For as long as I can remember, pet food marketing has primarily focused on product attributes and has been mostly centered on formulations, ingredient quality and percentages of nutrients. What if this is the wrong thing to do? Do those attributes really engage the audience intended to receive it?
The holidays are a period of celebration, family gatherings and appreciation of others in our orbit that we care about, especially our pets. Given the horrific and deeply personal experiences of the last year, now more than ever people appreciate the value of the human to animal bond, and the wellbeing we so generously receive from our four-legged family members.
Studies show pet ownership elevates the health and wellness of the owner. This deep and abiding emotional connection serves as the access point for pet brands working to build a deeper connection. However, it’s routinely passed over in favor of ingredient celebrations because makers think the marketing magic is inside their bag or can. Nothing could be further from the truth, and we have neuroscience to thank for that insight.
Much has changed in the last five years as advancements in measuring consumer behavior have revealed a startling conclusion that has direct bearing on pet marketing and brand building. In a nutshell, marketing has been wired to the wrong paradigm of cognitive persuasion based on fact-based arguments of product superiority.
Neuroscientists have worked to elevate our understanding of the System 1 and System 2 brain conditions that impact how consumers behave, make decisions and take action. System 1 is the sub-conscious or the auto-pilot “always on” intuitive side of the brain. It can process an astounding 11 million bits of information per second and informs 98 percent of the decisions we make. System 2 is the analytical side of the brain responsible for intentional learning. Compared to System 1, System 2 processor speed is closer to 40 bits of information per second and handles the remaining 2 percent of our decisions and actions.
Simply stated even though these two systems will work in concert with each other, System 1 is directing traffic and governs the outcomes people take. Because it operates below our radar, we are consciously unaware of its powerful influence.
This revelation is a universal discovery about all humans, no matter where they are, what they do or how much money they have.
At a market research conference I attended a few years ago, the entire agenda was focused on implications of this learning to marketing strategy. One of the keynote speakers brought it home for me, when he said the following: “For those of you who are married, was your big decision to propose or say ‘yes’ based on a rational, fact-based critical analysis of your future spouse feature/benefit record? Did you comb the details of their personal history, pedigree, finances, future employment forecasts and family gene pool? No, of course you didn’t. It was based on how you felt deep down about the person you hoped to spend the rest of your life with. It was, in the end, an emotional decision not a fact-based one. And you felt great about it (hopefully).”
He went on to say the sub-conscious was really playing the lead role here to get the decision done. He continued, “The sub-conscious is far smarter than we give it credit for.”
Despite this, the vast majority of pet brand marketing is founded on a belief that facts will sway the outcome of a purchase decision. Instead, the data performs as “confirmation bias” fuel to help the pet parent believe they made a good decision.
What should effective pet brand marketing look like? System 1 uses emotion when operating. To guide marketing planning, here’s how System 1 informs and influences our behavior: acts without deliberate analysis, generates our impressions, feelings and inclinations, exerts powerful influence on choices and judgments and drives the options we choose and the actions we take.
Emotion-based marketing is founded on making the pet parent the center of brand communication, celebrating their relationship and connection to their pet. Ultimately it is how the consumer feels about your brand that elicits the trust necessary to conclude a purchase.
Trust is required and it is achieved emotionally. Facts operate in the background to reinforce the wisdom of their System 1-based choice. As mentioned earlier, analytical information about incredible efforts you take to make nutritious pet food supports post-decision choice affirmation. This is helpful to cultivate purchasers’ advocacy and brand ambassadorship.
System 1 strategic planning considerations:
Exposure: People automatically assign superiority to what is familiar. Awareness is a good thing and communicating sticky, memorable phrases also helps.
Social Proof: We are drawn towards products and brands other people like and endorse.
Positive Associations: If we feel good about the brand’s values and beliefs, we assume it possesses an extra helping of beneficial qualities.
Actions You Take: People respond more readily to what you do more so than what you say. Brand experiences will show your heart.
Reciprocity: We are hard wired to reciprocate in kind when faced with clear generosity. Surprise and delight is more compelling than a clever catch phrase.
Art: We respond well to artistic expression. How you use words, visuals, sounds and style matter as they trigger feelings and emotions. Videos are a terrific medium for this purpose. Brands should make the story about the pet parent experience rather than the product’s features.
It may come as a shock that fact-based storytelling isn’t really closing the deal. Then again, people are feeling creatures who think, not thinking creatures who feel. Bring emotion to your holiday marketing, celebrate the pet/parent bond and tell the heartwarming, transformational stories from your best users. It will help build meaningful sales momentum into 2022.
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.