Retail: Pet Foods

Pet Food Brands and their messaging. Brand origins.


The Pet Food Brand belongs to the consumer

Pet Food Branding, Old-West style. You can’t own a brand. Brand belongs to the consumer, not to the marketer… Branding Old-West Style

By Tom Dougherty


The pet food market has gone through some changes in the last few years that pet owners may not have noticed, but have caused many traditional pet food company marketing executives to sit up, roll over and beg.

Competition for consumer dollars has been fierce, and the supermarket has seen its market share slip in favor of pet superstores and other category killers. How do national brand marketers and supermarkets fight back? What is left except promotion and coupons?

pet food

Who are you today?

There is a much more effective tool for driving the fickle market back into the supermarket aisles than traditional marketing stunts, which serve only to weaken the brand, generating little long-term consumer loyalty.

The answer is to redefine brand. Not the traditional brand management taught at Procter & Gamble, or the type that slaps “new & improved” labels on packaging.

Today’s consumer is too skeptical and cynical. Promotion won’t do it-it lowers the playing field and forces products to compete on price alone. (Read about how to take your competitor’s customer)

Brand helps to train the consumer

Worse, it trains the consumer to view pet food as a commodity. Some say brand is dead. Not quite.

When considering the revivalist view of brand, it is helpful to think about brand in terms of the old West, when cattlemen heated an iron rod and seared the brand on the side of some hapless steer. Now that’s branding.

Wherever that steer roamed from that day forward, everyone saw that he carried a brand. As marketers, we want every customer within our demographic to use our brand.

pet food Progressive Grocer coverTo accomplish this we need to redefine brand in more powerful terms than ever before.

Brand has far-reaching implications in the pet food industry, due to the emotional tug that comes with owning a pet. It is the means by which one can own a competitive advantage over the competition by reaching into the essence of the pet lover.

The first step toward understanding brand building is to define it in terms of the pet owner. Brand is not a product, service, tag line or logo.

Brand is the expectation the pet owner brings to the purchase. It belongs to the customer-not to the supplier or marketer.

A powerful brand always answers the question, “Who am I?” not “What am I?” The “who” is the customer, not the supplier. This customer-owned brand reflects the consumer’s own definition of himself or herself, and how they feel about their pet.

“Who am I? I am loving, caring and informed. I love my pet.” Identifying this “Who am I?” can be applied to many product categories, because brand is the magnet that attracts everyone who needs to discover what else is true about themselves.

What is brand today?

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 perspective, this becomes an opportunity to help define a target audience in a way that is aspirational in tone and reinforces the choice. Brand management today requires helping the consumer manage his or her own expectations. (Read how to analyze brand position)

You can’t own a brand. You can only define it clearly and convey it consistently in every aspect of your communications. If you can’t own a brand, what can you own? You can own a position in the marketplace.

Positioning is the part of a marketing strategy that allows for differentiation and appeals to the needs of your target audience.

Position answers the question, “Why am I?” Consumer research tells us that today’s consumer pleads with us to make life easier.

This need for simplicity speaks more about security than status. A position needs to be unique because ownership implies exclusivity. The brand that you are managing helps payoff this positioning promise in a way that spells success.


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