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COVID-19’s Unintended Gift to Pet Brand Marketing


You may already know the Pandemic has served as a great motivator to adopt or add new dogs and cats to the family. The connection of pet ownership to personal wellbeing is now writ large as people scramble to reassert some control in their lives above the chaos that is clearly running out of control around them.

More pets = more pet food sold even while brand sameness remains pervasive

As pet parents increasingly dote over their four-legged life partners, a form of furry self-medication works to strengthen the emotional value proposition for pets in the family inner circle.

Consumers have connected the dots that the quality of food they ingest measurably impacts their quality of life — the same criteria impacts how consumers now make food choices for their pets. Thus, it’s no real surprise pet food marketing is largely a one-note symphony about higher quality recipe solutions.

Moreover premiumization of the pet food business has served to elevate smaller, more focused brands whose business is founded mostly on an improved nutritional story. Our analysis reveals that category conventions have coalesced almost exclusively around what we refer to as better mousetrap marketing. This is often expressed as percentages of meat in proportion to any other food ingredient in the kibble or can, a common perceived flag of pet food quality.

To the extent marketing springs from the same playbook brand to brand, similarity of product attribute messaging forces pet parents towards an analytical comparison of ingredient statements – and inevitably pushes brand decisions to the margins based on more subjective, less mental calorie burning cues like attractive package graphics.

Consumer behavior changes during the pandemic

An unintended outcome of the pandemic is a remarkable consumer openness to new ideas, new messages, new ways of doing things (online buying), adventure and investigation.

This condition makes breaking with the pack more viable, attainable than ever before for brands willing to make right turn from the pack. It’s time to disrupt the common brand behaviors that for many years have enabled a sea of sameness in pet brand communication.

What problem are we solving?

Pet brand preoccupation with ingredients and recipe-quality messaging works to commoditize the entire population of competing brands. The pack mentality to focus exclusively on familiar messages around Limited Ingredient Diet products, ancient grains or grain-free, inadvertently anchors comparisons to protein percentage per serving or percentage of fresh meat used in relation to more highly processed meat meals.

Uniqueness and differentiation hold sway

What happens when a brand breaks the rules of convention and moves off into new territory? Especially a marketing move that starts with making the consumer (and pet relationship) the hero of the story rather than the bison meat or salmon ingredient?

  • What advantage will you discover after departing from the conventional my-real-beef-percentage-is-higher-than-the-other-guy trope? What if instead, you take square aim for the emotional fabric and-connectivity that sits underneath the very reason why so many families are packing the living room with more four-legged children?

All of the sudden, the consumer sees themselves reflected in pet brand communication as they become hero of the story, now connected to how supremely important their relationship with their pet has become to their own health and happiness.

This can only occur once the brand messages move away from similar focus on recipe specs to a strategic advantage employing emotional cues that sit at the foundation of all successful brand-to-consumer relationships.

  • When the brand makes itself the story hero, consumers disengage because every single day they see themselves as the hero of their life’s journey. The brand should not compete with the consumer for the hero role. Oops.

Instead, the better narrative role for the pet brand is that of advisor, coach and guide on the pet lifestyle journey; a helper and enabler of what pet parents want in the furry relationship that is so beneficial to their own wellbeing and happiness.

High quality food is now redefined as love. Well, bring me another bowl!

What’s most important here is the zig to everyone else’s zag – the ability to be hyper-unique and separated from all the other in-store real estate players. You can decide to position the pet parent and pet at the center of the strategic plan and talk about them more than yourselves. No longer a slave to supply chain conditions, the brand can swing for the fence of enhanced relevance.

  • Your story is best told from the pet parent viewpoint about how your food has transformed the lives of their pets, and the pet owner’s life along with it. That’s not a short video sitting under a navigation tab at the web site, that’s the tip of the marketing spear. Best of all, no other brand can match this with more beef in the formula.

The devil is always in the details of how this is brought to life. That said, the pet parent is more open now than ever before to breaking conventions, willing to follow fresh ideas and relevant stories well told.

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