now at least.

  • More pet-owning households than ever
  • More adoptions from rescue centers
  • More puppies and kittens at home
  • More mouths to feed

Even in the midst of a pandemic and economic recession the growth record is notably positive.

That said what happens when you reach a competitive tipping point as the number of brands multiplies (supply) while vying for a piece of the current volume and dollar pie (demand)? Right there, strategic best practices highly recommend nurturing true brand differentiation in the eyes of the consumer. When differences are marginal though, then what?

Read on…

This challenge gets to the heart of pet care brand conditions, a business personified by its Low Differentiation and High Durability traits among category participants. This is a healthy business ripe for disruption – when the right moves are made.

Understanding pet brand category behaviors

How is it that so many pet brands are holding firm right now?

The size of the pie is expanding. Brands that are similar to each other while exhibiting staying power are all playing by familiar rules – at least until an innovator comes along and changes the playbook.

A landscape of comparable brands with parallel nutritional claims and ingredient stories, arguing for advantage in the margins, is a living example of:

  • A study in brand incrementalism
  • Marginally better quality to the winners in each segment
  • Pricing that stays in the segment frame, forcing choice on other more subjective cues
  • A curious tit-for-tat marketplace where brands monitor and react quickly to copy competitor moves (ancient grains anyone?)
  • Where staying in the competition is more important than distinguishing the brand as a unique star player

Premium kibble is kibble for the most part, although every brand understandably claims to be nutritionally superior to their equivalent price-point neighbor. That said, the language used to convey better or best bears remarkable sameness brand to brand.

Looking for marketplace advantage

When you work hard to create and earn high buyer value, the end result makes competition increasingly irrelevant. Where the pet business is generally a ground game of less differentiated brands, the sweet spot of disrupting category conventions is secured by moving from lower to higher differentiation.

Achieving greater uniqueness can happen when focused sharply on a marketplace buyer segment – a specific type of customer, where the brand strives to be hyper relevant and meaningful to a lifestyle cohort. Take for instance the consumer pursuing a health and wellness lifestyle, where the importance placed on the quality of what you eat is directly related to their perceived quality of life.

Inevitably, this consumer will transfer that same viewpoint to their pet food choices. While one could say wellness is the province of raw food brands, even there, the word raw has been democratized throughout the category in slightly de-tuned versions such as freeze-dried toppers, chunks and kibble inclusions.

Channel as a disruptive idea

Just Food For Dogs (JFFD) based in Irvine, CA has found a way to re-think the path to market.

Their model involves free-standing retail kitchens that make fresh pet food on premise, a concept optimized for higher income zip codes where the cost per pound is less important to the perceived nutritional upgrade in a freshly-prepared diet. The opportunities for customization to specific pet needs is remarkable and embedded in this concept.

Company President Carey Tischler explained this is the beginning of a national expansion: “our kitchens are an incredibly effective means of showing, not just telling, pet parents how we are different – and how fresh, whole-food can change their pets’ lives. With nine open-to-the-public kitchens serving pet parents today, and several more kitchens under consideration for 2021, our national expansion is already well underway,” he said.

Human food ingredients re-purposed for pet food recipes

Their Chicago kitchen entry now under construction sits cheek-to-jowl with the city’s largest, most progressive and well-known pet rescue The PAWS Foundation – a virtual mini-industry in moving abandoned or stray pets to new homes. Ahem, that’s new food-seeking pet owners. Across the street is Petco, a retailer that is stocking a shelf-stable packaged version of Just Foods For Dogs pet food.

Is JFFD a retail pet food kitchen company with an aligned packaged business to serve consumers where no retail kitchen exists? Or a packaged pet foods company with a unique retail kitchen extension that serves as marketplace theater and demonstration of their fresh food ethos?

Shelf stable versions of fresh recipes

“We view our business as a direct-to-consumer ecosystem,” Tischler reports, “and manage it as such – with each channel supported by our Certified Nutrition Consultants. The kitchens are a critical part of the business model, but they work in concert with our pantries (store-in-store concept) and online offering. We have a lot of evidence these channels are synergistic and effectively support each other, driving brand awareness and offering convenience to pet parents.”

Freshly made pet foods from the kitchen

In response to pandemic impacts, Tischler says the company is leaning into curb-side pickup at their kitchen locations or home delivery through third-party providers.

What’s interesting about this approach is its relevance to a like-minded consumer who sees higher food quality as verified by the fresh ingredients and preparation techniques used to preserve nutritional density. The very same food preferences they apply to themselves can now be delivered to their pet in a Chipotle-like store setting. At the very least, it’s a disruptive idea.

  • Of note, we think Just Food For Dogs has a significant opportunity to weigh in on transparency, ingredient sourcing and food standards to further enhance their nutritional credibility story, although we haven’t seen that manifest as yet. Transparency is a unique point of competitive advantage in an industry where it’s largely a missed opportunity.

Just Food For Dogs is a marvelous study in innovation around a category governed mostly by conventional extruded solutions.

In mainstream retail FreshPet presents an interesting twist on packaged products and certainly deserves the growth they’ve experienced. However, we believe even more can be done to separate and elevate brands above the forest of sameness. Differentiation operates to attract a cohort of engaged, enthusiastic fans who have a deeper, emotional connection to the brand that is stronger, frankly, than a reason to buy focused on protein percentages.

Zig when everyone else zags

In the last seven months the pandemic has served as the most important personal priority- shifting mechanism of the last 30 years, advancing the importance of health and wellness to sheer survival. Taking care of your immune system is now a clarion example of how consumers reassert some control over their lives in an uncontrollable societal and environmental setting.

We’ve characterized this as Health is the New Wealth. Yet this development has not translated fully to pet food.

Pet lifestyle is a real thing. We believe there are ample numbers of households that operate daily around the pet-to-parent dynamic. A consumer insight-savvy brand could embrace a lifestyle platform that rises over the ubiquitous discussion of human-grade proteins and fresh vegetables ingredient trope. It would be a ‘zig’ to emerge above the endless chatter about real meat, chicken or fish and tag the emotional equation of what higher quality pet food is intended to do: The quality of the food provided is the ultimate expression of love for furry family members.

Addressing and leveraging consumer lifestyle affords a much deeper conversation on topics more relevant and resonant to the pet food buyer than food science and dietary claims. It’s also inherently an emotional construct, key to engagement and message impact.

Pandemic and purpose-based brand building

COVID-19 has operated to refocus people on their beliefs, purpose and societal values that contribute tangibly to the greater good. These considerations are influencing brand preference and purchase. Up to this point organic ingredients haven’t been widely employed outside of a handful of pet brands. The word sustainability continues in some respects as a form of check-the-box afterthought invoked like a Whole30 label certification.

Organic is really about farming methods more friendly to the environment and less damaging to our climate. Sustainability, likewise, can be viewed optically as regenerative agriculture practices that if widely adopted could help turn farmland into the world’s largest carbon sink.

These ideas can be repackaged as a move to address carbon footprint, playing a decisive role in managing the existential threat of climate change on our future wellbeing. Could this become an embedded mission for a pet food brand? We think so. Pet food is a very big user of feedlot meat and agricultural ingredients that in a larger sense of their production are among the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas on the planet.

  • Carbon footprint is starting to show up now on select human food labels. We believe this is the start of a major trend. It will be interesting to see how it translates in pet food marketing.

Whether it’s channel and business model differentiation, a switch to lifestyle marketing and communication, or embracing a mission around climate change, each of these ideas represents a potential new tool in the standard go-to-market toolbox.  Concepts that were popularized in recent years by premiumization of the pet food business and the dawn of popular grain-free formulation claims.

The latter became a herd-like move. We observed most premium brands quickly shifting to emphasize the ancestral diet blueprint.

  • Yet this becomes the very reason to consider a strategic move towards greater differentiation not less. If supporting high buyer value – moving past common ingredient stories – makes your competition less relevant wouldn’t you seriously consider it?

We know this is hard. It feels risky. It sounds like bucking category norms. Will the consumer react well to it? Of note, consumer interest is a testable proposition. In what is mostly a sea of sameness, clear observable brand distinction can be a highly prized and leverageable asset.

If exploring new thinking and fresh ideas sounds like a good conversation to have, we welcome the opportunity to think with you. Use this link to open what could be a very interesting and rewarding conversation.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

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.

Consumers work to avoid risk in all of their purchase decisions

Marketing Effectiveness Depends on Respect for Human Behavior

August 20th, 2020 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Marketing Strategy, Retail brand building, Social media, Transparency 0 comments on “Marketing Effectiveness Depends on Respect for Human Behavior”

Three ways to overcome marketing’s biggest challenge: risk avoidance

For many years marketing communication was not sufficiently informed by behavioral psychology and a deep understanding of how humans prefer one product or retailer over another. Brand campaigns were hit and miss, sometimes landing on the right note or idea and in other instances failing to create any real engagement. Do you know with 100 percent confidence if your brand communication is wired properly for human effectiveness? Read on.

What lies at the foundation of disconnects and misfires?

Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of my former employer Ogilvy & Mather said it best in his precedent-setting book on the subject, Alchemy: “It is thinking without thinking that we are thinking.” Every human is hardwired to dodge perceived risk. Our purchase behaviors are 100 percent driven by trying to avoid making a bad decision. As Sutherland describes so accurately, “a 1 percent chance of nightmare dwarfs a 99 percent chance of a 5 percent gain.”

And perhaps most important, it is the sub-conscious side of the human brain that informs these decisions and actions, not the rational and learning side that is frankly, lazy, and defaults to the far smarter area of the brain that is operating at greater capacity below our conscious awareness.

More than a few brand minders think marketing effectiveness is resolved by providing logical, fact-based evidence and arguments for why a product or service is the best choice. It is, afterall, a convenient way to answer the company desire to self-promote new innovations and technologies.  Yet again, humanity steps in to deny those assumptions for the very reason people are not analytical, fact-driven decision-making machines. Complicated messaging that taxes the consumer brain remains an unwitting invitation to tuning out entirely. This kind of outreach is directed to the learning area of our mind that reflexively seeks to avoid burning mental calories and, thus, simply ignores it.

  • Imagine for a moment if you could fully dial in the psychological keys to engagement and position your marketing communication correctly to respect what we now know about how people behave and will continue to behave until the end of time.

So powerful is the motivation to avoid unpleasant surprises that people resort to a variety of risk-mitigating behaviors on the path to purchase.

The Power of Uncertainty

At this point you may observe in stark relief why it is so important to access the knowledge and skills of strategic and creative craftspeople to build your brand story. Ironically the logical, rational argument is often the least effective. Powerful communication does not always follow the linear path of a + b = c. While Emergent might describe itself as a marketing communications firm, in reality we are Behavioral Messaging Architects.

  • Wine tastes better when poured from a heavier bottle.
  • Pain relievers are more effective when people believe they are expensive.
  • Anything in scarce supply immediately becomes more desirable.

We live in an uncertain world. At any given time there is limited trustworthy information available to people. Yet consumers crave the illusion of certainty and so are uniquely drawn to signals of honest intent. This works effectively because it lowers the chance of a purchase decision being disappointing.

Humans are famous for claiming to be rational thinkers when in reality their actions and decisions are influenced through perceptions, emotional cues, and visual signals of trust and integrity. In our daily vigil to avoid unpleasant surprises people resort to cues that help resolve their requirement for certainty.

  • The real function of earned media strategy is risk mitigation. When products are vetted in credible examination by third-parties, people believe the claims are verified through an independent source. Not so much the words as the source, context and environment in which the words appear.
  • Even more important is social proof and word of mouth for the very reason that people believe other people before they accept the assertions and claims made by a business. More on this later.
  • Wisdom of crowds is simply that. If a product is perceived to be popular and used satisfactorily by many then likely it won’t be terrible.

Why has transparency surged as a viable path to better brand relationships? Because at its core, the act of being transparent is a demonstrable, visible move to embrace honesty and thus remove risk. Transparency has real leverage attached to it because it helps solve the uncertainty faced by consumers each and every day.

We did this to great effect for Champion Petfoods (makers of Orijen and ACANA brands), creating the pet food industry’s first Transparency Council as a platform to build independent assessments of truth and honesty about how Champion made their pet food and sourced their ingredients. Important here was the symbolism and trust signal created by the Council’s very existence and a regular calendar of content produced that leaned heavily into validating through observation what Champion promises. It was a bold move at the right time.

Overcoming DNA-embedded risk avoidance

If risk perception stands between your brand and its future growth prospects, it only makes sense to work hard at mitigating it. It’s important to note here that rational arguments aren’t going to succeed. Signals of honest intent and credible voices however can be enormously effective.

Let’s begin by unwrapping the two secrets to effective messaging:

First, people do not buy things, they purchase meaning and context. What are you giving them that imbues your brand with a higher purpose and thus a purchase takes on greater meaning as a visible symbol of their values and beliefs?

Second, the hero of your storytelling isn’t the brand. It is the consumer; their wants, needs, passions, concerns and desires, with the brand positioned as coach and expert advisor on their life journey. Don’t compete with the consumer for the hero role! Said another way, talk about them more than yourself.

Three ways to overcome risk

1. Perhaps most important is understanding the end goal is cultivating trustworthiness. How can your company and brand humanize itself and mirror the very best qualities people look for in those they implicitly trust?

Those qualities include:

Empathy

Care

Responsiveness

Unselfishness

Openness

Truthfulness

Being strong enough to admit mistakes

Actions speak much louder than words, so the question here is how does the company operationalize and behave in a manner that respects these principles and assures they are held in high regard by employees.

2. Enlisting the voices of outside, independent, objective observers and experts to validate your promises and claims. This may sound like an analytical approach, but the devil is in the details of how this is done. The symbolism of allowing others to report is a significant move. What is reported on matters – your responsiveness, humanity, caring, truth-telling and unselfish acts are far more persuasive than your technology, recipe, formulation and production prowess.

Embedding a higher purpose in how the company operates and its reason for being will go a long way to informing this approach fully and successfully. You can read about Harnessing the Power of Purpose in greater detail here.

3.  Social proof and user-generated content (UGC) are the twin social media strategies that work to take risk out and replace it with believable evidence of performance and satisfaction. Trust in brands and corporations have been in decline for years.

This is why social channel strategy and encouraging user-generated content is so vital on the path to risk abatement. The honest, unscripted accounts of experiences and outcomes from real people are testament to what you want others to believe about the benefits of using your product or shopping your store.

When Emergent goes to work on creating a messaging platform for a client brand, we focus on purpose, cause, context, deeper meaning, emotion and effect. We look for visual signals that flag honest intent for the very reason we know these characteristics and words are more powerful than fact-based stories.

It is difficult to accept that humans are not rational and logical players in your marketplace. However, once this is understood and embraced, a whole new world of repeatable effectiveness is ushered into the marketing plan for the very reason it is built on real respect for the human we wish to serve.

If you would like to discuss in greater detail how this applies to your brand or store, use this link and let’s start a conversation.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

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.

Jump to change

When Your Marketing Acquires Greater Meaning, Big Things Happen

February 20th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, storytelling, Transparency 0 comments on “When Your Marketing Acquires Greater Meaning, Big Things Happen”

Create a movement or sell features and benefits?

Consumers are masters now of recognizing traditional marketing tactics and opting out to avoid communication that comes across as self-promotional. On the flip side, brands that position themselves as enablers and expert guides on what’s important to consumers are finding an open path to consumer engagement and conversation.

We know the latter can be difficult to accomplish.

It’s hard to step away from the reflex to self-promote.

However, we also know you care deeply about effectiveness and outcomes.

Understanding the difference between the two pathways (self-promotion vs. enabler communication) is vital to making marketing investments payoff – it’s the difference between creating marketing people want rather than ignore. The path to brand relevance now requires a more enlightened and human approach to how the brand and business is presented.

In an ad industry trade story authored by R/GA agency CEO Bob Greenberg that influenced Emergent’s point of view about marketing best practices, he said the definition of a big idea is one that you can immediately and intuitively see how it will impact the behavior of a company and brand.

A big idea was NOT defined as a catchy slogan or a clever ad or promotion, rather a platform that would have bearing on how the company conducts its business and how the brand behaves in the marketplace. Here we are in 2020 with an elevated idea of what that concept means today.

  • If the purpose of the business is simply to uptick the number of transactions year on year, and the role of marketing is to feed the sales funnel in that endeavor, what are we potentially leaving on the table?

A few years ago, Emergent and insight research firm Fresh Squeezed Ideas, conducted a webinar on the value of businesses working to define their unique Higher Purpose. The premise of this concept is relatively simple: people want to be a part of something that’s greater than themselves. The goal here, to imbue the brand with deeper meaning and by doing so reframe its value proposition while inspiring people to “join” the brand as believers not just buyers.

Beyond Meat says it wants to change how people eat while taking better care of our natural resources. This is different than selling reformulated vegan burgers. The opportunity here is significant when rethinking the mission and purpose of the business, and in doing so creating a more powerful narrative that will draw consumers towards the brand.

Large cap legacy food and beverage businesses struggle now in part because it’s harder to inject an established business platform with soul-like thinking. It’s a cultural transformation that has to start at the very top if it’s to have a prayer of altering the course of a larger enterprise.

Higher purpose is not reserved only for new and emerging brands. In fact, we’ve been surprised of late at the number of new food and beverage businesses that are stuck in the feature/benefit promotional cycle and have not developed any form of mission and purpose that could recast how consumers perceive them beyond a cleaner label.

So we ask: what can galvanize an organization to stretch itself and its brand persona beyond the daily battle for transactions?

Marketing magic is no longer reserved for the clever ad theme or artistic copy point. The old tools don’t work like they used to because the consumer isn’t listening and has the ability to avoid it entirely. People hunger for more honest, authentic connections to the brands that matter to them.

Yeti coolers is an iconic example of a brand that said, “no we are not in the better cooler business.” Instead they are enablers of outdoor adventure, tapping into a deep yearning people have for the experiences and lifestyle aspirations around fishing and hunting.

As a marketer what would you rather do? What kind of conversation do you want to build?

Apple created a way to remove intimidation from computer technology and provide a pathway for creative people to express themselves. The focus isn’t on the machine or its technology but on the aspirational desires and interests people have to make a difference in the world around them.

Reflexively, traditional thinking says the brand marketing should be waxing on about the product and its features. However, this injects the message with a disconnect. Instead, for greater communication effectiveness, the consumer must be the hero of the storytelling with the brand positioned as guide and enabler.

The question we often get is, how do you conduct discovery on what the right higher purpose should be?

Emergent’s Brand Sustainability Analysis is intended to help arrive at the right purpose framework that reflects the unique DNA of the company. The process, however, begins with insight to the consumer’s lifestyle interests, passions, concerns, challenges, wants and needs.

That understanding then aligned with the company’s capabilities, beliefs and strengths helps lead us to a purpose that clarifies the business mission and informs marketing and messaging strategies.

Transparency for example can be viewed as an on-trend tactic. At a more strategic level it can solve three problems: first, to provide visibility to the supply chain. Second, to create consumer confidence in the quality and origin of ingredients used in products. Third, and at a more existential level, it is about embracing truth and honesty – two human characteristics people are naturally drawn to in an era of half-truths and missteps.

Honest Tea made honesty a hallmark of its mission and reason to be. The company ran an honesty gut-check through every aspect of how it conducted itself, how it presented the product and behaved in the marketplace. You may already know the success achieved there; the reframing of the RTD tea category they created and the multiples they reaped on sale of the business to Coca-Cola.

Example questions we explore:

  1. What journey is our consumer on and what can the brand help enable to improve their lives?
  2. What cultural shift or concern is important to users and how can we get involved?
  3. What do we believe as an organization and how can we operate to support a more purposeful mission?

When the brand acquires a Higher Purpose, it reframes the conversation with consumers, it enables storytelling opportunities that will draw consumers into considering or learning more about the brand. The business is no longer wed to aggregating eyeballs and attempting to win on the tonnage of media spend.

The impact on employees can be dramatic, too – the team also wants to be part of something greater than themselves and the organization can rally around the mission with amped up drive, power and commitment to the greater good.

Genuinely helping improve your customers’ lives is a satisfying calling, and this corporate form of reciprocity will attract rather than repel people from your marketing investments.

This is the path to sustainable growth and progress.

If you would like to know more about Emergent’s Brand Sustainability Analysis, 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. 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.

Taking Truth to the Bank

January 6th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, change, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Insight, Transformation, Transparency, Validation 0 comments on “Taking Truth to the Bank”

Transforming business outcomes through transparency

How can we make marketing most effective?

Here’s a story about how an investment in transparency can make a big difference in consumer engagement and business outcomes.

Imagine a pet parent in a pet store looking for the right food to buy for their beloved dog or cat. Unlike human food where you can see if the steak is fresh and well-marbled or squeeze the tomato to determine if it’s ripe, pet food presents a bag of curious brown nuggets where the label becomes the lesson. Yet how do people truly know what’s inside the bag after trying to decipher the label jargon? Facts are you don’t. It’s a leap of faith.

Simply stated, consumers have questions burning inside of them. If we don’t answer them a disconnect occurs.

Why? The world we now live in is a skeptical place. People require trust and belief about the brands they care about but find it hard to secure when confronted almost daily in the media with half-truths, omissions, deceit and integrity challenges.

In this uncertain environment marketers want their messages to be seen, heard and acted upon. However, consumers routinely tune out and ignore many of those investments, in part because the messaging fails to connect in a meaningful and credible way. A dilemma we’re about to solve through applying deeper meaning…

Nowhere can we see this credibility challenge in greater relief than the pet food industry, a super high involvement category for pet parents, where the product form provides no visual cue about what’s inside or proof of ingredient quality. Yes, the label lists ingredient categories, but nothing to truly verify if the meat, for example, was fresh or raw and where it came from rather than the more common powdered (lower grade) version.

You already know that pets are revered, doted over family members. The most direct way to express the love we have for our furry companions is to provide the very best nutrition we can afford, given food is connected to pet health, wellness and happiness. People genuinely care about pet food, so how can we reward this significant level of interest and concern about diet quality? Please note, this concern is just as valid in human food categories.

Ironically, the vast majority of marketing communication in the pet food business suffers with sameness. From brand to brand, claims are made about percentages of high protein and meat use because dogs and cats are carnivores and their ‘ancestral diet’ leans heavily on prodigious amounts of these ingredients. It remains nonetheless an assertion, requiring trust that the brown nugget is made from the claimed fresh chicken. Incidentally sameness is a blur and lacks distinctiveness fueled with memorability, essential for marketing effectiveness.

Being overtly clever these days doesn’t really help because consumers work to avoid anything that walks or talks like shameless self-promotion.

Champion Petfoods and the industry’s first move to authentic transparency

Champion, in fact, makes some of the highest quality pet food in the business in their ORIJEN and ACANA brands. Yet this remains a claim, requiring said leap of faith for acceptance.

Trust is essential these days to business growth. But periodic recalls and product liability litigation du jour in the pet food business can dilute confidence. For the most part, pet owners feed their pets and “hope” all is well because the bowl is emptied, and Fido wags his tail.

Emergent and Champion wanted to leap over the category-wide skepticism and find a better path to consumer connection based on the pet parents’ keen interests. Champion has long-standing partnerships with regional farms, ranches and fisheries to supply their two kitchens in Alberta, Canada and Auburn, Kentucky. This essential truth could be brought to life and so we created the Champion Transparency Council with a team of outside third parties, including Veterinary physicians and real-world pet parents.

It was an industry first and required the company to be transparent in every way about ingredient sourcing and all aspects of product creation. The Council members were given complete access to the kitchen from loading dock to packaging line and also witnessed every aspect of how food is made. Additionally, they visited the farms, ranches and fish suppliers to see where the ingredients like fresh Bison and Catfish were sourced.

They were hands on with the fish later to appear in a bag of pet food.

Emergent helped build a multi-channel communications platform around The Council members’ experiences and independent reports. The Council participated in media interviews, ads were developed, reports were distributed through social media channels, and web pages established as a home base for their content. The Council members’ reports were personal, emotive and filled with examples of their own life experiences with their pets as well as what they saw, learned and experienced in Champion’s kitchens and supplier activities.

This program by the way, was Champion’s first engagement with an outside agency partner and so the entire program was built on a modest budget where every dollar spent needed to work like 10.

The bottom line – The Transparency Council effort made heroes of partner farmers and told stories through the authentic, credible voices of pet parents and Vets. As a pet business first, Champion’s visibility in the industry media went from near zero to a standout share of voice leader.

Most importantly, the Transparency Council verified and validated what Champion claims about their food and provided the evidence to earn trust and belief about pet diet quality among pet parents, distributors and key stakeholders. This coincided with the company’s successful move into Petco and helped the business retain the confidence of its large community of independent pet retailers.

Transparency proved the point. It helps people get to trust because the character of the communication is honest and trustworthy.

The secret sauce of this effort is the nuance and attention to detail required: from how the Council is constructed and managed to how the communication was presented, the messaging that was emphasized and timing of its distribution. Expertise as you can imagine is required.

Transparency can be a strategic lever to enhanced marketing outcomes

These days people want to know more about the foods and beverages they ingest. They care about the quality of ingredients used and want to know the backstory on where ingredients came from and the standards employed to ensure freshness, quality and safety.

The number one concern for consumers is health and wellness. This is served through the quality of the food and beverage they buy. This helps us understand why the food and beverage industry is being turned upside down in the quest for products with cleaner, simpler ingredients and responsible sourcing.

More often than not, opportunities are missed by many brands because the product creation story isn’t fully realized. Marketers want people to believe what’s claimed.

Trust must be earned and transparency is a trust engine. When correctly deployed it works to humanize the brand voice and build a deeper and more valued connection.

What’s your dormant transparency story?

How can you distinguish your brand as the one deserving of trust among your competitive set?

Emergent can help you discover how to leverage these insights for improved communications effectiveness and consumer engagement.

Let’s 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.

Learn the Five Anchors of Authenticity

December 11th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Growth, Higher Purpose, storytelling, Transparency, Validation 0 comments on “Learn the Five Anchors of Authenticity”

A required course on the path to business growth

Yes, the word authenticity may have reached cliché status given its pervasive use as a shorthand explanation of what drives best practices today in brand building. However, truth is, sea changes in consumer culture and resulting purchase behaviors foretell how vital authenticity is to create meaningful relationships between brands and their users.

  • Yet too many companies fail to make authenticity a core platform in their marketing plans, missing the opportunity for real engagement and connection they require to advance the business.

Like moving away from highly processed cheese food (fake) in favor of real natural cheese (genuine), authenticity has much to do with the yearning for belief, higher quality and a better, more meaningful and relate-able story.

This age of authenticity is fueled by a fundamental rule: consumer-centric thinking and planning is a prerequisite. In practice, this means that an organization’s –

Every decision

Every strategy

Every tactic

Every investment

must build from a continuous study and acutely deep understanding of the consumer’s needs, wants and aspirations. The consumer should sit at the heart of the business. All strategic moves emanate from insight about their concerns and interests.

“Customer first” is a long-standing axiom of the retail industry, but as obvious as it may sound, most companies live in a perpetual state of brand narcissism. Company operational and marketing behaviors reveal it’s actually all about “us” – our product features, our benefits, our new formulas, our processes sitting in service of company business objectives.

  • Today however, success springs from becoming an enabler, partner and guide on the consumer’s journey, seeking alignment with their needs and becoming a helpful resource as they work to create a better and more meaningful life.

In the absence of this sensibility, it’s no wonder that engagement with traditional marketing – that’s more often a one-way selling monologue  – is rejected by consumers as irrelevant to them at best – annoying to them at worst.

Authenticity and curating a trusted consumer relationship

The core essence of what authentic means always springs from a less commercial and transactional view of the relationship between seller and buyer. There is a latent suspicion among most people that old-school marketing is really selling, and selling is a form of self-serving persuasion. Buyer beware.

The irony of all this is how human beings are wired to respond to messages. When the consumer is the hero of your story and the brand serves as guide to an improved life, engagement can be achieved. In the absence of this, messaging is primarily noise and ignored.

Thus, if an organization’s objective is assurance their marketing investments will secure traction and work in service of the brand’s growth, it is vital that authenticity is embraced and embedded into how the brand operates and communicates.

The future success of the business depends on it.

Here are the five anchors of authenticity that help drive consumer engagement and brand growth:

  1. Truth

Consumers are faced daily with evidence of misleading information, headlines heralding lapses in judgement and integrity; and stories of businesses operating in their own self-interest at the expense of consumer trust and confidence. An example: recently The Honest Company was outed on their absence of honesty over chemical ingredients they vowed would never be present in their products. Lawsuits have already begun. Consumers demand the truth and truth is neither conditional nor can it be diluted or violated without serious consequences.

  1. Transparency

Truth’s big sister, transparency is how trust is earned. When the curtain is raised and the door is opened to outside scrutiny of all aspects of the product creation process, the opportunity is there to engender trust. “Come see for yourselves that our words do not ring hollow, and that we indeed deliver on the promises we make. Go on, take a look – we have nothing to hide.” In the absence of trust people look for evidence they can believe in.

  1. Relevance

Who is the hero of the story told in your marketing? It’s not the brand. The customer must be the hero; their aspirations, wants and needs take precedence. When consumers see themselves in the story, they pay attention. Everything else is static. Relevance is the acid test of authenticity. It is the center of a less selfish view of the brand/user relationship. The story is always about them, and the brand’s role is Yoda (the expert guide) to Luke Skywalker.

  1. Directness

Consumers can smell traditional marketing a mile away. When the conversation is one-sided and filled with self-promotion and hyperbole, the opportunity for a frank and direct conversation is lost. Consumers run in the opposite direction because the story is no longer about them. Directness is an attribute of a trusted guide and resource. A real conversation set on how the brand solves the problems people face is direct and honest and open.

  1. Validation

In the end, consumers want to believe – but belief must be earned before trust is achieved. People no longer accept assertions and claims at face value. They look for validation of what a brand conveys from sources they respect and perceive to be honest and unbiased. This is the power of social proof and why the voices of real people talking about their experiences with the brand are so powerful. People believe their peers and outside experts before they believe what the brand itself is saying.

Have you noticed a consistent theme in here?

Trust is required for any relationship to exist and it’s hard to earn and easy to lose. The future of marketing is less about entertainment, persuasion and artifice and more about conversation and openness. The goal of every brand is to be an accepted partner on the journey to an improved, happier and healthier life.

When the brand is authentic and honest, we open the door to reciprocity. It just makes sense to put the consumer at the center of strategic planning. Once there, this insight and understanding fuels effective strategy and helps brands avoid wasting money on marketing that doesn’t connect.

Emergent has a defined process to build messaging based on these principles: an approach that eliminates guesswork and serves to draw the consumer in because they are always at the center of the story.

Can we help you build the right story? Let us know if you’d like to learn more about our unique approach to effective messaging.

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.

Archives

Categories