" Positioning & Innovation Tips in Petcare by Hayley Roe | Haines McGregor

I’m not well known for being able to switch off away from work, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the role my pets have played over the past 8 months, so I figured this week was the perfect time to write something. 

While most of my team members work on celebrity tequila, craft beer and other ‘high badge’ categories, I get to work on the real stuff, the good stuff, the stuff that really matters – where you get down and dirty (quite literally) and where stool consistency and pooper scoopers are lauded and lamented in equal measure. Yes you guessed it…the Petcare category.

Over the past 25 years working across every category in every continent bar Antarctica, never have I known a more real, raw, emotive and identity defining category as Petcare. 

It’s the ultimate perception market; driven by the type of relationship you aspire to have with your pet (psychologists, by the way, have an absolute field day in Petcare), but more on that later.  In today’s crazy lockdown hairstyles, working in your PJs and JOMO (Joy of Missing Out), one thing has remained constant for us dog owners…and that’s the need to feed, walk and poop Fido.

It turns out this relentless slave to their routine was actually my lockdown saviour. 

Every day (at roughly the same time), myself and a legion of Richmond dog walkers would pound the path with our pooches, discussing (at Covid-friendly arm’s length) how our dogs were coping.  Topics ranged from how attached and needy they were becoming, how their diet had shifted to being more home-cooked, organic and freshly-prepared, how anxious and over-bearing they could be, stressing about the smallest thing, how they’d gone from wanting walks every day to total couch-potatoes and how they were thinking about letting their natural hair colour grow through. At times, I wish I’d sneakily put my iPhone on record in my pocket. There was some real gold here. 

Replace ‘they’ with ‘I’ and you’ve got the perfect doggylicious recipe for anthropomorphism. 

There’s been plenty written about how we treat our pets as one of the family and how petcare trends follow human trends, but it’s not that simple. It’s more than that, it goes deeper, it’s more personal. 

The role these furry critters plays in our lives has fundamentally changed in 2020, shifting from playtime friend to the beating heart of the family. Lockdown daily routine was planned around the dog walk. It was the emotional and functional highlight of the day. 

 

So what?

This shift has sped things up somewhat. All those trends you had penned for 2025 have just been accelerated…BIG TIME.  If you didn’t have organic in your innovation funnel….get it in, regardless of if you’re a premium natural, mainstream or retail brand.  If you were worried about the technical wording of ‘fresh meat’ on your packaging, get your R&D and legal team in a room together now and solve the challenge. If you haven’t cracked your recyclable packaging or sustainability angle, work with your insight team to decode what it means for your consumer.

My top ‘unlocks’ for brand planning for the now, next and beyond would be as follows:

  1.  Sustainability (beyond simply packaging, including alternative proteins)
  2. Organics (yes this is heavy on COGs, but there are some interesting ways in)
  3. Clean Living (fresh, transparent, raw and real see Rocketo)
  4. DTC/E-Commerce (think guidance and personalisation)
  5. Considered and Cared For (language and comms that evoke desire – see Billy & Margot)
  6. Mental Health & Wrap Around Care (holistic, calming and soothing, play and engagement)
  7. Premiumisation & Luxury (beyond food into more lifestyle and services)
  8. Fostering Good Immunity (gut health, microbiome – see Canikur)

The key to innovating and positioning brands in this market is having an vivid understanding of your tribe. If you don’t know that, you can’t build a brand that creates desire. So do you know who they seek advice from? What their aspirations are? The turmoil and tensions in their lives? And critically, do you have a deep understanding and appreciation of the relationship they seek with their pet? From surrogate child to gym buddy or the heart and soul of the family? Oh and not forgetting how much they think about the firmness of their pet’s stools…

For more information on our Petcare map, and where your brand is currently plotting from a pet/owner relationship perspective email me on Hayley.roe@hainesmcgregor.co.uk. You may also like to read our Petcare Trends for 2020 and Beyond article on our website.