Labeling, marketing and branding: How do these elements work together on your packaging to communicate your product's benefits and promote your brand? The petfood market is fiercely competitive. That is why setting yourself apart from the pack of other petfood and treat makers is one of the most important parts of building a successful brand. You have to get noticed, get customers excited about your products and most importantly, make the sale. Petfood marketing and branding is all about taking a consumer from thinking, "What an interesting product!" to "What an interesting product! I need that for my dog and/or cat."

So, how do you get noticed? One way to set yourself apart from your competitors and build a solid pet product marketing plan is to build a better, more intriguing pet product than is already available on petfood shelves. Is there something unique about your petfood? Is there something about the way you prepare the product that no one else is doing? Do you oven bake your dog treats in a brick fire oven or use a revolutionary non-extrusion process to remove bacteria from your raw cat food?

The labeling of  your products should express to consumers how your pet product is different and why that means it's a better choice. No allergens, no fat, no grain, low calories, high protein, different shapes, specialty flours and ingredients, decorated gourmet kibble, USDA organic certification -- do any of these apply to your product? Niche marketing is all about building a unique product and brand that should open up a group of pet owners that no one else is tending to.

Defining how, where and to whom you want to sell your petfood products is critical. If you plan on selling your treats or food at a local farmer's market every Saturday, then the packaging you might select and the ingredients you want to use would be very different than if you wanted to sell your product at a local independently owned pet store. Or, if you plan on selling your products at veterinary offices or selling them in a upscale gift boutique - all of these situations would warrant very different strategies.

Viki Jansen, marketing expert and contributor to EzineArticles.com, made these helpful suggestions: "For example, at the farmer's market, I may have the product open to the air in the traditional market place style with little paw print paper bags to place the treats in as people purchased the treats, where as in a boutique, I may want to display my product in a cute basket display, and in the vets office - a very traditional carton type package may work best." The pet parent at each of these places is probably looking for very different types of products as well. So how you market your pet products to those individuals will differ. Build your brand for the people who will be shopping where you sell.

Packaging and labeling  is also an important aspect of introducing a new petfood to the market. By law, certain information must be included on your product package. This includes a statement of the life stage for which a petfood is intended, and a list of ingredients in descending order by weight. Most importantly, the package must be attractive and convenient to consumers. Many decisions must be made, including how many package sizes will be offered, what material the packaging will be made of, what other information will be included on the package, the package design and what the name of the product and brand will be.

Lindsey Faye Sherman, a graphic design student at Maryland Institute College of Art, offers a packaging concept for a gourmet dog treat line. According to Sherman, Barkly's Doggy Style Dog Treats were conceptualized and designed for the sophisticated gourmet shopper. One of the initial concepts for the Barkly's packaging was the use of innovative techniques such as the vivid flavor names and visually appetizing images of the ingredients.

"The combination of photography, vector and white space are to visually say 'natural' and 'gourmet' to the consumer, with out saying having to literally say it on the packaging," she explains. Sherman hopes the consumer's sensory experience will enhance her selling line and heighten its differences in comparison to other dog treat lines on the shelf already.

Beneful, one of the most successful premium dog foods on the market through 2006-2009, reinvented dog food as we know it with the launch of their Beneful Prepared Meals. The difference is visible, as Beneful Prepared Meals showcase the eight varieties and real food ingredients in clear, ready-to-serve, re-sealable plastic containers - a new packaging innovation in petfood when the product was originally released.

"With Beneful Prepared Meals, we've added epicurean polish to petfood to meet the needs of today's devoted pet owners who want food for their dogs, not dog food," said Steve Crimmins, vice president of dog food marketing for Nestlé Purina PetCare Company, which manufactures Beneful.

"With the humanization of pets trend, dog owners have become more interested in the food they feed their dogs, including the ingredients on the label and the way the food is packaged," said Crimmins at the time of the Prepared Meals launch in 2006. "We are the first petfood manufacturer to put a clear container on the shelf that enables pet owners to actually see the quality of the product."

Be innovative in not only your products' formulation, but its packaging and its target audience. Make your packaging exciting, new and convenient. Label your products clearly and with confidence. Even in the make-or-break industry of petfood and treats, following simple rules will often have you and your brand ending up at the top of the kibble heap!