Create Pet Food Branding that Tells a Story
Portrait of Samantha Scantlebury along a puppy and cat eating out of stainless steel bowls.

Signal Theory Brand Strategy Director shares expert tips in Webinar

What do spices and pet food have in common? According to Samantha Scantlebury, Signal Theory’s brand strategy director, when it comes to marketing – everything. “You’re talking to the same people,” she says, “and you’re talking about a challenge that’s based in the food category just as much as it’s based in the pet food category.” 

Samantha, who has worked with brands including Elanco, Merck, Borden Cheese and Black & Decker, recently shared her expertise in a Petfood Industry webinar titled Pet food branding: How to stand out in a crowded market. “The biggest challenge facing pet food brands today is overcoming the cognitive load barrier of customers that stems from a crowded marketplace.”

“The biggest challenge facing pet food brands today is overcoming the cognitive load barrier of customers that stems from a crowded marketplace.” 

Cognitive Load and the Crowded Aisle

Cognitive load refers to the amount of information we can hold in our working memory at a given time. Pet owners have hundreds of products to choose from in the store, online and at their vet’s office. All are vying for attention with colorful packaging and competing claims, price and placement. Brands have to work hard to stand out.

“The space is flooded and there are more brands than ever before,” says Samantha. Not only that, many are joining the movement around humanizing the wellness benefits of pet food ingredients like antioxidants and immune support, making such brand attributes less differentiating. And, while pets are a priority, Samantha says people still need to make decisions fast.

What’s a pet food marketer to do? Samantha turned to a parallel example to provide some inspiration to the Petfood Industry audience. “What you’re seeing in pet food is what is also happening in the spice aisle,” she says. “People start taking shortcuts.” 

Spicing Up Your Brand Story

Twist’d Q approached Signal Theory with a challenge: Brand a new, premium line of seasonings and rubs in a way that stands out on store shelves. “They knew they could not come out of parity. They knew they had to do something different,” says Samantha. “They couldn’t rely on lab-originated flavors.”

Jars of five different Twist'd Q seasonings backlit against a bright sky.

The team started with a 360-degree evaluation of the four Cs: Category, Culture, Company and Customer. What they found led them to an unexpected target audience: men, particularly millennial men.

From there, the team zeroed in on the signals customers were sending to the spice industry and determined what signals Twist’d Q needed to send back. “There were a lot of wonderful things Twist’d Q could talk about in product attributes and even functional benefits,” says Samantha. “We knew we had to get to a higher level and start expressing emotional benefit.”

The Signal Theory team dug even deeper, taking the brand story to the aspirational level. “We wanted Twist’d Q customers to experience the joy of being the master of their craft,” she says. 

They worked with pitmasters, formulating handcrafted recipes and distinct barbecue flavors. Then they tested them in competition. Ad and social media campaigns positioned Twist’d Q as a barbecue authority, inspired barbecue fans to share their own experiences and connected brand advocates with barbecue culture content through influencers and a four-part documentary series featuring their championship pitmasters. The result: Twist’d saw an immediate 6.8% sales lift at Walmart and Kroger, keeping it on the shelves. 

Takeaways for Pet Food Brands 

“Brands are not built in silos,” says Samantha. “You have to get to that understanding of the customer and the context around them in order to build a strong brand.” That’s true regardless of whether you are selling spices or pet food. She has the following takeaways for pet food marketers:

  • Your customers are human. They make decisions based on an emotional connection with your brand. The story narrative is key; attributes and functional benefits only take you so far.
  • Fully examine the 4Cs. Focusing on the culture, category, customer and company of your market highlights opportunities for resonance and differentiation.
  • Consistency across the customer journey is crucial for full brand impact. The mere exposure effect states the more a person hears about a brand through consistent messaging, the more familiarity will cause them to favor it.

“Signal Theory’s philosophy is that advertising should be human and focus on real and proven ways that humans make decisions,” says Samantha. “At the end of the day, we are advertising to people.” 

“At the end of the day, we are advertising to people.” 

Watch on demand at the Petfood Industry site: Pet food branding: How to stand out in a crowded market. Or read our full Twist’d Q case study.

See more of Signal Theory’s work with pet brands:

  • How we helped Elanco build ear infection awareness with the Elanco Ear Book
  • How a soap opera narrative helped tell Claro’s brand story 
  • How we helped Bayer Pet Supplements enter the direct-to-consumer market

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