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Food for Thought for Pet Food

Marcel Blok is a longtime pet food industry expert, executive and consultant, based in Europe. He writes on business strategy, marketing and communication, and strategic product development.

Petfood product development and a change of focus

October 30, 2014

Part three of a series based on this question: Is petfood about marketing or nutrition?

The report that Justin Case, marketing director for Feed Your Pet Inc. (FYP), promised to his boss, Joe Zweiful (chairman of the board), saw the light. Now Joe and Justin need to discuss it further before it will be presented to the board of FYP Inc.

 

Joe: Thank you for the very comprehensive report about our structured product development (SPD) situation. I will make sure that it will get the time it deserves at the next board meeting. Therefore, please take me through the report so I understand the strategic context that you seem to emphasize.

Justin: Well, actually, it's all about what we want to be before we decide what we want to do.

 

Joe: That sounds very intriguing, but what on earth do you mean?

Justin: Until now our approach to SPD has been haphazard. We do it because we have always done it, without asking why and where the fit with our strategy is.

 

Joe: I know all that. You mentioned it already during our previous conversation about this topic. But it's good that you mention strategy -- I mean as a whole, not only product --“ because as you know we started to work on strategy only recently and we still have a lot to learn.

Justin: So let's start with asking ourselves this simple question with far reaching consequences: What is new? For the industry, for our market, for us?

 

Joe: I see the relevance, but what would you do with the answer?

Justin: It defines our way ahead. If it is new for the industry, things will have to be invented from scratch. There is no benchmark to compare with. Probably a tedious and costly but potentially very rewarding process. The upside is that when successful, we would have created a new segment in the market for which we would have a monopoly for quite some time.

 

Joe: So you recommend the board follow that route?

Justin: If the board wishes to be a leader rather than a follower -- in my book this is a strategic choice -- I would most definitely pick up the gauntlet and give it our utmost to make it work.

 

Joe: I see what you mean. But you know our board. We're not the most adventurous in the industry. Actually, the contrary is true.

Justin: I am perfectly aware of that. That's why we are where we are today. A follower that dutifully copies what others have invented, and we bring it to market at a lower price. Preferably after a few other followers have done so already. I call that low risk, low reward.

 

Joe: Risk is of course the issue. How would you deal with that in your adventurous approach?

Justin: SPD is split up in modules. Each module will have its standards as far as the expected outcome is concerned. If the standards are not met, we can pull the plug. So we commit to the development budget in portions or stages rather than as a whole.

 

Joe: I surrender. You convinced me, but what if the board continues to have qualms? You know these guys as well as I do.

Justin: Then I would say, let's develop something that is new for our market but not necessarily for the industry as a whole.

 

Joe: You mean becoming a semi-follower -- or semi-leader, if you want?

Justin: Yes, why not, it would still give a degree of competitive advantage, although the lead time on competition will of course be much shorter.

 

Joe: I agree with that. However, the risk will be bite-size.

Justin: And if we would then let's apply planned obsolescence, so we can still maintain a lead on competition for a longer period.

 

Joe: Planned what? You marketers sometimes have a funny -- or should I say mysterious -- way to define the most common topics.

Justin: It's nothing more or less than having generation 2 of our product ready when we launch generation 1. As soon as we feel that competition starts breathing down our neck, we launch the next generation. Our enemies will be taken by surprise.

 

Joe: That's a clever approach. I like that, the more so because this means limited risk.

Justin: Something that I believe we shouldn't spend too much time on is the "new for us" scenario. We have taken our knowledge of executing this scenario to Olympic heights by not applying any other scenario for the last 30 years or so. If the board wishes to avoid any risk, this is probably the scenario to go for. Also, downright followers have a reason to be; albeit that the number of followers is bound to diminish in the medium to long run when we head toward market saturation. And mind you, we're not far from that stage in market development.

 

Joe: To sum it up, you recommend the board to be more adventurous as far as structured product development is concerned.

Justin: Exactly. If the board wishes the company to be -- and to be seen as -- looking ahead and adapting to new circumstances and insights, this is exactly what I recommend.

 

Joe: I will take your thoughts with me and we must meet shortly after the board meeting.

Justin: I look forward to that and I hope that the board's verdict is: more adventure in our venture.

 

To be continued ...

 

21st Pet Street, home of Change Stranamics

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