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Pet Parent Behavior: Revealing a Consumer’s Path to Purchase

Glenn Polyn//May 1, 2022//

Pet Parent Behavior: Revealing a Consumer’s Path to Purchase

Glenn Polyn //May 1, 2022//

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Recent advances in behavioral psychology and neuroscience help us understand why most pet brand marketing efforts remain shots in the dark rather than strategic points of advantage on the path to purchase. 

For the last 30 years, marketing for the most part has focused on logic — rational arguments and presentation of product features and benefits in an effort to win the sale with consumers. However, we now understand more about humans and how the brain operates to create actions and decisions.   

The neuroscience experts refer to this as understanding the difference between System 1 vs. System 2. It turns out that actions and decisions are governed by the sub-conscious side of the brain (System 1) rather than the logical, learning side (System 2). Simply stated, people will not burn the mental calories to process logical arguments.  

Moreover, the sub-conscious brain is far smarter and more intuitive than give it credit for. Here’s a way to understand this: the sub-conscious brain can process millions of bits of information per second. The conscious rational, learning side processes closer to 11,000 bits per second. It is the sub-conscious that directs our decisions and the actions we take. 


Marketing to System 1 

Years of studying human behavior confirm it is the power of emotion that drives pet parent behavior. This comes down to how people “feel” in the presence of your brand. Trust is essential. And trust is not a checklist or a claim you invoke. It, too, is an emotional construct based on assimilating markers and signals of beliefs, values and other indicators of credible brand behavior. 


Start With the Relationship 

You know this: what sits at the heart of pet parent interest in providing the best diet possible for furry family members is the bond, love and lifestyle relationship they have with their pet. When you put your brand “in league” with consumers by focusing on the pet relationship and bond, you are mirroring back to them the powerful emotions that inform purchase decisions.  

This is a compelling signal that your values and beliefs are the same as theirs! 


Focus on Your Why

The vast majority of pet brands are preoccupied with self-promotion of nutritional messaging and ingredient bona-fides. Again, playing to System 2. People are far more interested and drawn to “why” you do what you do more so than what you produce and how you do it. Your ability to tell a brand narrative based on why you exist, what you believe in, what your brand’s higher purpose is far more important to creating trust and emotional linkage than emphasizing your recipe details. 


Nutritional Messaging 

There’s nothing wrong with explaining your formulation details. You just need to understand the role of that information and where it comes into play. Emotion drives action, decisions and behaviors – simply said — getting to the sale. The more rational arguments come in afterwards as a strong measure of justification and confirmation that the right decision was made. Your logical ingredient quality story works to confirm the path chosen. It does not motivate the original selection decision. 

For that we recognize the importance of System 1 and the strategic components of trust creation. 


The Role of Artistry 

As stated earlier, logical, fact-based arguments aren’t aligned with System 1. Images and art on the other hand play to how people process their impressions and feelings. Your web site, your packaging, your POP displays, your outbound communication and video content should play to emotional imagery and celebration of the pet-to-pet parent bond. 

We are visual creatures. People are feeling creatures who think more so than thinking creatures who feel! Use images and art to drive emotional response. Deploy this with an understanding that the outcome will always be heart-over-head. Every time. 

Doesn’t it make sense to factor in what we know about the audience you wish to reach in how your marketing strategies are formulated? 


Heart Over Head 

Human beings are wonderfully complex. Our sub-conscious is far more adept at processing what goes on around us than we know. This presents an opportunity to dial in your plans for verifiable engagement rather than hoping a message lands correctly. 

Purchase decisions today are largely symbolic. They are expressions and flags of what we want the world around us to believe about us and our values. Knowing this you can optimize your plans for impact and outcome. 

If you do this, you can move forward with confidence knowing your outreach is founded on keen understanding of the audience you wish to reach. 


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.