Brand Loyalty and Lifelong Companions: How Hill’s Pet Nutrition and Other Brands Build Emotional Connections with Their Audiences

By Liz Alton on September 19, 2018

Can a brand ever be man's best friend?

While content marketers may not be able to compete with dogs for this top spot, emerging marketing trends in the pet industry provide insights into new strategies for improving customer loyalty: sentiment analysis and measuring consumer emotions.

The overlap is clear: what sector connects more to the ideals of unconditional love and lifelong companionship than the pet industry? Americans love their pets! Key brands in the animal space are building on this fact and forging deep relationships with their customers through content. At the same time, other industries are following their lead by connecting to core values and lifelong connections as part of their marketing approach.

As with most established connections, my interest in this topic was born from personal experience. Recently, my ten-year-old dog started having some stomach issues-and lethargy turned into a near-fatal episode that we avoided thanks to serendipity and a well-timed vet visit. She was diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis and put on prescription food and medication. Not knowing much about the condition, I set out in search of more information. What treats could I feed her? Did I have to change her exercise schedule? Are there any strategies I could use to prevent recurrences?

My search took me to Hill's Pet, a content initiative created by the pet food company Hill's that offers pet owners resources on caring for their furry friends. Hill's content on health conditions and keeping older dogs well gave me concrete tips and put my mind at ease. That, combined with the fact that my vet recommended one of their prescription foods, shifted my relationship with the brand and helped me feel even more connected.

Hill's isn't alone: brands across multiple, diverse industries use emotional context and address individual customer needs to create long-term companionship with their audiences.

The Emerging Science of Customer Emotions

Brands have historically focused on a variety of metrics, from brand recall to market share, when determining health. Yet increasingly, there's a focus on how brands are making customers feel and what that can do for building better customer relationships. On the surface, it can sound amorphous, but emerging science and new technologies are making it easier to turn customer sentiment and emotions into a concrete, measurable metric.

As one expert from Forrester notes, "Do you know how your customers feel about their experiences with your firm? Customers' emotions can damage-or improve-customers' perception of the overall experience and your firm's ability to grow. Customers' emotions affect whether you'll lose or keep them, whether they will buy more or less from you, and whether they will spread good or bad word of mouth about your company."

Harvard Business Review recently weighed in on the topic of the science of customer emotions and found that one financial services company that focused on building emotional connections with millennial consumers increased use in the segment by 70 percent and new accounts by 40 percent. Connecting with customers at an emotional level-whether it's by empowering them or providing community and connection-is a powerful strategy.

family with dog and cat

Image attribution: Sarandy Westfall

Hill's Pet: Building Strong Relationships by Empowering Pet Owners

Returning to the pet industry, I recently began paying more attention to this space as a prime source of useful, emotionally connected content. As a long time dog person, my search history is rife with queries about "safe treats for dogs" and "how to give older dogs more energy." For pet owners, a pet can be anything from a trusted companion to a member of the family. In this case, the information an industry provides through its content is not simply "interesting" or "entertaining," but carries the much more significant responsibility of acting as an authority for one of the most important parts of people's lives.

One anecdote that demonstrates the full weight and emotional impact of content in the pet space comes in the form of feedback shared by a fellow Hill's Pet reader, who wrote to thank the brand for helping treat his dog in a moment of extreme crisis. In a message to the author of a Hill's article on how to notice signs of heatstroke in your dog, he wrote:

"My dog started convulsing tonight, and I had no idea what was happening. Being the millennial I am, I immediately turned to Google and panic-posted in my group chat, trying to figure out what was wrong with my guy. Rio, my three-legged chocolate lab/pit mix, has been with me through some of my toughest times, along with some of my greatest. I am less than a month out into the real world after graduating college, so losing my best friend would have been devastating to me.

"Thanks to your contribution, 'Heat Exhaustion in Dogs: Signs Your Dog Is Overheating,' I was able to take the right steps to cool my guy off, and get him back down to normal. The cool, wet cloth under the armpits tip is what really helped him the most it seemed. I just wanted to reach out and validate that you were able to help someone with your writing."

By recognizing the range of needs that customers are likely to have and creating content that empowers them, Hill's provides a great example for brands. What issues do your customers struggle with the most? How could solving them-or providing the information that people need during difficult times or when making big decisions-help your brand become a lifelong trusted companion?

The JMMB Group: Bringing Love to Financial Services

While not quite as cuddly, another industry where brands are working to establish a sense of trust and loyalty with customers is financial services.

The JMMB Group, a financial holding company that operates in the Caribbean, always works to consider people above profits, offering a wide variety of services to lower-income customers.

The company's founder had a vision: "Start a company where any Jamaican could walk in off the street, take a few hundred dollars from their pocket, and invest it. When they did, they would be greeted by team members who, motivated by love, and truly having their best interest at heart, treated them with respect." The brand quickly grew to become Jamaica's largest trading company at the time, and now has operations in multiple countries.

In an environment where financial minimums could keep many people from opening investment accounts, JMMB offers an inclusive message that's all about finding your financial possibilities. Consider their messaging campaign, "Through real heart-to-heart connections, we partner with you on your journey to achieve your and your family's goals and dreams."

Financial services messaging is tricky. Trust is important when customers are handing over their money. By building on a mission that's centered around financial possibilities for all-and a framing that's built around the idea of partnership-a financial brand becomes a lifelong partner as individual customers' wealth continues to grow. It's a sustainable cycle that supports both customers and brands.

Xbox Ambassadors: Community Through Belonging

marketing to video game community

Image attribution: Glenn Carstens-Pete

Another way that brands are cultivating strong relationships, positive sentiment, and brand love is through building communities and exclusive experiences. Gaming is an industry that's filled with a lot of passionate fans. People are dedicated to specific platforms, game franchises, and convention scenes. They can spend hundreds of hours monthly playing games, talking about games online, and streaming or watching gameplay on platforms like Twitch. For many, gaming is more than a hobby-it's a lifestyle.

Xbox has found a smart strategy for capitalizing on that devotion by turning uber fans into Xbox Ambassadors. As one press release notes, they encourage players to become involved "on and off their consoles." From a branded YouTube channel to active Twitter promotion, the Xbox team highlights members, offers rewards and prizes, and facilitates ways for gamers to network.

Does your brand have major devotees or top customers? Finding ways to help deepen your relationship with them can have a significant payoff over time. Recognize their experience and influence. Offer them exclusive content and rewards. Help them build relationships with your team, your brand, and each other to associate positive social benefits with your brand. If your brand helps connect them to their favorite people, customers will continue to come back time and again.

For marketers, it's an exciting time to invest in strategies that build stronger connections with your customers. It's not just about understanding their needs: it's about finding shared values and making those a key part of your messaging. Content can empower customers, reinforce their dreams, and help them feel like they are part of a larger, thriving community. Take the time to explore how you can take your emotional connections to customers to the next level.

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Featured image attribution: Rachel Haberman


Liz Alton

Liz Alton is a technology and marketing writer, and content strategist, for Fortune 500 brands and creative agencies. Her specialties include marketing, technology, B2B, big data/analytics, cloud, and mobility. She's worked with clients including Adobe, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Twitter, ADP, and Google. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and an MBA. She is currently pursuing a master’s in journalism from Harvard University.