There’s a huge branding opportunity in the pet industry right now. Do you see it too? If you stick with me till the end, you will.

The understood value of your brand differentiation by pet parents is the essential characteristic determining the level of success for your pet brand. In the dog food product category, “grain free” is often used as a differentiator, among many others; while cat litter may be labeled “dust free.”  Though these labels help to categorize brands, I do not believe pet consumers understand the value of your brand’s attributes, as they aren’t communicated to differentiate on your consumer packaging.

If they do not understand the value of your brand’s difference, it is likely they will not place a higher value on it in their minds either.

Few pet consumers would say, “I am going to be loyal to a specific brand even though I perceive all other major brands in the category to be more or less alike”—nor will they pay a higher price for that brand’s products.  If consumers do not understand the value of differences between major brands in a pet category—then brand parity exists. It will grow at increasing rates if we don’t fix it.

The scale of brand parity’s impact cuts deep.

Take a lesson from grocery brands

Brand parity will drastically decrease emotional and cognitive brand loyalty, increase price and promotion sensitivity, and cripple consumer engagement within the category due to a lack of useful information.

Consumers will quickly come to believe that they’ve learned all they need to learn about products in your category and tune out new messages, increasing the level investment needed to break through to them tenfold.

I strongly believe these two statements to be true in the pet industry in many of the product categories today:

  1. The Pet Parent Consumers do not understand the unique and superior value of you or your competitor brand’s differentiation. They do not understand the value of “attribute-driven performance” to their pet or to their lives as pet parents.
  2. The Pet Branding Guys clearly believe they are successfully differentiating their brand’s promise of unique and superior value in their minds.

Let’s revisit premium dog food as a clear example of pet brand parity and its impact on the consumer. Specifically, the grain free subcategory of premium dog food sold in PetSmart in Portsmouth, New Hampshire; across two 30-foot-long top shelves. There are 15 different grain free brands each with between two and six formulas.

These sixty feet of retail shelves stocked four deep with grain free dog food brands hint that pet parents do understand the benefits of shopping in the grain free category. However, I do not believe the lion share of pet parents understand the benefits of the sub-categorization of the grain-free category.

Subcategorization is differentiation based on attributes.

Do you understand the performance benefits that these attributes empower? For example, you’ll read grain free dog food attributes like “contains meat sourced from the wilderness” or “nutrient-rich for internal organs” or “superfood supplemented meat.” There’s also: raw food, buffalo meat, duck meat and so on. From just this subcategorization messaging, it’s impossible to understand how or why these unique product attributes deliver a superior benefit.

How does your brand’s attribute drive a superior benefit to me, your consumer?

Make me understand—quickly. Show me as well as tell me.  Say it more plainly than competitors. Exude a commitment and credibility to out-nurture this difference over competitors. Educate me on how delivering your product’s attribute is the best option for the greater good of humanity—or for my pup. Prove that your brand’s attribute delivers on its unique promise of superior value, every single time. Prove it in a way as clear as day, and as instantly believable as surely as morning follows night. Enforce its credibility with scientific proof, customer proof, emotional proof and yes—the new proof.* Be certain the value of this attribute is the first thing pet parents understand about your brand, not the second.

For sixty feet, I did not see any reliable, believable claims that a brand’s key attribute delivers a superior performance benefit. It is not obvious. It is not clear. It confused me. And there is no way I am alone in this lack of understanding.

This current pet category situation creates a huge opportunity for a challenger brand to emerge as a new leader through a powerful, effective differentiation strategy.

I asked a store associate along the 60-foot tour she took with me. She sped up my purchase decision by confirming, “they are all grain free.” Followed by, “all the brands in this aisle are premium dog food, so they are all good. What flavor do you think your dog will like?”  I replied, “we have 4 dogs competing to eat each others’ food, so I guess they like the least expensive flavor.” She got a chuckle. Then brought me over to the brand having a promotion.

To seize the opportunity Pet Brand Parity has created for your brand, you must understand the following:

  • The understood value of your brand differentiation by pet parents is the essential characteristic determining the level of success for your pet brand.
  • Pet consumers do not understand how these attributes deliver a superior benefit to them.
  • Pet consumers do not understand how these attributes deliver a superior benefit to their pet.
  • Branding guys, like me, do understand that your brand’s attribute is the unique way create a new sub-segment of your category, and successfully differentiate your story enough for mega pet buyers to put you on their shelves.
  • This attribute is how you segment your category clearly enough to get your brand on the retailer’s shelf, and it’s the first message a consumer must read on your packaging.
  • The grain free product category is one of many pet categories sprinting toward brand parity. And I believe you can stop it before it’s too late.
  • This problem is a massive untapped opportunity for a new challenger brand to differentiate and emerge as a leader.

If you’re a brand manager in a pet category rife with parity and are a good person too—come visit us.

Let’s collaborate for a day to explore the opportunity to deploy a strategy that repositions your competitors’ difference as inferior. There’s a big opportunity for the first brand to seize the moment in mature pet product categories—and we know exactly how to do it.

We get pet.