It’s not often that you find yourself standing in an aisle, staring at massive rows of unfamiliar brands, wondering what to do next. But that’s the situation I found myself in after our cat arrived. As I stood there, letting my senses and my brain soak up the multitude of choices, I realized I had a rare opportunity to experience a pristine customer journey.
I was able to test myself against brands: how to prioritize choices, deconstruct the semiotics of packs, respond to advertising, rely on advisors? How to combine digital experience and real experience? Would I be rational or emotional? I decided to monitor my responses to find out.
First of all, the starting point of any brand – the profile of the consumer: our catsumer is called Esme Weatherwax, Waxie for short. She is from Nottingham, but now lives in a village in a two-trader household. She’s a black, white, and red-haired kitten, and she’s now a year old. Any rumors that she was a house cat or a house cat disappeared days after arriving, as she tried to climb the neighbor’s fence to chase her chickens.
His attitude profile is therefore fiery and adventurous. She also has a history of health problems, arriving with a digestive problem. His hobbies are pestering chickens, climbing trees and generally pretending to be a tiger. She loves the episodes of The Yorkshire Vet in which the vet is stepped on or bitten, and she consumes traditional media, but only through the litter box.
But what do you feed a cat? I started my trip the old fashioned way, with a trip to a huge big box pet food store.
I vaguely remembered the Whiskas from my childhood cat. In my mind, the brand was the standard for the category. Safe, predictable and served by the pharaohs. Sure enough, it was there, a confident and reassuring presence on the shelf, resplendent in imperial purple offset by cheerful typography and upbeat yellow. I wasn’t sure why the slightly worried looking cat was trying to get out of a hole.
And that was the first moment of truth – the personality conveyed by imagery. Almost every pack featured a photo of its furry brand ambassador. This resulted in immediate eliminations: Waxie is a cool cat (not that I’m biased) and some of them didn’t match his (projected) identity at all.
Imperial and haughty
The Duchess’s cat looked dismissive, with a haughty profile. No wonder with a name like this. And once again, the purple imperial icon and crown completed the mark. Too high for Waxie. The Gourmet cat was in the same direction.
The Duchess also raised questions about sustainability, as the structure of the packaging was made of plastic bags.
With two brands down, advertising began to play its part in the marketing mix. I spotted Sheba. Sheba’s latest campaign features a pretty middle-aged woman wiping her face on a cat. At least that’s what it looks like. This cat was in the pack and, wow, he looked dejected from the experience. Lying on his side, glaring “help me” towards the camera, against a dark black background. I suspected this cat was being held captive by the wiper. OK, this is supposed to be high end, sophisticated and intimate, but it was clear that I was not the target market.
Natural vs fun vs function
The remaining brands now fall into two main camps: natural versus fun. The tone of Hi Life has imposed itself: “the fish”, the playful double message “it’s only natural” and “50% fish, 100% natural, 200% loved” immediately won over my sense of the humor. And the cat looked perky, just like Waxie. I have been sold.
Except that I was not, because I had neglected my management of stakeholders. I was shopping with my wife, who by this point had heard pretty much enough nonsense about the cat’s gestalt. I was reminded that the cat, in other words, not me, had stomach issues and that nutrition should be our only consideration. Function, not emotion, should be our guide. And my wife’s extensive online research informed her that Purina had the best product formulation.
And of course, the brand did indeed resemble the choice of the responsible fur parent.
The goal of the brand aligned with our personal values, responsibly placing the needs of the animal first. It also articulated a “nutritional philosophy”. A rather grandiose title, but which reflected how seriously the brand took its mission and explained how it did it with scientific rigor.
Having passed the rational “nutrition” criterion, we worked methodically on all the evidence and claims of the brands. The shift from personality to functionality immediately increased their importance.
Well-being and the winner
Core and Lily’s Kitchen — equipped with several current trends in human nutrition and lifestyle. Lily’s is organic ‘good food’ and Core is referred to as ‘wellness’ and ‘high in protein’. But Core felt a bit “yoga mom” to me, and Lily was frankly an overly feminine mite, so those last suitors fell for it.
Exhausted, stunned and dazzled by the complexity, we made our choice. But of course, the brand is not the experience. And our catsumer wasted no time in forming a very clear opinion, being sick all over the kitchen.
Expert advice was sought, in the form of a reassuring vet in a white coat with a patrician tone of voice. The key word was natural. This simple instruction turned out to be the key to completing the journey. With this North Star to guide us, all other considerations were relegated. Web searches could finally be run accurately and evidence points compared to a clear dashboard.
One winner has emerged: Applaws. After all the complexities around personality, image and price, its simplicity shone through. The only clue of personality was the name, with the clever use of a coined term combining clapping and paws.
Fortunately, the catsumer’s digestive system agreed this time around, and a year later she’s a healthy and happy brand loyalist.
Branding is an immersive and multifaceted experience: purpose, proof points, positioning, packaging and promotion all played a role in decision making.
Brand management needs to balance the short and the long term: the immediate mixes with the embodied, as new information challenges long-held assumptions, perceptions and memories.
Personality – the natural and immediate identification with a brand – drives a strong instinctive response, which filters out brands by me / not me. Brands must therefore be clear in their attitudinal segmentation, their targeting and their identity.
The purpose behind brands. They provide a level of comfort in alignment with personal goals and values that builds trust and association. Every brand needs it to add layers of richness to their relationships.
Experts and influencers matter. Nurture your relationships with a large ecosystem of brand ambassadors, they are a vital source of objective information for the slightly baffled buyer.
Rob Allen is a strategic partner at Coley Porter Bell