How Merrick Pet Care reached customers at every stage of the shopping journey

June 01, 2021 | By: Fiona Green, Sr. Marketing manager

For most of us, pets hold a special place in our hearts—especially our first.

“My first dog was named Muffy. Rightly so for a white fluffy Bichon Frise,” said Barbara Liss, VP of Marketing for Merrick Pet Care. “I was only 12 when we got her, but she quickly became my best friend and kept all my teenage secrets.” Liss has been in the CPG industry for many years, beginning her career at General Mills and Beam Global, before moving to Quaker Foods. Now at Merrick Pet Care, part of the Nestle portfolio and one of the fastest-growing natural and organic pet food companies, Barbara is able to combine her love of pets with her love of marketing.

Last year, Merrick evolved their Amazon Advertising strategy into a full-funnel approach allowing them to reach pet parents at each stage of the customer journey.

Pet owners are changing where and how they shop for pet food

For many people, our pets were more important than ever in 2020, providing companionship, comfort, and an excuse for a midday walk to break up the workday. One of the bright spots during the pandemic was the fact that many animal shelters were empty for the first time, as people adopted and fostered pets in greater numbers. According to a July 2020 Nielsen survey, 21% of respondents said they adopted one or more dogs or cats between March and June, up from less than 5% over the same time the previous year.1 Naturally, demand also increased in the pet care category.

quoteUpPets are like family. Therefore marketing to pet owners needs to create an emotional connection while reinforcing the quality nutrition message.quoteDown
– Barbara Liss, VP of Marketing, Merrick Pet Care.

Traditionally, shoppers tended to buy pet food in physical stores. In 2019, 92% of shoppers purchased pet food from a brick-and-mortar store (GfK MRI, US, 2019), but this shifted in 2020. In an Amazon Advertising custom Kantar study, we surveyed shoppers who had purchased pet food between June and August 2020. We saw that 27% had purchased online, a noteworthy shift from the year prior, as consumers were staying safe at home and shopping more online.2

In the same Kantar study, we learned that over 40% of customers who purchased pet food and treats through online channels had done so for the first time within the past 6 months, and 66% reported being extremely likely to continue purchasing this way over the next year. As a result, brands like Merrick are revising their advertising strategies, seeking to reach new customers, including new pet parents, through different channels across the customer journey. And they’re starting at the top of the funnel, with brand storytelling, while bolstering consideration, conversion, and loyalty tactics in parallel.

Connecting with pet owners through brand storytelling

“Pets are like family. Therefore marketing to pet owners needs to create an emotional connection while reinforcing the quality nutrition message,” said Liss. With this in mind, Merrick increased their investment in a variety of brand storytelling tactics.

Last year, Merrick created their first brand Store in collaboration with the Amazon Advertising design team. Merrick’s Store showcases their brands and products across dog, cat, and treats in an immersive shopping experience. The Store also highlights how Merrick supports shelters across the US, and collaborates with K9s For Warriors.

“K9s For Warriors is an incredible organization. They rescue shelter dogs and train them to aid and empower veterans as they re-adjust to civilian life,” said Liss. “We’re proud to partner with them and give back to the veterans who have given so much for all of us.”

Merrick Pet Care’s Store features their portfolio of brands and products, as well as the ways they give back.

In 2020, Merrick launched new Slow-Cooked BBQ recipes for dogs. To promote the recipes, Merrick developed a “BBQ 4 Good campaign.” With the BBQ 4 Good campaign, Merrick encouraged dog lovers to order BBQ from a local, participating restaurant to help shelters dogs. For every order from a participating restaurant in Austin, Baltimore, or Chicago, Merrick pledged to make a donation to the local shelter in the area. With each order at one of these local restaurants, pet parents received a special “doggy bag” with a can of their new slow-cooked BBQ to bring home to their dog. Additionally, diners nationwide could participate by ordering through DoorDash using a special promo code and, in turn, the brand made a donation to a no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization in the United States.

To drive awareness of the new product launch and the “BBQ 4 Good” campaign, Merrick ran their first OTT campaign with Amazon Advertising.

Merrick Pet Care’s slow-cooked BBQ recipe ad for OTT.

Accelerating growth throughout the funnel

The OTT campaigns expanded awareness for the Merrick brand—and created downstream impact by increasing the velocity of their mid- and lower-funnel tactics. For example, following their awareness-driving efforts with the OTT campaigns, Merrick than remarketed to those same audiences with a display campaign—ultimately driving performance throughout the consumer journey. As a result, Merrick saw a 475% increase in new-to-brand purchases, compared to the prior period.3

Further down the funnel, Merrick drove consideration by creating tailored audience and creative strategies to reach the growing dual species households (e.g., homes with both a cat and dog). Merrick extended their reach with Whole Foods Market shoppers on Amazon by participating in the Whole Foods Market on Amazon beta program for their Castor and Pollux organic pet food brand. The approach combined co-branded Whole Foods creative and Whole Foods Market audiences, coupled with custom-built pet audiences, in-market audiences, and ASIN retargeting, to direct audiences to a custom landing page with the goal of driving loyalty. With the help of Amazon’s audience insights, Merrick learned that the majority of their customers are repeat buyers who make purchases several times a year—which meant that by increasing their new-to-brand customers, they’d have a greater opportunity to drive loyalty and repeat purchase. In the end, the Whole Foods Market beta program resulted in more than one-in-five purchases coming from new-to-brand customers.4

Driving customer loyalty

With a long-term approach in mind, Merrick invested in a robust portfolio strategy, with an additional focus on driving loyalty. By deploying a campaign to attract Subscribe & Save customers across the customer journey, Merrick promoted a special offer for audiences who purchased peer products in 2020, but hadn’t purchased or subscribed to Merrick ASINs in 2020. The ads were an effective way to engage non-Merrick brand shoppers, generating more than one-third of the campaign’s Subscribe and Save customers.5

Going into 2021, Merrick has accelerated their investment and continues to focus on a full-funnel approach—connecting with pet parents, while driving purchase and ultimately, encouraging repeats and loyalty.

Merrick’s Subscribe & Save creative aimed to attract audiences who purchased peer products in 2020, but hadn’t purchased or subscribed to Merrick ASINs in the same year.

Sources

1 What now and what's next: A view into the US pet retail landscape during the covid-19 pandemic
2 Kantar and Amazon Advertising US Pet Food Path to Purchase Study, September 2020
3 Amazon Internal, 2020
4 Amazon Internal, 2020
5 Amazon Internal, 2020