We’re in the thick of strategic planning season as brands finalize their go-to-market strategies for the year ahead. How do you ensure your plans will deliver the most benefit for every precious dollar invested? What are the optimal elements in a marketing plan that will secure pet parent and trade partner engagement? What are the must-have components to deliver on your business objectives?
Here we will examine the eight key elements of a marketing plan that remove risk and install trust – a must-have on the road to business success no matter what stakeholder audience you are working to influence.
Far too many marketing plans begin with declarations of business targets served up in a manner that implies it’s simply a matter of turning on the advertising faucet to deliver on the expressed outcomes. A richer and more productive internal discussion will occur if the objectives are included alongside an honest, real-world assessment of the barriers that exist to delivering them.
Mind you, there are always barriers. No one goes to market in a vacuum free of systemic challenges and threats to success. It is in this act of realism and reflection that the executive team has a useful discussion on what must be overcome in order to win in the year ahead. This works to remove what we characterize as “hopium” from the plan discussion and gets everyone focused on contributing to ways of mitigating or navigating around the threats.
Intentional or not, in pet care there is a fair amount of mimicking that occurs among brands matching competitor moves with similar programs, product offerings and messages. If a brand is set up from the start for radical differentiation, then the chances of stepping into the sameness trap can be averted. Sameness is an ongoing challenge in pet brand marketing. Communications plans often bear enough similarity that brands could literally interchange competitor names and the key messaging will still work.
Instead, competitive analysis should be focused on looking for unmet needs and whitespace opportunities to zig when everyone else in the segment zags. Your goal is to be different – very different, and in doing so, stand out in a sea of category sameness.
Perhaps the most important element of all in marketing planning is the right kind of research to help inform strategy. This isn’t about data crunching around demographics of shopper populations. Relevance and resonance are everything to dialing in your communications plan for optimum impact. This simply can’t be done without the kind of insight research that truly peels the onion on your best users’ lifestyle concerns, passions, interests and desires. You will get further by imbuing your brand with deeper meaning that reflects the values and beliefs of your heaviest users. To know them, literally, is to love them.
These cohorts are often the most important to your profit plan as they usually represent those who bring the highest volume and repeat purchase behaviors. The role of your brand is as coach, guide, educator and enabler on their pet lifestyle journey. You can’t do that without gaining insight into how they think, behave and what they care about. This is different than pushing analytical, fact-based messaging at them on formulation specs. It’s always heart-over-head. All humans are emotional creatures who think and not the other way around.
Trends are far more important than ever before to influencing consumer behaviors. Media influences the crowd and where the crowd of like-minded users goes will simply attract more and more ‘followers’ (this means the social conversation that’s going on matters to your strategic game plan). Right now, sustainability could not be more important as a culture change signal.
A large swath of the consuming public is enamored with sustainability behaviors, policies and standards created by brands to help mitigate their impact on carbon contributions and the environment. Pet food is a prime user of meat agriculture products, so this is an important imperative to work into your plans. Just be careful not to invoke sustainability as a priority ahead of having the right science-based assessments of your carbon footprint. You want to avoid falling into the greenwashing trap. Sustainability is now associated with climate impacts.
Purpose-built branding is not a nice to have any longer. It is a vital construct that sits underneath your organization as a true north of why the company exists. Important to note, Purpose is always created around a real human-relevant insight and not a corporate axiom like increasing shareholder returns. It has nothing to do with philanthropy and cause marketing. It has everything to do with a purpose that transcends the product offering and is married to how you improve your customers’ lives and the world around you.
Often, we find this key strategy that informs us everything the company and brand stands for is under-nourished or treated as a cause-related project – like supporting pet rescue operations. A higher purpose platform should be embedded in everything you do across the business.
The internet has fractured the consumer world into micro-communities of shared interests and passions. It is in these communities where people filter, find and decide what to buy. There are influencers within these communities who are important to discovery and trial, to establishing the definitions of what is better and why.
The marketing plan should include an evaluation of these micro-communities and the leading voices within them. Here your brand should engage as a contributor to the conversation. Relationships should be built with the leading voices, not to co-opt them but gain their trust.
Trust is now harder than ever to achieve. Consumers, 99.9999 percent of the time, are operating with one goal in mind – to avoid making a bad decision. Brands should engage the voices of outside experts and credible influencers to verify and validate what you want pet parents to believe about your brand, business and Higher Purpose. These voices can add a layer of credibility to your content marketing plans and pull in a note of authority to key messages you wish to convey.
How these relationships are created and deployed is key. Be careful not to position these people as brand promoters who come across like paid shills. They are there to validate, to deliver authentic “reports” on what you are doing. Trusted voices are essential to building belief, and trust is fundamental to your success.
These days it’s standard fare to embed your evaluations with digital data given its availability across all the social and content platforms where you deploy communications. Levels of perceived engagement are relatively easy to come by based on online behaviors. People, however, can also be fickle and unpredictable.
Creating a baseline of consumer insight research is invaluable not only to better understand what makes your users tick, but also to go back later to review and assess changes in attitudes and behaviors over time.
These evaluations carry more horsepower because it digs into shifts in attitude, interests and activity on the path to purchase and whether or not your key messaging is getting traction.
All of this great work feeds creativity and informs strategy. It can lead your business to leaps in share. New users will enter the fold because your brand truly stands out for all the right reasons in a business where many tend to blend together.
Robert Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Emergent can help pet brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity and deeper meaning in their pet parent relationships and brand communication.t