Time to Humanize Pet Food Marketing

May 6th, 2015 Posted by Insight, Pet care, Pet food, Retail brand building, retail brand relevance 0 comments on “Time to Humanize Pet Food Marketing”

Pet Parent and Pets

Ever since 2007 when the pet food industry was upended by the revelation that one Canadian company was manufacturing more than 100 brands of pet diets, the entire market has morphed northward in a nutritional race to the top – along the way amplifying ingredient strategies and high quality whole food recipes.

By definition it’s a very good thing for pets. A higher quality diet usually equals a higher quality of life. Thus pet food organizations, especially those occupying the natural and organic shelves, have followed a steady drumbeat of emphasis on better proteins, grain free, raw diets, local or regionally sourced ingredients and the layering in of other supplements intended to enhance the pet’s quality of life.

In the process pet food marketing has achieved an astounding level of sameness, focused mostly on conveying nutrition factoids, ingredient deck info, protein percentages and the standards brands follow concerning such issues as China sourcing or food safety.

Marketing is the way we communicate how our products and ideas translate to value for consumers in a marketplace. So a great brand will never be just a mark emblazoned on a package – we’d rather join as members to the club.

Then we should consider are consumers analytical, fact centered decision-making machines?

The answer is decidedly no. We are first and foremost emotional creatures who buy with our hearts and not with our heads. We respond to brands more on how we feel about them than the percentage of ingredient A or B in brand-to-brand comparison. For that matter, the ubiquity of ingredient deck messaging among premium pet brands renders such assessment almost useless – the differences are nearly at parity.

Relevance matters though and if we’re paying close attention to the unique bond between pets and their owners we can see mining that deep connection provides a formula for better marketing, improved engagement, stronger relationships and ultimately sustainable growth in what has become a very crowded, noisy marketplace.

A better path: the brand that gets closest to the pet parent wins!

Making the highest quality diet possible is table stakes now. We believe that developing a real union with a pet parent must spring from understanding what THEY care about – their concerns, passions and interests. Qualitative insight research shows the bond centers on companionship and affection; and around shared experiences and social interaction. That includes other pet owners.

Action steps:

  • Can you enable social conversation and sharing of personal stories among pet parents?
  • Can you author experiences that enhance the relationship bond and provide opportunities for shared adventure?
  • Research now reveals that owning a pet improves human health – can you provide guidance and events that activate how pets contribute to a healthy lifestyle?
  • Can you take all the effort that you investment in the technology of your diet and humanize the backstory – such as:
    • Who makes the food; who is supervising the testing on animal response to the diet; who runs the ranch that produced the beef in your kibble?
  • For cause strategies – how do you help revitalize and renew shelter animal health and wellbeing – and what transformation stories can you tell past the act of donating to rescue facilities?

The principal at work here is – let’s work to humanize pet food marketing and communication. Your business is really a catalyst for celebration and inspiration of the experience, the bond, love, health, joy, community and relationship with pets. Or you can be in the kibble and can game – selling protein percentages, sweet potatoes and maybe tapioca.

I am reminded of Bernadette Jiwa’s now famous and powerful admonition: “Sell the music not the guitar.”


Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent Healthy Living. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for  higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

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