EDMONTON, CANADA — Champion Petfoods, Inc. has attributed more than 25 million impressions year-to-date to its partnerships with social media influencers on Instagram. During the past year, the company partnered with authentic users of Champion Petfoods’ brands to educate their followers on the importance of pet nutrition and promote its ORIJEN® and ACANA® pet food brands.

As more consumers are migrating online for their shopping needs, many of their purchasing behaviors are impacted by influencers they follow on social media. A Rakuten Marketing 2019 consumer survey found that eight out of 10 consumers purchased something after having seen it as a recommendation by an influencer. Seeking to tap into influencers’ authority with their followers, Champion Petfoods chose what the company deemed were authentic influencers to partner with. 

“An authentic influencer partner is one who already feeds ORIJEN and ACANA, is a fan of our foods and can speak to what drew them to our foods,” said Jen Beechen, vice president of marketing for ORIJEN and ACANA pet food. “Switching is a high bar in pet food and not earned easily. We want our influencers to share their lived experiences discovering and feeding our foods with their audience in a genuine way.”

Beechen added that authentic influencers can also be pet owners interested in making the switch to Champion foods on a long-term basis. Audiences may be more inclined to make a switch after seeing their favorite influencers talk about the differences between Champion foods and the previous brands they were feeding.

“Both types of influencers can be great storytellers for ORIJEN and ACANA pet food and their unique experiences offer the ability to reach a broad range of pet lovers,” Beechen said.A social media post created by one of Champion Petfoods' influencer partners

When identifying potential partners, Champion considers standard requirements such as engagement rates and number of followers but prioritizes authenticity. 

“Social media consumers are incredibly savvy and can delineate between authentic users of a brand and those whose only interest is in pushing a product,” Beechen explained.

Champion provides its influencers with key messages about the company’s products so they can incorporate the unique attributes and offerings of the pet foods organically in their content. However, Beechen said the company “tries not to be too prescriptive, so the influencer partners can use their own creativity and style to best communicate with their own audience.”

Depending on the objective of the specific marketing campaign Champion may be running, the company measures the success of each influencer partnership by tracking a few different metrics, including the engagement rate, reach, impressions and sentiment. 

“While most of our influencer partnerships are ongoing long-term relationships, we also partner with influencers for specific standalone marketing campaigns or product launches,” Beechen said. “Overall, we incorporate influencers throughout our entire marketing strategy and within a host of tactics – leveraging our influencers is never an afterthought.”

Champion reports that overall brand awareness has increased since introducing its influencer program. Beechen said ORIJEN and ACANA pet foods have always had a strong fanbase, but partnering with notable influencers, some of whom have millions of followers, allowed Champion to reach more pet owners than ever, many of whom had never heard of the company’s brands before. 

“While we do track metrics like impressions and engagement, all our partners have been phenomenal – from the content they create to the genuine love they express for our brands,” Beechen said. “Working with influencers who are true fans of ORIJEN and ACANA pet foods makes it easy when deciding who to continue working with. For example, influencers with high quality photography means we get to share their imagery across our social channels, websites and newsletters, so the ability to leverage their likeness to promote ORIJEN and ACANA also factors into our decision to continue the partnership.”

Beechen offered three tips for other brands interested in establishing influencer partnerships:

  1. Authenticity is key. Make sure whomever you partner with fits the ethos of your brand and, where possible, are already fans.
  2. Have a strategy. Years ago this space may have seemed more spur-of-the-moment, but it’s important to have a plan in place just as you would for any other marketing strategy. Be smart about what you’re having influencers promote, as well as when and how you plan to use the content.
  3. Start with something manageable and grow from there. Create a strong, small-to-medium sized program to start, then add influencers to your crew and build from there.

Read more about Champion Petfoods in our exclusive look at the food safety story behind Champion Petfoods’ Kentucky facility.