Unordinary Thinking No. 23 Teaching old markets new tricks

One of the great things about working in Proposition Development at Lexden is that we get to work with a lot of new technologies, explore innovations coming into market and talk to the entrepreneurs involved in these creations. Whether that’s mobile payments, telematics or smart metering it’s always fascinating. We also appreciate that because we work across sectors and borders, we are in a privileged position. We get to be at the leading edge more often than many of those who initiate new ideas and the clients who look for them as solutions to their burning platforms.

The pattern I noticed even in our body of work is the popularity of the technology themes. Commerce is obsessed it seems. That’s good news for us because less than 0.5% people buy technology. Like everything consumer’s buy, it’s because it fulfils one emotional state or another.

And clients value our ability to humanise the emotional benefits of a technological advancement adopted by a brand for its customers. But even we can’t escape a lot of the time a technology is involved in part of, or is the solution to our proposition work. But in a world where Apple, Microsoft, Google and IBM are the best global brands, should I be suprised?

So when we come across a story where an advancement is being made which doesn’t leverage technology, it stands out. And when it’s a passion/need motivated start up taking on some of the biggest brands in an established market…and turning heads, we knew it must be subscribing to the Unordinary approach we preach. We were right, so explored some more.

Friends Vicky Marshall & Jonathan Self were looking for an alternative to processed dog foods. They were new dog owners and alarmed by the stories associated with processed dog food. Ranging from skin infections from ticks in the wheat to plaque in dry foods causing tooth decay. The more they read the more they discovered, such as claimed links between processed food and behavioural problems in dogs and even associations with cancer. They were convinced they would find a better way.

They discovered ‘fresh food’ diets. But it’s not part of the major pet food manufacturers’ product portfolio, so isn’t well known. Even rarer than a vet who would say feeding raw was bad for a dog (after all how did dogs survive before processed tins arrived!), was finding a company that provided raw food for dogs and supporting diet plans to help owners. Supported by a local vet they (and here’s the unordinary bit), without anything more than a belief and desire to do better for their dogs, created a company to produce and distribute Raw Food diets. Darling’s Real Dog Food (which has become Honey’s Real Dog Food) was born. With a new dog each but beyond this no credentials, (Vicky and Jonathan are financial services marketing heavyweights) they knew the learning curve would be steep. But they backed themselves and took the leap.

Armed with a vision for healthier pets and a few recipes Vicky headed off to the local farmer to buy a cow. The farmer explained he was used to the cast off cuts going towards dog food, not prime cuts. These off cuts would be treated and processed before a dog saw them. Vicky and Jonathan heard all they needed to know they could provide a real alternative. And so, with a few years experience under their belts now (and some amusing tales), what was a desire to help their own dogs live healthier lives has become a business involving more than 20 people.

And when you read and see how they approach their work you realise here is a company truly dedicated to its stakeholders: pets and their owners.

Honey’s Manifesto for Success

1. Honey’s will assess every dog individually and tailor a food plan for them (with one woman this meant plans for all 8 dogs!)

2. The food plans contain approximately two-thirds raw meat and ground bone and one-third grated raw vegetables – prepared daily on their premises

3. If a customer wants to take the responsibility of sourcing their own food, Honey’s are happy enough because they have another dog converted to Raw food plans even if not the order

4. Honey’s have no waste products because it’s all quality cuts of meat and they use the bone

5. Everything is 100% organic, locally sourced and farm assured

6. The planning and first week’s food plan are free, so that owners can trial the difference before committing

7. Honey’s supports dog rescue shelters that reach out to them

And are they making a difference at Honey’s?

Absolutely. The raw food is providing a better more healthier option for dogs on the plan, which in turn is making owners feel better about their canine parenting skills. The lady with the 8 dogs (mentioned above) has found that after 6 months the savings on her vet bills significantly outweigh the cost of going raw. Vicky has spoken on BBC Radio London’s ‘Barking at the Moon’ dog programme and has been inundated with follow ups from dog owners thanking Honey’s for improving the weight, the life expectancy and the behaviour of their dogs.

They also now exhibit at Crufts. Vicky recalls that at their first turn out people were saying, ‘what’s this?’ and at the most recent event people were saying, ‘I’ve heard about this. I must switch over’. Coupled with the book, the website, a team of converted influential dog owners spreading the word and a growing number of vets giving the thumbs up, things are moving along nicely.

And with requests from wholesalers to go mainstream (which they won’t because it dilutes the quality), they know they are heading in the right direction.

In fact, when I spoke to Vicky she felt that from a marketing perspective (Vicky was a former senior marketer at Nationwide) this may have been her most successful ‘prospect to new customer acquisition’ and ‘customer retention’ experience so far!

In a billion pound market with clear leaders, it’s great to see a new entrant with a different offer. So the skills Vicky and Jonathan ascertained in their respective marketing roles which taught them to stick by the customer with a differentiated and meaningful offer, have come good. In a market as far removed from financial services as imaginable.

If Honey’s Real Dog Food is anything to go by perhaps you can teach an old dog industry a new trick or two, after all!

Posted by Christopher Brooks

Lexden is a marketing strategy agency which creates unordinary propositions to motivate customers and deliver commercial advantage for brands.

For more information on how we can help you, contact christopherbrooks@lexdengroup.com or ajairanawat@lexdengroup.com, or call us on T: +44 (0)20 7490 9123.  And you can follow us on Twitter @consultingchris.

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