When it comes to business, you must gain your customers’ trust if you want your pet brand to prosper. That’s simply common sense. After all, a vast majority of consumers rate a pet brand’s trustworthiness as being an important factor in their purchasing decisions.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that losing the trust and loyalty of customers could be catastrophic for a pet brand’s chance at success. If pet parents don’t trust a company, they are unlikely to view it as an educational resource and will be highly skeptical of any statements made by the brand.
Engaging with consumers and building meaningful relationship with them ensures that customers will feel at ease with you and trust the sincerity of your brand even more. Pet parents are more likely to support a business if they’re confident that it will give them and their pets a quality product or service that will result in a long, happy and healthy life for the companion animals.
That said, building a trustworthy brand involves a lot of work. How exactly can a pet company gain its customers’ trust? We reached out to several pet brands to learn more about their thoughts on this topic, including how they create and build a relationship with consumers.
“I think the best way for a business to build consumer confidence is transparency,” said Rob Downey, Annamaet Petfoods president and CEO. “With pet parents being inundated with misinformation from all sides, it is imperative that you are available and easily accessible with accurate and truthful information. In the U.S., 95 percent of dog and cat owners now consider their pets to be an essential part of the family, like children. Owners are much more concerned with the health and well-being of their beloved pets, especially the quality of ingredients. This phenomenon, known as the humanization of pets, is growing worldwide…
“I think it is certainly a much better educated pet parent that has helped generate the growth here at Annamaet Petfoods for the last 36 years,” he added. “They appreciate our passion for pets that backed by real science. I am a companion animal nutritionist, we also have on staff a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and [combined] we have over 100 publications in peer-reviewed veterinary and nutrition journals. Having two nutritionists on staff provides a great checks-and-balance system for creating formulas that are on the cutting edge of nutritional research. When customers call our office, they get a real person on the phone and, oftentimes, I get a chance to talk to our customers and first-hand answer their nutrition questions.
“Pet parents also want the companies they support to have a social conscious,” Downey continued. “A recent study has shown that 72 percent of Americans consider the environment when shopping. Annamaet Petfoods’ commitment to green business practices, protecting our natural resources as well as our environment have been part of the fabric of our company since our beginning. We are proud of the work we have done with regards to sustainability, which includes degradable packaging, novel protein sources and sustainable ingredients.
“With our background in nutrition, one of the best ways we build consumer confidence is by way of the nutrition lectures we give worldwide,” he concluded. “This again gives us a chance to connect with consumers on a personal level, helping to gain their trust. We often do in-store talks to dedicated customers. When pet parents are willing to give up free time to hear about nutrition, you already know they care. These are a great way for pet owners to get to know us and our mission, allowing them to trust that we strive to provide the best nutrition possible. We will frequently do Zoom trainings as well, allowing us to talk to a larger and more varied group all at the same time. Most recently, I have started to speak on podcasts that run for about an hour to discuss various subjects surrounding canine nutrition.”
“Earning trust with consumers is tricky business, and there are no shortcuts in the process,” said Andrea Blades, chief marketing and growth officer for TDBBS, maker of Barkworthies, Best Bully Sticks and Paw Love. “In my opinion, figuring out how to earn consumer trust is worth the effort. For Barkworthies, it’s an entire team mandate, because any area that isn’t measured in terms of consumer trust can have a negative impact on our relationship with the consumer. We find that our passion and conviction in our products’ quality is irreplaceable in building trust with dog parents. This is why, and how, we achieve Excellent SQF certification level in our Richmond, Virginia, facility. It is why we independently lab test our chews before they ever reach our factory floor. It is why we insist that our dog-loving team hand inspects and packages every chew we sell. Our supply team demands fair trade, sustainable and humane practices as we source our proteins. We also do palatability and digestibility testing to ensure dogs will love our chews and will not experience any issues. Our compliance and brand teams work within AAFCO standards to assure transparency and accuracy on our packaging. There are no short cuts here.
“For a business like ours, measurement is also important because building trust is an investment,” she continued. “We rely heavily on metrics like Net Promoter Score to help us index where we are relative to where we have been. We also believe it is our responsibility to listen, learn and respond to the voice of the customer in their reviews of our products. We appreciate our retail partners who value education and training from us to help their store associates be consultative and helpful with providing solutions for pet parents. If a pet parent feels like the retailer is a useful resource, that customer will keep coming back, buying and trusting their recommendations. These inputs are an integral part of our product development process. As we gain insight, we can evolve our products and offerings and broaden our relationship with the consumer and retailer.”
Jim Galovski, founder of Guardian Pet, feels that, in any buy/sell relationship, a certain level of trust is required, otherwise nothing gets done.
“Think about the last time you bought a vehicle,” he said. “While you may not have felt completely at ease in the process, you most likely ended up buying from someone that, at the very least, made you feel like you were getting screwed the least.”
Galovski believes the pet industry has had several negative incidents where a lack of transparency has made it difficult for consumers to trust manufacturers. He refers to a 2019 iHeartDogs survey in which only 6.9 percent of respondents “trust that major market pet food brands are delivering a quality, safe food.”
“Obviously, the circle of trust has been broken, repeatedly, by the pet industry’s general lack of transparency and obfuscation,” he stated. “Having been in this industry since 1991 and having worked for three of the top four manufacturers, I felt that a change was necessary. My goal in the founding of Guardian was simple; I wanted to build something that would help shift the current trajectory of the industry to something that was based on the health and well-being of pets through the dissemination of scientific rigor and data.
“Everything we did, have done and will do is about transparency and building customer trust,” Galovski continued. “When a customer buys our product, it means something. They have made a decision that our food is trustworthy and that it will deliver what we have promised. That means the world to us. There are hundreds of choices available to consumers, and we work hard every day to deliver beyond their expectations with our products and our customer service.
“Retailers play an important role in building trust, too,” he added. “Customers often consider them an unbiased participant and look to them for help in deciphering all of the marketing noise that exists in the industry. Oftentimes, the interaction a customer has with a retailer is the only interaction they will have one-on-one with someone that is knowledgeable regarding pet nutrition. This is key to building and maintaining trust. The retailer should have a position on the types of food/products that they sell; they should employ knowledgeable staff or at least properly train the ones they have. Training can be done through sessions with subject matter experts and/or manufacturers. Either way, the key is to make sure everyone is speaking from the same page, that the store carries the same overall message and is more of a resource to the consumer. Obviously, staff will have their own preferences but if the store is built around “natural” or “transparent manufacturers”, the products offered should fit those boxes. After all, the customer is looking to build loyalty with you and the store, not the manufacturer. The better a brand performs once in the customer’s hands, the more loyalty is built between the shopper and the store.”
“We make products that help cats, and their owners, live healthier, happier lives” is the philosophy for Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat, and Mat Brost, the brand’s marketing director, says it speaks volumes about the company’s mission.
“This is our guide for everything that we do, and if opportunities arise that do not align with this philosophy, we do not pursue those opportunities,” he noted. “Customer trust is the driving force of our business. It’s honestly how we’ve gotten to where we are today. We don’t have millions of dollars to spend on marketing and promotional materials… Consumers trust us enough initially to try our product and see for themselves if we’re being honest or not. Then they tell their friends and family, and soon thousands of people have heard about the quality of Dr. Elsey’s products–and they’ve heard about from people they trust.”
Brost accepts that not every customer will be satisfied with every product, and Precious Cat is prepared for when such an instance occurs.
“There are occasionally consumers that don’t like our product for one reason or another,” he explained. “That’s why we offer customers a money back guarantee. If a cat or their owner is not 100 percent satisfied with our food or litter, we encourage them to call us, and we’ll send them a refund.”
Precious Cat is confident that when a consumer’s cat tries the brand’s cleanprotein food, the pet parent will enjoy the results. One reason is that the brand’s kibble is not starch based.
“Our kibble is held together using protein, which further supports our nutritional approach of providing high levels of animal-based protein,” Brost continued. “We put our focus on what is the best option for cats with our grain-free, low-carb, high-protein foods. We could save money and add less nutritious, less palatable filler ingredients like grains to our foods, but why would we? It’s not what’s best for the cat, so it simply doesn’t make sense. We genuinely put pets before profits. Without our loyal consumers we cannot survive as an organization, so we’re willing to do whatever is necessary to maintain the level of trust we’ve established with our customers.”
For Adam Baker, founder of SodaPup, developing consumer trust is the essence of brand building. He sees a brand existing as a promise to consumers, the purpose of which is to establish trust and create loyalty.
“Now, more than ever, consumers don’t just buy products, they buy into brands that they share values with,” he explained. “This means that brand building is more important than ever. Before launching the SodaPup brand I first worked to understand what consumers valued most in pet products and pet brands. Then I set out to deliver a SodaPup brand experience that would align with those consumer values. At Sodapup, we like to say that ‘our choices define us,’ which is to say that if you want to know what we stand for, just look at the choices we’ve made.
“Our job at SodaPup is to consistently deliver a brand experience that aligns with our consumers’ values. We do that with every new product introduction. With every phone call. With every email and text exchange. With each Instagram or Tik Tok post. With each retail experience. Trust and loyalty are built from a million small touch points that add up to the total experience.
“There are six elements to brand building: brand voice, brand identity, brand promise, brand values, brand targeting and brand positioning. All of these elements are braided together to create a brand experience for consumers. If you are able to create and deliver a consistent brand experience that aligns with consumer values, then you will create trust and loyalty.”