The one point about marketing a vegan business I failed to emphasize in my book
If it wasn’t already obvious, I published the world’s first vegan marketing book in fall 2022, called Vegan Marketing Success Stories. I spent 10+ months pitching myself to media and podcasts to talk about the book.
In these interviews, I talked about marketing activities for startups; what’s in the book; Meredith at Vegan Hospitality’s success story many times, among others’; marketing to vegan and non-vegan audiences; and why all businesses need a USP (unique selling proposition).
It wasn’t until 10 months in that I realized one point I failed to emphasize in the book: ALL businesses (not just vegan ones) need a unique brand or marketing angle. So I did a social media post about it (see Instagram here and LinkedIn here), and I’m going to elaborate on those points here.
Every successful corporation had grassroots beginnings. But what made them last the test of time? Yes, it was the ability to invest more money to make more products, but what made people buy in droves? Perhaps Nike‘s simple checkmark logo had something to do with it, but more than that, it had innovative products that worked when other brands’ shoes didn’t. It had word of mouth, and the greatest tagline of all time: “Just do it.”
When Michael Jordan did his deal with Nike, all they had to do was call the shoes “Jordans” and put his silhouette on them. So I’m saying simplicity is their brand and capitalizing on that was the marketing angle that’s worked.
And, okay, without the internet, most of these corporations did well so long as they could invest millions into marketing: TV commercials, print and radio ads, and product placement in movies. But all these brands either were first to market and just stayed there, or they had a unique marketing angle—which is the challenge for today’s startups.
Here are three companies I mention in my book that have a unique marketing angle I think more vegan businesses need to develop for themselves if they want to win.
What THIS is fantastic at as is combining publicity stunts with social proof. I write in my book:
In 2019, UK-based THIS created a publicity stunt to promote its line of meat-like products. They invited twenty-five food bloggers, influencers, and critics for a three-course meal, had a Michelin-starred chef attend, and the staff of THIS went undercover as servers and bartenders, including co-founders Andy Shovel and Pete Sharman. They hid cameras all over the restaurant to capture the reactions.
The food VIPs posted actual photos of the dishes on social media before the company revealed that the meal was completely plant-based. Despite the stunt, THIS was met with applause. “I’ve had vegan substitutes before and hated them, but I really enjoyed that and would never have known it wasn’t actual chicken,” said one reviewer in the video.
Here’s that video:
Then THIS did the same thing with the public at the 2021 European Pizza and Pasta Show. Again, they could have just bought a booth at the show, but most people aren’t clamouring to try or buy plant-based alternatives. I write in my book:
Plant-based meat brand THIS is known for its publicity stunts that fool the public into thinking its products are meat. In October 2021, THIS created a fake Italian meat brand, THIS IS ITALY, for The European Pizza and Pasta Show and handed out samples of its product. “It’s very nice. I’m from Lecce. I know the good quality of meat,” said one sampler.
“You can actually taste that you’re eating pig. My grandparents were pig farmers,” said another person, before THIS confessed its products were plant-based.
Here’s that video. I love it even more than the first one:
Again, the unique marketing angle THIS has mastered is the publicity stunt with social proof, proving to regular omnivores that its products stack up against animal products. In my book, I talk about how powerful social proof is and why it works. We need more vegan brands pushing social proof!
I’ve already done a blog on Montreal, Canada-based Mid-Day Squares, which you can read here. So I’ll go right into how they’re doing everything differently from their vegan chocolate competitors. From Day 1, they hired a videographer to document everything and follow the founders around. This built their community of raving fans (myself included) into what it is now.
This isn’t a new strategy; around the same time they founded the company, American entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk (“Gary V”) hired a videographer to follow him around so he could grow his YouTube channel and brand and show people how to create content. It’s the reality TV approach.
I’ve heard that cameras are all over the office and staff have to accept that being filmed is part of the culture.
But what MDS does besides creating a reality online show is they also capitalize on trends. (It helps to be young with their levels of energy!) From recreating DJ Khaled and 90s hip hop videos to got milk? ads from the 90s (and yes, everything from the 90s are in) or creating a 90s video that has Cookie Monster stealing a stash of their new flavour, this combo of documenting x being trendy is Mid-Day Squares’s unique marketing angle.
And it’s paid off. Check out Kim Kardashian organically plugging their product in a VOGUE Italia interview. MDS is relatively new to the USA. They reported that there wasn’t a huge uptick in sales after the Kim K plug, but it’s HUGE for brand awareness. I can’t name any Kardashian who’s plugged a Canadian brand, but then again, I don’t watch them.
Btw, MDS is in talks to create a reality TV show, so they’re well on their way to becoming the next Kardashians.
Let’s face it: there are probably upwards of a dozen or more “vegan fried chicken” businesses around the world. One of them is a 10 minute walk from where I live, and while the chicken sandwiches and nuggets are vegan, it sells other animal products. So boo!
UK’s VFC wasn’t really on my radar when I started the research for my book, but I’m glad someone tipped me to their Cluckwit of the Month tactic. I write in my book:
I have seen some great examples of companies that take what their trolls post and turn it into great content. Vegan fried chick*n company VFC is one of them, and it’s brilliantly honoured these folks (without revealing identities) on a monthly basis through its Cluckwit of the Month posts. Here’s an example: (click on image to go to the original post)
VFC even featured some posts on billboards around London and phone boxes across the UK in 2022. The company posts longer responses on its site under “Cluckwit Myths,” where the company lets its creativity fly.
VFC’s mastered a couple of different things. They’ve got a great brand (see their website full of spray-paint-like artwork), are masters in copywriting, and they’re activists at heart, visiting farms to show people (including UK celebrities and influencers) what the conditions are really like for the chickens that eventually become products.
I can tell that this is a brand that’s going to keep reinventing itself and trying different things, but the unique marketing angle I’m going to point out is turning haters into content.
Imagine if most vegan businesses did that? Maybe it wouldn’t be a unique angle in the end, but it might even persuade your average omnivore to watch what they say online.
Do you have a unique marketing angle? If not, get more ideas in Vegan Marketing Success Stories or if you want my help in finding and creating a unique marketing angle so you can focus on growing your biz instead, learn more on my marketing page and contact me if you’re ready to work together!