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Advocacy: The Path to Building Pet Brand Trust, Answering the Need for Validation of Truth

By Robert Wheatley//July 1, 2024//

Advocacy: The Path to Building Pet Brand Trust, Answering the Need for Validation of Truth

By: Robert Wheatley//July 1, 2024//

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The top barrier to business growth faced by all pet brands is a characteristic hardwired into how humans operate on the path to purchase: Risk avoidance or fear of making a bad decision. It is pervasive and presents the most challenging obstacle brands must address to secure a lasting customer relationship. Yet this rarely finds its way into brand marketing strategies and plans.

Here we examine the unique approach to mitigating risk, employing advocacy as a key solution to earn trust, and stepping beyond any lingering perceptions of uncertainty.

To help illustrate how all of this fits together, let’s summarize the four most pressing marketplace challenges in pet brand building:

  1. High competition, high noise

The barriers to entry in pet food are relatively low – and given the consistent year-on-year category growth track record, the business has exploded in a proliferation of brands competing for share of mind and wallet in every segment. Thus, also unleashing a noisy, murky and confusing shopping environment. Risk avoidance operates to keep people anchored to habitual repeat purchases and less willing to try new products except when motivated to answer a pet’s specific health challenge.


  1. High emotional involvement is underleveraged

Premium pet food is among the highest consumer involvement product categories of all time. Yet the pet-to-pet-parent bond remains dramatically undernourished, displaced by analytical arguments around protein percentages and ingredient standards. The dynamic marketing opportunity to fully leverage the emotive and lifestyle relationship opportunities so rich in this category often take a back seat to fact-based brand narratives.


  1. Sameness abounds – differentiation is thin

Pet food operates with profound levels of similarity in recipes, ingredients, product forms, packaging and brand storytelling. The consumer is presented with slim distinctions and parallel claims of nutritional efficacy from brand to brand. Given the ubiquitous format of a can, pouch or brown nugget, the requirement for radical brand differentiation remains paramount.


  1. Retail shopping experience is a sea of bags, boxes and cans

It’s truly difficult for the consumer-as-shopper to make choices when the products are so similar to each other save a brand name on the mostly complex, word-dense packaging. This elevates the importance of:

  • Independent retail floor sales team recommendations
  • Reaching consumers before they get to the store
  • Leveraging the emotional equity between consumer and pet
  • Using tools to build separation and brand distinctiveness


In answer to these four challenges, the most important strategic principle in pet food marketing is trust creation

Consumers see most category “hard sell” brand outreach as transactional, self-serving and occasionally manipulative – feeding the perception of risk.

As a result, trust is vital to closing the loop with consumers and will precede a decision to buy. Everything the brand does, conveys can be fine-tuned to help earn trust.

Important to understand that trust cannot be claimed or invoked, although many pet food brands do this believing the consumer will accept it on face value. Only existing customers will buy into the assertion, based on their own experience, beliefs and the hardwired lean towards cognitive bias.


Advocacy – a differentiating path to trust

Advocacy is an effective way to inject your brand with truth serum. Properly designed it can lead to credibility, validation and verification of what your brand wants people to believe.

Who are the advocates people listen to and respect ?

  • Outside third-party pet nutrition experts, academics and veterinary physicians
  • Imprimatur of respected pet industry associations
  • Editorial media reporting, reviewing and assessment
  • Pet parent reviews, social content and opinions


Activating Advocacy in brand communication

  1. Deploying content, especially in video form, from outside third-party subject matter experts
  2. “Medium is the message” – credible channels such as social community activation and earned
  3. Activating word of mouth – the most credible form of communication available
  4. Employees – the most overlooked cohort for advocacy support


One final thing to consider…

Emotion is the most powerful motivator in the brand communication toolbox

Pet food marketing is rife with an embedded assumption that humans are rational, fact-based decision-making machines. Rather, all actions and decisions are controlled by the sub-conscious and that part of the brain is influenced by emotion. People are feeling creatures who think and not the other way round. Embed emotional communication in your arsenal of outreach programs to help drive consumer decisions and actions, and begin to engage in ways that build trust to help reduce the perception of risk.


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.