On a recent Sunday afternoon running errands with my friend, we had to stop at the pet store for food for his dog, Freckles. Now for a bit of a backstory on my pet history, my family used to have 2 cats that passed away five years ago and we have been a pet-free household ever since. Because of this, I haven’t stepped foot inside a pet store since 2007.
Upon walking in, I was taken aback for the sheer number of options available for customers’ Rover or Ginger to eat. Seriously, there were two aisles devoted to food (dry and wet), giant economy-sized bags and tiny single-use bags, ranging from expensive and cheap. This got me thinking. Who are these companies trying to appeal to? The dogs or the owners? Well, a bit of both, actually!
“Dog food marketing” is the term used when the users of a product aren’t the decision makers that companies are appealing to. In the case of a literal translation using dog food, the consumers are the dogs, but the buyers (and customers) are their owners. What a marketing job that must be! The target market that you’re trying to appeal to ultimately isn’t the end-user. You have to sell the benefits the dog will receive to the owner who will be responsible for actually purchasing the product. If you want Rover to have a shiny coat, then buy product X. If Ginger has been putting on the pounds lately, then it’s time to try product Y.
Now, here’s the part that I find fascinating: how do you know exactly that Rover or Ginger really want that? It’s one thing to go to the vet and have them recommend a brand or type of food to use, but how does the everyday Jack or Jill know what to buy? For that question, I asked people who actually had a dog (what a concept, right?).
I asked our dog-owning QLP Blog Squad members what their reasons are for buying a particular dog food. Is it the brand, price, packaging, ingredients, some combination of each? The number one responses were ingredients and nutrition. Almost all of them avoided buying brands that don’t list real meat and natural ingredients on the packaging. In other words: if it’s not good enough for them to eat, why would they feed it to their favorite four-legged friend? For some dogs, fillers are imperative to health and general well-being, like Jeff’s dogs. And for Kelly’s 12-year-old pooch, avoiding preservatives is a must. Each dog and owner is different, but what they’re looking for isn’t necessarily out of left field!
I was really surprised that packaging didn’t land higher on owners’ priority lists. I say this because I don’t actually own any pets, but I’m pretty sure I’d buy whatever looked good on the bag and was nutritious (I’d be lying if I said that while we were shopping my mouth wasn’t watering a bit). Oven-baked chicken with rosemary? Sure! Grandma’s pot roast and veggies? Add it to the cart. Liver and onions? Pass. A picture tells a thousand words, so the one on your packaging better tell how nutritious and delicious your food is or how amazing your product is.
Price was another factor that I was surprised didn’t make the list from my Blog Squad respondents. For me, price determines a lot of decisions about my purchases. However, I suppose I’d apply the same philosophy I have about buying food for myself as I would for Fido. Just like I don’t buy steak or crab every night for dinner because it’s expensive, I wouldn’t want to do the same for my dog (sorry, Fido). But I don’t buy cheap, crappy food for myself, so I wouldn’t for him either. So, middle of the road it must be, and I’d buy an occasional bag of really nice food when there’s money left over or if I decide to give Fido a treat. You should always make sure you give your customers options with your pricing and features. Offer a low budget item, middle-of-the-road priced item, and include all the bells and whistles on an expensive product. That way, no matter what a customer’s finances are like, you’ll be able to attract them.
Now, you may be thinking to yourself; “yeah, this information is great, Amy. Now, how am I supposed to use this information if I’m not in the dog food business?!”
Well smarty-pants, let me tell you:
1. Know who your consumer is and who your customer is. The dogs are the consumers since they consume the product, but your customers who are buying it are their owners. Know what appeals to your customers so they buy it in the first place.
2. Know what your consumer and customer wants. Whether your consumers want all the bells and whistles but your customer wants a quality product but refuses to pay more than necessary for it. Performing simple market research can answer these questions.
3. While packaging is very important, it can only go so far. Your packaging should attract customers and consumers to your brand, but if the contents of it don’t back up the box it comes in, then what’s the point? Make sure you have a quality product that customers will buy time after time regardless of what picture is on it.
Hey, if the pet food can make $11 billion per year in the U.S., then they must be doing something right. Borrow some of their marketing tips to make your company a success. And if nothing else, stick a picture of pot roast smothered in gravy with peas and carrots on your packaging and you’ll be sure to see a spike in sales, at least from me.
Can you think of any other products that use the ‘dog food marketing’ strategy by selling it to the group who ultimately won’t be the end-user? What determines what kind of dog (or cat or fish or guinea pig) food you buy? Sound off below!