Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

Why You Should Apply Dog Food Marketing Strategies to Your Target Market

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 to 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 actual 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 of the dog’s meal to their 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.

I asked our dog-owning Quality Logo Products® team 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 the quality of the product.

Price was another factor that I was surprised didn’t make the list from my Quality Logo Products® 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.  Your consumers want all the bells and whistles, but they also want a quality product without paying more than necessary for it. Performing simple market research can help you find something that meets all of those needs.

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 content doesn’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 the package looks like.

Hey, if the pet food industry 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!


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  1. Joseph Giorgi

    In all honesty, when we started buying organic, grain-free cat food for our three cats, we weren’t sure how they’d take to it. Turns out that they love it — of course. We’ve noticed that their fur is much softer as well. The top-shelf stuff really does make a difference when it comes to ANY pet food. Then again, fish might be a different story.

    • amy

      I forgot how different food can affect cat’s coats (I’m assuming this happens with dogs too, but I’m not positive). I’m sure all three of your little kitties are quite thankful for the top-shelf food 🙂

  2. Mandy Kilinskis

    Baby toys! Even though the colors might attract a kid’s attention, it’s really the features (or cuteness) of the item that sways the parents to put it in their cart.

    Is it soft so it can’t hurt the baby? Does it inspire creativity and critical thinking at an early age? These are things that parents want to know. All the kids care about is that it makes a fun noise when you shake it or that they can chew it. When the kids get older, the same idea applies. Fancy Nancy dolls fly off the shelves because little girls whine that they want her matching purse; parents hope that some of Nancy’s manners will rub off on their little princesses.

    • amy

      That’s a great example, Mandy! It’s so true and one that I think every parent does.

      Thanks for commenting!

    • Candice J.

      I can say from personal experience that this is very true! All my daughter cares about in her toys is: does it talk, does it light up, does it move. As long as it does all 3, she’s happy. Myself, on the other hand…I’m worried about what is it saying, is the sequence of lights ok for her, if it moves is it durable and sturdy enough that she won’t get hurt. The children’s toy market in general for any child under the age of 2-3 is really geared toward the parent. She has no idea what the commercial is saying or offering, but I do. If the product is safe, educational, and interactive than I’m sold! I’m sure that’s what marketers are banking on.

  3. Alex Brodsky

    my babies get all natural dog food for their main meals, but they’re completely spoiled. They also get to eat whatever people-food I’m eating at that moment. Sometimes they even get regular-people chicken on top of their dog food!

    As far as other products that use this strategy, any toys for little kids are aimed at parents. Though the kids are the final consumer, I don’t know any 3 year olds with twenty bucks to throw down on a set of Legos.

    Nice post, Amy!

    • amy

      My dad was definitely the parent who bought toys for my sister and I that he would enjoy playing with too. Hence, we got a lot of KINEX and LEGOs – no complaints though. They are by far the coolest toys ever and I can remember spending my allowance on them when I was old enough 🙂

      Great example, Alex! Thanks!

  4. Jen

    I think some of the scrap meat used in dog food is disgusting! I wouldn’t eat ground up lips and butt-holes, so why would I let my dog eat them?

    Since Roxy was a puppy I hand made all of her food. She is small and doesn’t eat much, so it was fairly inexpensive and I knew what was in it. Now I’ve gotten lazy and I buy her all natural canned food, and she loves it and it saves me time.

    Great post Amy!

    • amy

      Thanks Jen for reading and commenting! I had never thought about making dog food, but you have the added confidence of knowing exactly what’s in it so it completely makes sense.

      I’m sure Roxy loves the natural canned food that you’re getting here now 🙂

  5. Jeff Porretto

    Thanks for the shout out to my pups! Everyone says all natural foods and lack of fillers are the best. And while their fur was amazing soft and I’m sure the ingredients were top notch, they were STARVING! We had to feed them 3 times a day to keep their bellies full, and they would still get sick in between. We had to switch back to run of the mill Iambs and haven’t looked back since…

    Nice post!

  6. Jill Tooley

    Thanks for representing guinea pigs in the parting line, Amy! 😉

    I don’t own a dog, so I can’t speak for that type of food. However, I’ll only buy the highest-quality pellets for my little babies. It’s a couple of bucks more each bag, but it’s worth it. Sometimes I have to order it online because stores like PetSmart don’t carry it, and my local pet store (non-chain) runs out pretty quickly. It’s funny, because the type I buy isn’t really advertised much, it’s mostly a word-of-mouth product. I refuse to buy any mainstream brands like Kaytee because guinea pigs have strict dietary requirements and I’m never satisfied with the ingredients. Random GP fact: they don’t produce their own vitamin C, so they need to eat a certain amount of it each day in order to stay healthy. That’s why it’s a huge no-no to buy rabbit pellets for piggies, because those pellets aren’t enriched with good old vitamin C! (Okay, gotta stop. Otherwise I’ll be spouting off guinea pig trivia all day). 😉

    Anyway, this topic fascinated me. The idea that marketers are even targeting people through their furry friends is kind of crazy! Makes total sense, though. High-end pet shops like Wet Nose cater to an upscale audience, too…only they’re marketing faux-fur lined parkas for pooches instead of edible goods. I guess this just goes to show that people are obsessed with their animals!

  7. Anne Hier

    If all one is doing is looking for “natural” products then the buyer really is victim of “dog food marketing” buzz words. The sad fact of the matter is that the majority of buyers have no idea of how much protein, fat, or other ingredients like trace minerals a dog actually needs in its diet. Instead, they prefer the feel good approach of how a product is advertised. Dogs do not need to eat food that is fit for human consumption as any pathogens in the meat products are usually killed in the processing. Who really thinks dogs know the difference? Dogs lick each other’s rear ends, will eat carrion, your garbage or any other rotting food, and dogs that live in and around stables think horse manure is a delicacy.

  8. heather gwillim

    I am a passionate dog owner myself and I wanted a top quality food I could trust to give my precious dogs the best, but I am always short of time so I wanted a dry food that was grain free, used human grade ingredients was vet approved all ingredients fully traceable and was affordable so here it is my own brand of food Leaping Dog with my dogs on the label

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