Truth as a Disruptive Force in the Pet Industry
If you ever find yourself around tech startups, you’ll hear frequent use of the term “disruptive technology.” Forming a disruptive business model is the holy grail for most entrepreneurs as it has the potential for great profitability. Yet, the traditional manner in which we think of disruptive business models is somewhat incomplete. Allow me to take you for a journey as I endeavor to “disrupt” the traditional manner in which we think of disruptive business models.
As a pet industry CEO, I’ve watched the pet food market with great interest and found myself frustrated with an industry that was less interested in the actual quality of their product than the perception of quality. Specifically, this industry has historically focused on product differentiation through clever advertising ploys as opposed to the utilization of quality ingredients. Since most consumers didn’t understand the importance of examining ingredients, the big players in the pet food industry tended to fill these bags of dog food with cheap ingredients (with little nutritional value) and consumers would predictably purchase a bag of dog food if they recognized the brand from a television commercial. As a consequence, the myriad cliché dog food commercials of the past decades emerged and generally included some combination of the following: healthy young dogs bounding onto the screen, a lab or golden retriever (breeds that will eat anything) voraciously eating from a glistening food bowl, smiling healthy owners with pearly white teeth, and chunks of fresh meat falling from the sky.
While the majority of the pet food industry hid beneath the illusion created by ad execs, Blue Buffalo entered the market with a very simple strategy – use quality ingredients in dog food and inform the public of the merits of said ingredients. They broke with the traditional ad exec strategy that preaches the importance of connecting with the consumer on an emotional level and went straight for the jugular with a powerful weapon – truth. Perhaps this strategy wouldn’t have worked prior to the internet revolution, but we now live in a digital age where our access to information grows every day and it’s becoming more and more difficult for businesses with questionable ethics to hide the truth from the consumer. Conversely, this access to information enables and empowers businesses who utilize truth to grow their brand.
Did it work? You bet it worked. Blue Buffalo began grabbing market share from their stodgy old competitors to such an extent that Purina filed a lawsuit and went after them with a full scale PR blitz (I was beyond amused to discover Purina created the website Pet Food Honesty to discredit Blue Buffalo). Undeterred, Blue Buffalo went on to take their stock public and continue their growth trajectory. No matter the outcome of the Purina vs Blue Buffalo court case, the larger lesson we can glean from the Blue Buffalo strategy is that truth isn’t just something companies should exercise because it’s the right thing to do. It can actually be used as a disruptive (and profitable) force when you’re operating within an industry that prefers to hide from the harsh light of the truth.