“Under-branding” is a major issue in the pet food industry, said Sarah Julian, owner of Offleash Communications, a branding and marketing agency that works with many pet product companies. And by under-branding, she meant relying on only heart-tugging images of cute puppies and kittens to portray your brand, or having a mission statement that is rather generic to the industry, such as, “to help pets live long, happy lives”; which is what every pet food or pet product company sets out to do. It’s not a differentiator.

In a July 30 webinar, “How to effectively market pet food products,” Julian offered several tips, dos and don’ts on how to build and maintain a pet food brand in today’s market. For starters, you have to understand that you can no longer follow a strategy of pushing your marketing out and hoping the right consumers see it, she said. Rather, you have to pull your target consumer in by owning your brand, your story and your relationship with that consumer. But how?

Developing your pet food brand

First, it helps to know what a brand is not. It isn’t just a name, logo or product, Julian said; it’s a consistent promise to be an authentic entity. Julian characterized the relationship between the brand and the consumer as, “I will make you a promise and you will show your belief and trust in my promise by buying my product.”

Under-branding results when a brand owner fails to fully think through and develop foundational elements, starting with a vision or mission statement that goes beyond “to improve the lives of pets” to become a driving force that sets your brand apart from all the others in the marketplace and catalyzes your team to believe in it and share their passion for it.

To begin that development process, Julian recommended asking three questions of people inside and outside your company:

  1. What do you think our company sells?
  2. What do you think makes our company different?
  3. What do you think our company stands for?

A lot of work, with payoffs

The answers to these questions should start to flesh out a vision and mission statement for the brand. They’re part of the first of five stages of developing a brand described by Julian: discovery, positioning, messaging, visuals and stewardship.

She provided a 15-point checklist to guide brand owners through the five stages, plus other questions to ask yourself during the process, such as:

  • How do we want to be different?
  • What do we want to be known for?
  • How can we live this every day?
  • How does this define our marketing, innovation, sales, product development and culture?

If this seems like a lot of work – well, it is, and sometimes requires a significant financial outlay. To help convince your company leadership to make that type of investment, you need to make the business case, Julian said. She offered several payoffs, including success in the market right out of the gate; the ability to attract and retain better talent, as employees today (especially millennials and younger people) want to work for a company and brand they believe in; and the ability to attract the right customers for your product, which leads to increased brand loyalty and, thus, greater sales.

You can also command higher prices, Julian believes, as a well-defined brand is less likely to be a commodity. And that fits right in with today’s premium pet food market and the pet owners looking for those products.

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dphillips@wattglobal.com