Similar brand strategies lead to undifferentiated communication
Nowhere do we find the unrelenting challenge of sameness operating in full relief more often than the pet food business. No matter what product or retail category you are in, the requirement for message uniqueness and differentiation has never been higher. Here’s how to disrupt the pattern of sameness that follows brands around like a virus.
The good news: The pet food industry is expanding, fueled in part by the dramatic growth of pet owning households, now forecasted to reach 71 million in the U.S. by the close of 2020. Despite economic climate challenges, runaway joblessness and the vagaries of changing shopping behaviors spawned by the pandemic, pet business trends continue on an upward trajectory. The pandemic has served as a catalyst for elevating the pet value proposition. We need our furry companions now more than ever.
The tougher news: Yet despite this picture of continued potential prosperity that floats all premium pet brand boats, the competitive players seem to be held captive in a repetitive messaging loop that confronts pet parents trying to navigate the store aisles. Everywhere their eyes scan, the sea of storytelling sameness stares back, defeating opportunities to connect on an emotional level.
- What marketing medicine is required to get pet brands to stop and reconsider the path to engagement? To step beyond, above and outside their tendency to reinforce similar tropes about formulation integrity, while intractably married to the protein percentage wars, and accented by assertions of nutritional superiority or human grade ingredient quality.
Everyone believes they make the best food. Indeed, many brands now have upgraded the quality of their ingredient sourcing and formulation techniques, to offer truly nutritionally- dense solutions. But does the pet parent make decisions on the cold analysis of facts and figures? The answer is no they don’t.
Here’s what we know:
- People run in the opposite direction, away from complicated brain taxing messaging that would require them to study and consider elaborate details of pet nutrition.
- Human beings are feeling creatures who think and not thinking creatures who feel. It is heart- over-head, always.
- Trust is an issue in pet food driven in part by the elaborate claims of human quality food ingredients magically encapsulated in a small brown nugget known as kibble. It looks industrial to start with.
The quite natural conclusion of most pet marketing plans is focusing inwardly on all the reasons why brand X pet food is better than brands Y or Z. The incredible efforts undertaken by companies to make a high-quality product IS the story, correct?
The challenging outcome of this thinking is a recipe for similar statements and claims that operate in conflict with the fundamental requirement for brand uniqueness and differentiation. Hence the sea of sameness.
How to break the cycle of sameness.
What does the pet parent care about? Their pet. The incredible emotional bond that sits between them is unshakeable and demonstrable and visceral and real. What is pet food? It is the instrument of expressing love and care for their pet’s wellbeing and healthy longevity. Why? Because they have connected the dots between the quality of what they themselves eat and their quality of life, a point of view that translates over in a nano-second to their beliefs about pet wellness.
We know it’s really tough to refocus marketing on the pet parent and their lifestyle aspirations ahead of what’s going on in the formulation, the manufacturing and the supply of high-quality food ingredients. Yet the enemy in here is the very sameness this encourages.
- When you can walk through the store aisles and literally transfer packaging statements from one brand to the next one over, and it remains essentially valid, you know the playing field is going to be murky for the consumer. Maybe even confusing.
Breaking the cycle requires putting pet parents at the center of planning and working backwards from there. It is the focus on them, their lives, interests and relationship with their pet where all the alchemy of marketing magic happens.
Great marketing isn’t logical and linear. It is better when the plan embraces the idea that humans are emotional and often irrational, driven by whims and the perceived wisdom of crowds.
Love in a bowl.
That’s right, love. You aren’t selling pet food or de-boned chicken or 38% protein. You are selling the means to express the great love people have for their pet. Emotional communication occurs when storytelling and images and focus are on the pet parent ahead of the product. Holding up a mirror on what they believe: “I’m spending more on pet food because I care deeply about the health and wellbeing of my four-legged family member.”
So celebrate the bond, the moments of happiness, the relationship, the companionship, the emotional connections and experiences of a life lived alongside furry children. In this way the pet parent immediately becomes the hero of brand storytelling, and in doing so the communication achieves its goal of being wanted and engaging.
Talk about the stories of your customer’s pet lifestyle experiences, triumph over health challenges, and the miraculous emotional connections people have received during one of the most uncertain periods in human history. When your marketing voice is a reflection of real world experiences and the value pet parents experience with their pets, your brand becomes a partner with them on their journey to a more fulfilling life with their pet companion.
- This is how brand relationships are formed and fed. All of a sudden it matters less to communication effectiveness when protein percentages vary slightly brand to brand. You are no longer chained to specsmanship. You have successfully disrupted the sea of sameness.
Should this kind of thinking inspire you to consider fresh ideas and approaches, please use this link and let’s start a conversation.
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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 [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.