Today's pet owners are increasingly aware and interested in how their pets' food is made. Some even share their perceptions online and by word of mouth. How can you work with these highly involved consumers? And just as importantly, how can you fight negative consumer perceptions and work with bloggers and other consumer activists (online or elsewhere) to help educate and sway pet owners about the benefits of your petfood products? The only way to answer these questions is to better understand today’s consumers.

Millions of people have developed long-lasting, committed relationships with a product or service. These brand marriages generate huge profits as long as the brand continues to provide consumers with what they value. The Gallup Organization has been conducting consumer interviews for over 50 years to find out how companies can develop such enduring, meaningful bonds between their brands and their customers. This research found that:

  • The company must uphold and reinforce the brand promise at every touch point during every interaction; and
  • Emotions need to be taken seriously, because emotionally engaged customers generate profits.

With the increasing popularity of social media like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, pet parents have all-new channels easily available to vent their frustrations. It’s easy to forget that just one mistake in a customer touch point could result in an irreversible repercussion for your brand. Execution is extremely important today, and marketers have to ensure that a consistently good experience is your customer service standard.

In a recent article in Wired magazine, John Winsor, CEO of the ad agency V&S and author of a book on co-creation (brand/consumer collaborations), Beyond the Brand, said ad agencies are trying desperately to protect the old way of doing business while bigger cultural trends are shifting the sand below their feet. If your company refuses to adapt, be prepared to lose consumer interest and, in the long run, profit.

People are having conversations these days, only not with brands but about them. I'd like to suggest that we're at the start of something larger in scope than simple engagement or entertainment, and something that goes far beyond the merits of friends and followers on social technology platforms. It's time for companies to meet their consumers on a level playing ground. It's time to target the very blogs, forums and social networks pet parents are retreating to and engage them. Take this time to use your engagement to actually inform consumers. The real challenge isn't to find ways to avoid the truth or distract consumers from it (or shudder when it is revealed), but rather to creatively present it and make sure "petsumers" understand it.

What are brands doing to engage consumers online?

Several petfood companies are already very proactive in the way they communicate with their consumer base online. Take, for example, Mulligan Stew. The blog on its website is a mix of both consumer posts and the company's own blog and responses.

Another example of a consumer/company blended blog is this holistic petfood blog. At first glance, the website appears to be a typical consumer driven blog touting the merits of a holistic diet for pets but, on closer inspection, is actually a blog run by the dog food company Life's Abundance, with easy links to other places on the internet where its products are sold.

Blog Paws is a community of petsumers that not only discusses the petfood industry online but also holds live events for its users to get together and interact face-to-face. Companies like Purina, Iams and Eukanuba not only sponsor such events, but also make downloadable widgets, banners and documents available to Blog Paws users to use on their blogs or email to interested friends and readers.