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.
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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.