Why Pet Retailers Are the Best Influencers for Brands
About eight years ago, I was sitting in Nebraska getting ready to tour a pet food manufacturing plant owned by a company I did not feel was doing the best for our pets. I had not requested to be there, and, at the time, I was not writing for the industry, so it wasn’t my esteemed columnist status that got me the invite. It was because some sales representatives considered me an influencer in my area.
You have to remember, eight years ago, if a brand wanted to increase its sales or launch a new product, it started at the stores. At that time, there were not a plethora of internet-based stores ready to ship a bag of dog food, so if a manufacturer wanted to launch an advertising campaign, it needed to be sitting on the local shelves. That’s how the cycle worked. A brand would work hard at going after an influencer in the area and get on that store’s shelves. The brand would pick up more and more stores and cause the bigger multistore locations and franchises to take notice. As the brand gained market share, the role of the influencer became less and less important—that is, until the manufacturer was ready to launch a new product or formula.
Is the influencer role still as crucial to a manufacturer as what it was years ago? Depends on your target audience. For those manufacturers that are just trying to get to the mass audience, influencers have never been important; instead, they just flood the pet owner with advertisements. Think about those pet foods in your local grocery store; they have a whole different philosophy of marketing.
What about the manufacturers of super-premium pet foods? Can’t they just follow the same template and flood the pet owner with advertisements, paid influencers and marketing so those consumers will demand that a store carry a product?
In fact, does the brand need brick-and-mortar micro independents at all? If the brand is going to market directly to consumers, then why not send them to the avenues that have the greatest reach to consumers, like the internet retailers? That’s where the pendulum tends to start swinging in a different direction.
The pet owner purchasing a $100 bag of dog food typically has done some research, which usually leaves them more confused than when they started. They read one article telling them to avoid certain ingredients, and the next mouse click is an article telling them only to buy products with those ingredients. For every testimonial about how good a food is, they will read the same food can cause their dog to get sick. That confusion leads them to finding someone who can help them navigate all the information. That might be a paid blogger, a manufacturer’s nutritionist or some university research, but they find someone to influence them.
For the most part, having an influencer as an advocate for a brand rarely has any downside. However, what should a manufacturer do when an influencer who has been an advocate for their products starts to question the products and, for that matter, the manufacturer? That is certainly nothing new in our industry. I cannot tell you how many times I have picked up the phone to ask a manufacturer a question. I would make decisions based on how they answered my questions.
Recently, I learned of an influencer, brick-and-mortar store owner and blogger who started to have some reservations about a trusted brand in her store. Like many of us, she decided to spend some time asking her questions at a trade show. Much to her surprise, she was left with even more questions and doubts. She continued on her quest to find out information by calling the company as well as its sales representatives. Her questions continued to either be unheard or unanswered, so she took to social media. She posed the questions she had been seeking answers for and was met with a letter from the manufacturer stating “[her store] is no longer a fit for [the manufacturer] as a retail partner.” The letter continued “…we have an expectation of basic standards for retailers who represent our brand and a partnership based on mutual trust, respect and communication.”
Mutual trust? I trust every brand in my store up to the point that I don’t trust them. The burden is completely on the manufacturer to keep my trust. I realize there are two sides to every story, but I can tell you from reading this manufacturer’s letter that they are trying to say the retailer was telling lies and spreading untrue rumors.
Recently, a trusted manufacturer of mine made some formula changes to one of its core products. I was shocked to say the least and immediately picked up the phone and asked them why they made the changes. They answered my questions to my satisfaction, and the most telling statement from them was: “If you feel the changes we made and the reasons we made them no longer fit with the products you have in your store, we are happy to buy back what you have on your shelves.” I liked what I heard and am continuing with the brand, but I can tell you that if I had heard “We don’t like your line of questioning and do not think you’re a good fit for us,” the outcome would have been a lot different on both sides.
The thing with influencers is, we tend to have a loyal following.
B.C. Henschen, a certified pet care technician and an accredited pet trainer, is a partner in Platinum paws, a full-service pet salon and premium pet food store in Carmel, Ind. His knowledge of the pet food industry makes Platinum Paws the go-to store for pet owners who want more for their pet than a bag off a shelf.