Transparency Leadership: The Need for Proof, Evidence, Verification & Validation

By Robert Wheatley//July 1, 2023//

Transparency Leadership: The Need for Proof, Evidence, Verification & Validation

By: Robert Wheatley//July 1, 2023//

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Ingredient-forward marketing got traction with leading brands competing for share of mind among pet owners during the unstoppable advance of pet food premiumization. Higher quality, “human-grade” meat protein ingredients evolved as the definer of optimal nutrition by virtue of their connection to the ancestral diet concept – dogs as wolf relative – and cats as obligate carnivores. The proposition stuck.

Most brand story narratives have coalesced around devotion to various combinations fresh or frozen meat protein as ingredients in the optimal or “best” formulation.

Still, pet food brands go to market with nearly identical presentations of claims and benefits around this top-level belief system about the bioavailability of nutrients from meat-forward recipes. This refrain centered around ingredient strategies begs a question about demonstration of faithfulness and integrity related to how food is made.



Product forms, whether kibble or cans – bear similarity to each other brand-to-brand. Assertions around the quality of what’s inside the bag or can require consumers to take a significant leap of faith – given pets can’t advocate. Meanwhile “truth” is often relegated to a nuanced concept – parsing the meaning of words to eke out an advantage in quality or performance.



If I say to you, “I’m telling the truth” but you don’t know me, have never met me and can’t possibly verify the veracity of that claim, you look for ways to validate my veracity. This happens every day in the pet brand marketplace. In an environment of declining trust in what companies say, brands continue to require people to simply believe their claims and assertions.

Desire for increased knowledge is an opportunity waiting to happen for pet brands. Are we willing to embrace the consumer’s latent interest in greater transparency?

Transparency is a form of extraordinary disclosure and openness that invites outsiders to see for themselves how brand claims bear out in reality. When a marketing narrative is reinforced with visibility and proof, you’re helping close the loop on acceptance by generating credibility.



Let the consumer peak inside the tent, go behind the curtain and see what you do to deliver on promises about the quality of your ingredients. You can:

  • Reveal how you source your protein ingredients
  • Introduce your farmers, vendors, suppliers
  • Take consumers on a journey to see and experience ingredient sourcing through unscripted, documentary style video
  • Invite some of your brand evangelists and advocates (both consumers and retailers) to tour your production facility and witness your practices, and then report on what they’ve seen
  • Form strategic relationships with outside third-party experts to report on your ingredient standards and practices

Move beyond just making claims to demonstrating why those claims are true. Here it is: actions speak louder than words. Always have, always will. If you source meat ingredients from a farm, take people to the farm and then follow the path back to your manufacturing facility.

Reveal the integrity of your protein claims in a way that moves past marketing language. Transparency in a trust starved world is a unique behavior because so few are willing to do it. And therein lies a distinct competitive advantage when you go the extra mile to bring your transparency story to life.

You will end up creating a treasure trove of social media channel content that is founded on trust, the most important consideration on the path to nurturing an authentic relationship and bond with your best users.



Claiming transparency without actually doing anything to take people behind the scenes is akin to greenwashing. Allow your best customers to judge for themselves the merits of your ingredient quality commitments. Show them not just tell them. Respected third parties like editorial media can bring a powerful influence to the conversation around claims backed by reported reality.

It’s your decision. When disclosing more, you can lead the industry in trust building. It is simply refreshing to people when a brand says, “take a look and judge for yourself.” When customers then share that story for you, it’s credibility gold.


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.