As online pet food sales keep surging, along with consumer usage of mobile, digital and social tools to research and review pet nutrition and products, it’s more important than ever for pet food brands to ensure their digital presence is as robust and integrated as possible.
Or, as a recent report from Gartner L2 put it: “As pet care shoppers continue to shift toward digital channels and as the competition to acquire online consumers increases, brands must remain nimble in identifying, prioritizing and scaling digital investments.”
The report, “Digital IQ Index: U.S. Pet Care,” framed this importance by sharing data from Nielsen (referenced in a Supermarket News article) on the explosive growth of online dog and cat food sales in the U.S.: 92 percent and 63 percent, respectively. In addition, the Nielsen data showed online market shares for U.S. dog food sales at slightly above 18 percent for dog food and almost 13 percent for cat food.
No wonder this market is garnering attention from business media such as CNBC as well as leading consumer product goods companies like General Mills, which acquired Blue Buffalo earlier this year, and J.M. Smucker, which has acquired Natural Balance and Ainsworth Pet Nutrition in the past few years.
Though I was able to access only an excerpt of the Gartner L2 report, I found interesting highlights and nuggets of data. For example: “On Google, the average search volume for terms related to raw pet food, breed-specific food and dietary restrictions increased by 32 percent, 11 percent and 5 percent, respectively.”
Yet the focus of the report, as its name implies, was on brands’ “digital IQ”: their performance in key digital areas including website and e-commerce (further broken down as search and navigation, product page and Amazon), digital marketing (web traffic and authority, SEO and SEM — search engine optimization and search engine marketing), social media (especially Facebook, Instagram and YouTube — curiously, not Twitter) and mobile (mobile site and mobile SEO/SEM).
Based on scores from Gartner in each of those areas, the 58 pet care brands ranked produced an index categorized into five digital IQ levels: genius, gifted, average, challenged and feeble (ouch!). I can’t share the entire index here but will list the four pet food brands qualifying as genius: Purina Pro Plan, Hill’s, Blue Buffalo and Royal Canin. The gifted brands included several other Purina brands as well as several from J.M. Smucker and Mars Petcare apiece, plus Wellness and Nature’s Variety. Quite a few additional pet food brands fell into the other levels.
So, what sets apart the genius and gifted brands? According to Gartner L2, it’s about prioritizing the digital elements that fit your brand’s strategy and marketing, then doing them well. Also key: “scaling,” or integrating, the elements you focus on, such as content, across all the channels you use.
Gartner L2’s experts believe content is king. In a section of the excerpt titled “Teaching old sites new tricks,” it lauds brand websites that have beefed up their consumer-targeted content. “As pet care consumers become increasingly ingredient-conscious, index brands have responded with consistent improvements to site features and functionalities to meet consumer expectations,” the report said.
Specifically, more than two-thirds of the indexed brands now offer video content on their website, over half include a section of information geared to new pet owners, and nearly half provide filters for consumers to sort products by main ingredient, with 40 percent providing filters for dietary needs.
As examples of these types of helpful content, the report singled out Wellness for its “best-in-class product page experience through rich imagery portraying the raw ingredients in each of its recipes” and Purina’s Dog Chow for a dedicated page that lists, shows and defines all the ingredients used in its products, as well as ingredient-based product filters that improved the site’s search and navigation. However, Dog Chow lost points for failing to scale this content across e-commerce channels, thus landing the brand in the average category (presumably among other reasons not available in the excerpt).
The excerpt also provided some information and data on Google search metrics, both organic and via paid ads or keywords, for the indexed brands. The key takeaway: “To maximize return on customer acquisition investments through Google search, brands must build out commensurate content experiences that clearly articulate a value proposition that supports product awareness, consideration and conversion.”
Translation: to reach today’s connected, health-conscious consumers with their brands’ essential messages and benefits, pet food companies must coordinate and integrate their efforts and activities across all the digital channels they use.