As the largest group of pet owners, millennials and their pet food shopping behaviors get a lot of attention these days (including on this website). Yet some marketing experts say they’re not really the most important generation for pet food companies to target. “Move over, millennials, welcome generation C,” said Ann Kehoe, head of global brand for Alltech, at the company’s ONE18 conference on May 22. These are uber-connected consumers, and they can be of any age, sex or other demographic, she added.

Thus, this “generation” also overrides the baby boomers, still the highest pet food spenders in the US. These are consumers who are not only constantly online but also spend a good amount of their time on social media and engaged in peer-to-peer sharing — and 90 percent of them feel compelled to share a brand experience, positive or negative, with their followers and connections, Kehoe added. They tend to be brand loyal, and they have loyal followers. “Posts from people with 8,000 or fewer followers are often shared more than ones with more [followers],” she said.

Connecting with super leader consumers

Larine Urbina, vice president of communications for Tetra Pak US and Canada, shared similar data and insights during Petfood Forum 2018, though her name for this group of connected consumers was “super leaders.” She defined them as the 7 percent of consumers — numbering 3.6 billion people globally — who are the most digitally and socially active (spending four or more hours online each day) and likely to be the earliest adopters, influencers and trendsetters.

Both Kehoe and Urbina emphasized the importance of connecting with these consumers online, especially via social and mobile platforms. While 40 percent have dismissed traditional advertising, 90 percent sleep with their mobile phones next to them, Kehoe said.

“Connected consumers see social media as substantially more believable than advertising,” Urbina said. She presented data from SproutSocial.com showing that 58 percent of consumers access branded content via social media, 36 percent find out information on social media, 33 percent ask a question on social media and 48 percent express an opinion on social media.

Further, research conducted by Tetra Pak and TNS indicated 70 percent of super leaders globally interact with brands at least once a week — and 78 percent expect brands to reply, while 79 percent say interaction with brands on social media improves their opinion of the brand, Urbina said.

The best social media tools, platforms and tips

Though this group of consumers spans generations, younger members may be most likely to interact with brands online: 30 percent of millennials and 32 percent of Generation X do so at least monthly, Urbina said. But no matter their age, it’s clear that to connect with them, pet food companies need a robust social media strategy and at least some resources to implement it.

Kehoe recommended looking into social commerce platforms — social media that bring the shopping experience in, such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. Even smaller companies with limited resources can easily use them; the key is to “personalize, personalize, personalize,” she said, and to tell stories about your brand.

Personalization is best done by collecting and analyzing data on consumers, though being able to access that data depends on many factors. For example, if you offer your products on e-commerce platforms like Amazon or Alibaba in China, those companies typically own all the user data and corresponding algorithms for understanding their behavior. “It’s better to own your data and make sure everyone in the company, from marketing to IT, understands the algorithms,” Kehoe said.

But if you don’t have the resources to collect and analyze data on people shopping for your products, tools are available to help. Kehoe mentioned Mixpanel, for one.

Above all, “embrace mobility,” she said. Connect with those influencers, experts and brand advocates, and make sure all of your mobile sites function well. “Experience is everything; don’t have a slow-loading site or clunky checkout function. Always provide value to stand out.”

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dphillips@wattglobal.com