When thinking about building your brand’s identity, it’s important to start by asking yourself a few questions; Do you think pet parents would describe your brand as indispensable to them?
What might the impacts be to your business if your brand was perceived as indispensable?
How can you design your brand to go from “meets the need” to “can’t live without?”
Let’s face it, most pet brand marketing is focused exclusively on selling more bags and cans. Thus, most of the marketing energy and planning are directed toward product promotion and feature/benefit communication in the places where pet parents congregate. As such, the chasm is vast between brands focused on being product sellers and brands that operate as bona fide must-have partners with their users (by supporting their pet parent journey).
The indispensable pet brand is: better at retaining their customer base over time even when similar and cheaper options exist in the category; often enjoys vibrant social channel communities where consumers gather and share experiences without having to be bribed to do so; able to hold premium pricing and repurchase velocities even when other comparable options are discounted; experiences quicker uptake of innovations and new ideas due to high levels of trust and belief by a devoted customer base; and the brand voice is uniquely customer-centric and focused on coaching, guiding and helping pet parents solve problems that exist beyond the functionality of the products they’re buying. Customer centricity is best served by brands that truly care about the welfare and wellbeing of their user base – beyond the narrow footprint of pet nutrition.
The quality of indispensableness exists in direct proportion to your level of generosity and unselfishness in how your customer relationships are defined and managed.
You can’t simply invoke a generous spirit of reciprocity that works to penetrate the consumer’s elaborately constructed barriers to engagement with your marketing. People readily separate the genuine trusted voices and helpful behaviors, from the posers focused on only driving transactions.
Your Brand DNA
To become indispensable you have to build a different kind of customer relationship. One that is based on more human-like characteristics of trust, respect, caring and helping. So how do you operationalize this form of collaborative spirit? By first constructing a path to deeper brand meaning.
This starts with refining your purpose, mission and values. No one gets beyond transactional behaviors unless they have a clear, deep higher purpose and mission that extends beyond the requirements of sales growth and rewarding investors. A question to ask yourselves: if your brand were to completely disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow, who would care beyond those with vested business or financial interests? How deep is your value proposition beyond the pet food you provide? If you want to have a more meaningful relationship with pet parents, then you must imbue your brand with deeper meaning.
Purchases these days are largely symbolic signals of what people want the world around them to know about their priorities and values. What does buying your pet food symbolically convey about your customer? How do these symbols and values show up in your marketing and communications?
Your mission by the way isn’t to make the world’s best pet food. That’s every brand’s goal and is table stakes in the industry. Higher purpose transcends products. It is a transformational idea that will impact all of your decisions and drive your priorities. When executed correctly, it will impact company culture in profound ways and manifest in how you show up in the marketplace.
Clear Brand Archetyping
Is your brand an everyman? A creator? A sage? These unique lifestyle characteristics articulated as brand archetypes establish who and what you are. Archetypes were developed by renowned psychologist Carl Jung, and are founded on fundamental human truths that will impact who you serve and how you communicate. Clearly mapping your strategy to a specific brand archetype is part of the process to refine purpose, and establish a platform to package, present and express your brand proposition. Decisions made here will inform your brand narrative and how your brand communicates in a way that instantly, almost magically resonates with the audience you wish to attract.
Branded Content Strategy
The most profound difference between an indispensable brand and everyone else is the shift in voice and content for brand communications. It requires careful, deep study of your core user base to more fully understand their interests, concerns, challenges and desires. Out of that knowledge a communications platform can be created to position your brand as a coach, guide and educator there to help your customers and enable their lifestyle aspirations.
Yes, people are buying beliefs, values and purpose now more than bags of pet food. If the predominant messaging in your outbound communications is devoted to extolling your nutrition bona fides, you are playing a zero-sum game that won’t hit relevance and resonance squarely while also blurring your brand’s distinctiveness.
Social Channels That are Social
Our social channel audit process frequently turns up evidence of treating social as a product messaging platform rather than a social sharing community. Is the predominant content in your social channels focused on product promotion, and therefore serves primarily as brand broadcast channel? Are you looking to incent product endorsement posts or are you encouraging community interaction on pet lifestyle stories? Instead, your social channel strategy should mostly focus on pet parent generated posts that share user ideas, experiences and stories. Vibrant social communities of indispensable brands take on a life of their own and often elicit advice from like-minded pet parents.
Adding the voices of outside experts and advisors to weigh in on topics your users care about is a generous way to extend the value of your social platforms and position your brand as source for education and guidance.
A purpose and mission driven brand creates the opportunity to build relationships with pet parents that matter beyond the value of the products they purchase. If pet ownership is really a lifestyle choice, how can you be part of it? How do you become helpful and valuable to people?
After all, if you participate as simply another seller, then your market share and sales growth will eventually be more about profit-sapping price promotions and riding the wave of general category growth conditions. When you treat customers more like friends than buyers you have a shot at mattering – and that’s where indispensable begins.
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.