In his new book, This is Marketing, Seth Godin contemplates dog food. "Dog food must be getting better. More nutritious and, of course, delicious," Godin suggests as he notes that Americans spend more than $24 billion annually on dog food. The average price of dog food continues to increase, and so has the number of gourmet ingredients, such as sweet potatoes, elk and free-range bison.
Have you ever seen a dog buy dog food? How could we possibly know if dog food tastes better as it gets more expensive? Do dogs enjoy it more? "Dog food might be getting more delicious as it gets more expensive, but we actually have no idea," Godin notes. "We have no clue whether dogs enjoy it more, because we're not dogs."
What we do know is that dog owners enjoy the improvements to dog food. "Dog owners don't purchase dog food because of the way it tastes, they buy it for the way it makes them feel, the satisfaction of taking care of an animal that responds with loyalty and affection, the status of buying a luxury good and the generosity of sharing it," explains Godin.
There is no way any marketer or manufacturer can know if dog food tastes better because that would require understanding how a dog thinks. The right way to market dog food is to appeal to what dog owners want. The dog food lesson teaches that there is almost always a disconnect between performance and appeal.
There are two voices in our heads. There's the dog's voice, the one that doesn't have many words, but knows what it wants. And there's the owner's voice, which is nuanced, contradictory and complex. It's juggling countless inputs and is easily distracted. Dog owners select dog food based on hundreds of different factors but not taste. The customers that you want to reach care about a range of inputs and emotions, not who's cheapest. Godin advises to choose your extremes and you choose your market. And vice versa.