Pet Food Brands Put ‘Pupfluencers’ to the Test

Jonathan Gardner

From Manny the Frenchie, to Toast, the Cavalier King Charles spaniel, pet-fluencers are heating up social media and getting brands to fork over big dollars for product endorsements. However, with the maturing of the earned media industry in 2018, new tools and deeper insights are helping marketers ask questions and make more demands about their influencer marketing campaigns.

Like much of modern marketing, any brand benefits when influential puppies and kitties (and their owners, agents and handlers) are held to hard numbers. And, the right influencer marketing strategy comes down to matching the strategies to the goal, and connecting influencers to ROI, on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and across the web.

Your strategy will vary based on size of your brand, campaign goals, budgets and targets. Whether you’re an incumbent or challenger, food brands and retailers can learn a lot from the other’s tactics. Companies as diverse as BarkBox, Royal Canin, Whiskas, Blue Buffalo, United Pet Group, Hills, J.M. Smucker, Mars Petcare, Petco,, PetSmart and Nestle Purina are competing in a multibillion-dollar category where you not only have to appeal to the tastebuds of pooches and kittens, but to the social media habits and wallets of wide-ranging consumer audiences.

For some, it may be worth it to work with a celebrity animal to get in front of a large audience, but with accompanying lower rates of engagement. Companies that have reach as their number-one goal or that are selling low-consideration products may find developing micro-influencer programs to be inefficient. Some brands will always want to get their messages in front of as many people as possible.

Other brands want bang for small bucks by working with a handful of lesser-known tail-wagging, catnapping influencers whose followers are really engaged with their authenticity and the messages they are sharing. What’s required is a commitment to a hands-on approach, and investment in specific tools or headcount.

The rewards can be clear, since some influencers with smaller numbers of followers get more engagement. Instagram users with hundreds of followers get, on average, about five times the rate of engagement on their posts as do those with one million or more.

The value for brands and campaigns is usually in engagement, not just reach. Content on most social platforms has an ephemeral quality, making engagement all the more important. What is going to matter for a marketer, a tweet that gets 10,000 impressions but no engagements or one that gets 1,000 impressions and a ton of engagement?

Brands need to view this on an ‘engagements per thousand followers’ (EPM), basis. Think of this as the new version of the traditional cost per thousand (CPM), but for influencer marketing. Metrics like this can make a difference and help hold everyone accountable as marketers step up and make transparency and performance demands of their partners and vendors.

Regardless of micro or macro, brands are looking for a higher degree of clarity about the true nature of influencers’ relationships with audiences. They want answers about who is sharing content, how and why content it is being shared, and value for the influencer marketing budget.

The idea that follower count equals influence has been challenged, and influencer marketing must now satisfy three criteria:

  1. There should be a connection -- based on relationships or shared interest -- between followers and influencers;
  2. There should be an intuitive or natural connection between the brand and the influencer;
  3. Influence over time should be quantifiable.

The sharing of content can play a key role in the discovery-to-purchase journey. Influencer marketing can help get brand content discovered and engaged with. But it’s up to marketers to ask the hard questions: not just about micro or macro, but about matching strategy to goal, and connecting influencers to ROI.

Read about how a top CPG brand uncovered new ROI from its earned media.

New tools and deeper insights are helping marketers make more demands about their influencer marketing campaigns.
Jonathan Gardner

Jonathan is vice president of marketing for ShareIQ, based in New York City.