Brand — Helping Consumers Define Who The Are
The US pet food market has gone through some changes in the last few years that have caused many pet food company marketing executives to sit up, rollover and beg. Competition for consumer dollars has been fierce and the supermarket, that old bastion of retail, has seen market share slip in favor of "pet super stores" and specialty shops.
So, how do marketers fight back?
How do they raise awareness, push sales and add more than a "spike" to their business? What is left to the pet food companies but promotion and coupons? It turns out that there is a more effective tool for driving the fickle market back into the supermarket aisles. A tool that's much more effective than traditional marketing stunts that serve only to weaken the brand, while generating little long-term consumer loyalty. The answer is brand building.
The New Solution
Our understanding of brand is far different than the traditional brand management taught in the hallowed halls of Proctor & Gamble. The place where marketers poured over consumer research and continually tweaked the advertising strategy to reflect consumer sentiment. Or else they altered the product itself, along with the packaging that proclaimed "New and Improved!" Management of the "brand" was an internal process. Today's consumer is skeptical and cynical.
The old advertising solutions simply do not hold up. Promotion won't do it-it lowers the playing field and forces products to compete on price alone. Worse, it trains the consumer to view pet food as a commodity. There is a solution: Build your brand. Recently there has been talk about the death of brands. I would agree that the way in which we understood brand has indeed died.
When considering the revivalist view of brand, it is helpful to think about brand in terms of the old west. The time when cattlemen heated an iron rod in hot coals and seared the brand on the side of some hapless steer. Now that's branding. You see, wherever that steer roamed from that day forward, everyone saw that he carried that brand. As marketers of pet foods, we want every customer within our demographic to carry our brand. But to get them to do just that, we need to redefine brand in more powerful terms than we ever have before.
Brand is alive and well. It has far-reaching implications of great value to the pet food industry, due to the emotional tug that comes with owning a pet. It is the means to create demand and a competitive advantage by reaching into the essence of the pet lover. The first step in making this all work is understanding brand as it is today. You see, brand is not a product or service. It is not flavor, nutrition, packaging or logo Brand is the perception that the pet owner brings to the purchase.
It belongs to the customer-not to you, the manufacturer or marketer. A powerful brand always answers the question of "Who am I?"— not "What am I" The "who" refers to the customer, not to you. This "consumer owned" brand reflects the consumer's own definition of himself or herself and how they feel about their pet. "How do I look today?" "Where do I want to go?" "How am I doing?" "What do I hold as important?" Brand is the magnet that attracts every pet lover who needs to discover what else is true about themselves.
If the advertising is successful, we identify who we believe we should be (or how we should be acting, according to our own expectation of our position in life). Today's consumer is constantly in a state of "becoming." Every purchase choice he or she makes is an attempt at defining who they are.
From a pet food marketer's viewpoint, this becomes an opportunity to help define your target audience in a way that is aspirational in tone and reinforces the choice. Who am I? I am loving. I'm fun. I am caring. I'm sophisticated. I'm informed, smart and healthy. I'm cosmopolitan. I'm active. I'm in love with my pet. If identifying this "Who am I?" can build a preference for soap detergent, how much more powerfully can it be utilized when identifying an experience like caring for your pet?
It stands to reason that if brand belongs to the consumer and not to the product, then our new definition of brand management requires a more finely tuned target audience than we have heretofore understood. Brand management today requires helping the consumer manage his or her own expectations. You can't own it. You can only define it clearly and convey it consistently in every aspect of your communications.
What should you own?
So, if you can't own a brand what should you own? You should "own" a position in the marketplace. While brand always answers the question of "Who am I?" position always answers the question of "Why am 17" It speaks to you and your product. It is your reason to be. If one thinks about it carefully, positioning is the part of your marketing strategy that allows for differentiation and appeals to the needs of your target audience. And what do they need?
They need to feel in control. They need to be informed. They need to have life simplified. Consumer research tells us that today's consumer pleads with us to "make it easier for me." They tell us that this need for simplicity means that a brand today speaks more about security than status. A position needs to be unique because ownership implies exclusivity.
Two families cannot own the same house without some obvious problems. Two pet foods cannot stand for the same thing. The brand that you are managing helps payoff this positioning promise in a way that spells success. They must work in concert if they are to be effective.
Today's consumers have many options when it comes to spending "pet care" dollars. The competition is ferocious. The shelf space is more coveted and the customer is quickly learning new behaviors. Building a brand and owning a real position in the market is the surest way to grow share and maximize profits.