What’s the main difference that charts a course for base hit results vs. a clear home run? Said another way, what causes one pet care marketing effort to resonate strongly with its intended audience while another is ignored or stalls out?
In today’s digitally-driven marketplace, pet parents have become increasingly savvy users of media to navigate the content they want while ignoring or blocking everything else. Any investment in pet marketing will require the attention and participation of its intended audience. People are inspired by their beliefs and desires; it is an emotionally-driven category.
The humanization of pet food marketing, much like the dynamic of humanizing our pet parent relationships, is key to informing improved marketing strategies. As a result, this leads to stronger engagement and traction for pet food brand marketing investments.
More specifically, we know from behavioral research there are common cues and conditions that cause people to engage, to listen and to act. If properly considered in the design of marketing strategies, outreach tactics and experiences, we can vastly increase the odds that a genuine relationship will unfold.
In the age of consumer control, there are three core ingredients of pet care brand growth that offer a better path: connection, relationship and trust. Six strategies serve these core ingredients and pay homage to consumer behavior:
1. Social proof
People are drawn to prefer products that other people like and endorse. This is the main component of optimizing the value and outcomes of social media strategy. Reviews are one of the most powerful assets a brand can deploy. Further, the extent to which people perceive a brand to be gaining in popularity performs another form of validation: proof that it’s effective, safe and correctly represented.
2. Exposure effect
Repeated exposure to pet care brand communication breeds familiarity and helps set a path toward securing trust – the primary component of the consumer/brand relationship. Shorter term investments (that often ladder up to a “launch and leave” effort) are far less effective than those delivering a steady, consistent drumbeat of communication across multiple digital, social and retail channels. Messaging and content that’s useful and valuable to the consumer will engage, while self-reverential, product-centric selling will only alienate the audience.
The lynchpin to successful engagement begins with putting the consumers’ lifestyle interests and needs at the center of outreach strategies. The more we can do to help pet parents and enable their pet-centric lifestyle, the more likely they are to reciprocate. Additionally, behavioral studies have shown that when generous acts, unexpected gifts and unique offers are made, it triggers a natural, almost immediate reaction to return the favor.
4. Similarity and alignment
Truth is, we are drawn to brands and people who are similar to us – who share our values, interests and beliefs. This understanding fosters deeper connection and affinity. Thus, it is mission critical to study the lifestyle needs, wants, desires and concerns of core customers. Social media community-building is essential to create a forum for (and of) like-minded pet owners to share their stories and co-create content.
People connect with people, not companies. Video is a great tool for this purpose. Bring to life “the real people” stories of founders, pet nutrition experts, ingredient suppliers, cause partners and other humans involved in what you do. Do your leaders have a presence on your website? Do your managers across the organization have a voice and the opportunity to publish in content marketing programs? Have you told the stories of your ingredient suppliers – all the way back to the farm?
6. “Help-over-Hype” drives sharing
It may sound counterintuitive, but the path to marketing success is paved not by making your products the hero of your stories, but rather the consumer you wish to reach. It is how we help enable their interests and wishes that we gain their trust and involvement. Providing useful and helpful content is the secret to engagement – and to sharing the content you create. Pet parents are sponges, looking for information on behavior, health, recreation and dietary needs along the continuum of their pets’ journey from puppy to senior. Genuinely useful material and guidance, done in an entertaining way gets shared.
The tendency to focus on ingredient superiority or formulation distinctions is epidemic in pet care. As a result, it is less differentiating because the specsmanship approach can become confusing to pet parents. Experts with varying opinions argue the finer points of dietary percentages, nutritional contribution from various ingredients, while claims related to protein sourcing start to sound similar brand to brand.
The old saying ‘the brand that gets closest to the customer wins’ couldn’t be more true. The emotional bonds and connections between pets and their parents offer better and more powerful territory for engagement.
Consumers don’t want to be sold. They want to feel good about the decision they made based on selecting a brand that has a better grasp of their concerns, needs and passions.
Pet care is part of a wellness-oriented lifestyle. It’s mutually beneficial on so many levels. This is great territory for creative exploration.
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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 [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.