‘Cause everyone’s a marketer, whether they like it or not.

Stevan Mirkovich, Partner & Chief Relational Officer of Planted Expo—which celebrated its 10th year in Vancouver in 2024—sent me this text message at the end of September 2023:

I was surprised because normally I don’t speak to audiences of regular folks or folks who are vegan, even though I’m vegan. I’ve done some TV appearances, but the last general speaking event I did was for TELUS in 2014, exactly a decade ago. However, I have a rule: if I’m asked to speak, I accept.

Stevan was a beta reader for my second book and gave me great feedback on my draft manuscript, so I know he was aware of my mission of helping vegan businesses market themselves better.

I asked him what sort of content the Planted Expo audience most resonates with and he said, “I’m curious about the ways in which your message can influence the conversation amongst everyday vegans too. Vegans are often inclined or strangely often times inadvertently “marketing” their veganism to their friends and family. There might be a way to make 2-3 translatable points for the audience. There are likely many of our exhibitors that would be interested to hear you speak too.”

I thought to myself, how does marketing relate to the everyday person or vegan? If vegans are “marketing” veganism to friends and family, how can they do that more effectively?

I realized I had already published a blog post on what makes people go vegan, so I could share that data. I also realized that many people want to support veganism even though they aren’t vegan themselves, so maybe I could share how they can be better vegan ambassadors.

I thought of my family and friends who are mothers who have expressed wanting to be vegan—one of them even has an account dedicated to what she feeds her family—and how they could use their smartphones and social media platforms to promote veganism. 

If you have a smartphone, you’re a marketer! And that’s how I came up with the title/theme of my talk, “Everyone’s a marketer.” Roxanne, a character in Season 2, Episode 5 of Seinfeld, also inspired the title. She optimistically shouts out to marathon runners, “You’re all winners!” and makes George cringe.

Over the course of 16 months, several vegan podcast hosts who interviewed me for my book asked how we get more people to go vegan. The other common question was, “What’s the difference between marketing a vegan business and a conventional one?” I would always say that vegan businesses don’t have a magic weapon to market better.

In fact, they have to do more education, especially if what they sell is an alternative to a commonly consumed or purchased animal-based item. So I thought I would address that in my talk too.


The Prep

Stevan said he preferred I do an 18-20 minute TEDx-style talk and that I could use slides and share videos.

The timing of this worked out impeccably because there were several presentations by other food/CPG product experts in late 2023 whose content I drew from, namely by Boston Consulting Group’s Neeru Ravi at VWS Pathfinder event, Indy Kaur of Plant Futures, who presented on vegan & plant-based trends at Vegan Business Tribe Live 2023.

ProVeg and other journals published reports and studies around the words that sell food and the terms omnivores preferred to see on food packages. I didn’t want my talk to just be around food, so I took what I thought were the most important or current points.

I also realized one big point I failed to mention in my book is that vegan companies are a “David” going up against the “Goliath” of animal industries because of one thing: subsidies!

The main reason why animal ag has put out the amount of ads and marketed so successfully since the mid-20th century is because they get $ from the government, and that won’t change until consumer habits do and/or we tell our government reps to shift our tax dollars away from animal industries. So this was my chance to mention that.

When I wrote the first draft of my talk in April 2024, it was 30 minutes long, so I had to cut down on the content I thought wasn’t as important. I could talk about marketing for vegan businesses for hours, and Stevan told me that his audience was 80% omnivores, 20% vegans, so I had to keep that in mind too. I’m happy with the content that remained.

To prepare, I recorded myself and played that daily for a week (when I was in Los Angeles) the first week in May. Then I rehearsed a few times a week, four times the week leading up to the Planted Expo. My last few rehearsals were near perfect and I was confident I knew my content.

It occurred to me only a few weeks before that I could have hired a speaking coach to help me, but I couldn’t afford that. Instead, I drew inspiration from my friend Joy Lopes’s TEDx talk, and comedians! I learned from the TV show Hacks that comedians memorize their talks using an outline.

Let’s say they have 20 jokes in a one-hour special. They have to know the jokes, but also the order of them. So after writing out my talk, I memorized the outline and then worked on filling it in.


The Talk

Knowing your content is one thing, presenting it is another. There were a few moments between slides when I forgot my points or lost my way when I was recapping the 7 points for vegan food businesses, but I’m glad I had slides as a guide. I didn’t mean to look back at them as much as I did, but that’s how it went down.

There were some really smart questions during Q&A and I’m actually going to elaborate on one of them later this month because I only scratched the surface with the answer I gave.

Speaking at Planted Expo was one of the most challenging things I’ve done, but I’m glad I agreed to do it. I already knew I’d grown as a speaker compared to 10 years ago, but now I know where I stand and how much room there still is to be better. Stevan even commented this on LinkedIn:

Stevan Mirkovich (He/Him) 1st<br />
Social Entrepreneur - Co-owner and Chief Relational Officer at Planted</p>
<p>A++. - thank you! Awesome content and true spirit. You definitely proved my hunch. Looking forward to having you back on stage.

One of the audience members asked me how I got into vegan marketing and I shared the story of how I sat down to meditate at the end of 2019 and my intuition told me I was vegan and a writer, so combine those things. I said to always follow your intuition, because it will lead you to doing things like speaking on that stage!

Here’s the video of my talk, followed by the transcript and the 3 videos shared during the talk.

Stevan Mirkovich: Our first speaker is Sandra Nomoto. Sandra is a friend of mine. And it’s always interesting to introduce a friend. We’re not besties, but we know one another, and we’ve run in these circles together for a few years. In fact, Sandra used to walk around this Planted Expo floor and interview many of these business owners and many of the attendees regarding your experience here. She is a trusted voice with the plant-based community. A lucid thinker. A deep and sharp eye. An individual that gets how all the small pieces come together, and she’s used this historically as a public relations expert, and now as a writer, editor, marketer, I mean, this—I don’t know what Sandra is not a material expert on. But most importantly, her heart beats with the animals. It beats with the vegan movement. She’s here to represent and help guide us through our ability to think through how best to communicate what it is that matters to us, to everyone around us. Right, Sandra? So would you please welcome to our Planted Expo stage as our opening speaker today, Sandra Nomoto.

Sandra Nomoto: Thanks, Stevan. Good morning, everyone. Welcome, Planted Expo. First thing I want to do is see who’s with me in this room. Fellow vegans, where are you at? Yes. Amazing. There’s always a few people in a room. But this room is a little different. Business owners, founders? All right. Yes, thank you. Now there’s one beautiful thing that unites us all, whether you’re vegan, omnivore or a business owner, and it’s this. Oh, not that. Everyone’s a marketer. So if you’ve got a smartphone with a camera, congratulations, you’re a marketer, and you didn’t even need a marketing degree or diploma to become one.

In late 2022, I published the world’s first vegan marketing book, Vegan Marketing Success Stories, and it was featured in over 70 media and podcasts. And the top two questions that I was asked by podcast hosts, especially if they were vegan, were, how do we get more people to go vegan? And what’s the difference between marketing a conventional business and a vegan one? So I’m going to answer those two questions for you today.

Let’s start with how we get more people to go vegan. Early last year, I came across this really complicated looking infographic that summarized the results of two studies that Faunalytics did in 2021. And they asked people what made you initially transition into a 100% plant-based diet. And I combined the results of that study with another big survey that VOMAD did in 2018 that asked folks what initially made you transition to become vegan. And I combined those and published a blog post with my own conclusions.

So my top recommended tactics to get people to go vegan include number one: documentaries. The VOMAD survey said that Earthlings, What the Health, and Cowspiracy were the top three documentaries that got them to start going vegan. I absolutely recommend Earthlings. It’s free to watch online, and that’s the one that got me started on my vegan transition.

Number two are conversations with family and friends. This is great news for all y’all vegans in the crowd because just by having conversations with your loved ones, chances are you will influence their behavior. Combine that with watching a documentary with your loved ones, and you’ve got a pretty powerful formula.

Then we have social media posts. I’ll talk a bit more about that later. Blogs or online or newspaper articles, and talks either in classrooms or at events like this.

Then your middle of the road not as successful tactics include internet videos, handing out flyers, non-disruptive protests—so these are things like The Cube of Truth that you may have seen in downtown Vancouver—following celebrities, and books.

And finally, not as recommended tactics include disruptive protests. So these are things like pouring cow’s milk on the floor of grocery stores, vandalizing government buildings, pouring red paint on people wearing fur coats. Thankfully, we don’t see too many fur coats today. Then we have billboards or other outdoor ads, and finally radio or TV shows, and podcasts. Now, I know this—this data is a few years old now, but I honestly don’t think too much has changed. As I said, Earthlings was the documentary that got me started on my vegan transition, along with watching many of the other documentaries that are out there, reading a lot of books, following vegan celebrities, and finally giving up dairy, which was likely the cause of a lot of my painful digestive symptoms.

Now, I kind of lied when I said, we’re all marketers because we’ve got a smartphone with a camera. That’s only part of it. The other part is this: the Canadian government provides upwards of $8 billion in subsidies to the meat, dairy, seafood and egg industries. In the US and the UK, that number is in the double digit—double digit billions. And every time there is a zoonotic disease that spreads among the animals, or a natural disaster hits an animal farm, the number goes up even more. And what that means is, out of those billions of dollars, millions are going towards advertising to tell you to buy these products.

So every time you see an ad from the Dairy Farmers of Canada, or one that says Get Cracking to promote eggs, those are your own tax dollars being re—redirected at you, to tell you to buy these products. Now grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, they don’t have these advertising budgets and they don’t have publicists.

In the last couple of years, animal agriculture has become even more aggressive in getting—trying to get federal governments to ban terms like “meat,” “milk” and “cheese” on the packages of vegan products. And they’ve been successful in getting the media to report on stories like the unsustainability or unhealthiness of vegan products, such as plant-based milk.

If there’s one thing that I want you to take away from my presentation, it’s this: women control up to 93% of household spending. That is some real power. That equates to 30 US trillion dollars a year and by 2030, that number is expected to be 40 trillion US. Women are the most powerful consumers on the planet, and therefore we’re the most powerful marketers. Since 1980, Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been the primary organization bringing awareness to the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol. Now imagine if women got together and decided we wanted to shift our subsidies and tax dollars away from animal ag toward more plant and fungi based industries. Or if we wanted our families to eat more whole food plant-based diets. If more women in the world wanted to go vegan and did, the rest of the world would follow.

Now, I have a couple more tips for both the vegans and omnivores on how you can all be better vegan marketers, even if you never go vegan, with just your—with mostly just your smartphone.

So for if you do identify as vegan, don’t be afraid to use the word vegan everywhere. Use it in your social media bios, in your professional bios, in your resumes. We need to start normalizing this term and associating it with a lifestyle that people want to achieve.

Kindness goes a long way. Vegans are known for being angry, and we have every right to be because we know what happens to animals in these industries. But the more that we can highlight the positive results and benefits of going vegan rather than yelling at people online and being the vegan police, we’ll have more success in getting people to live this lifestyle.

Transformation stories are so powerful. Whether that’s your own vegan transformation story, that of a friend that you have, or people like Rich Roll, Kevin Smith and Chuck Carroll who will be speaking on this stage later today. Those—they have had incredible physical and health transformations. So don’t be afraid to share those stories because they are influential and they make a difference.

We definitely need less dead animals online, and more vegan content. So don’t be afraid to share your favourite vegan dishes, vegan restaurants, clothing brands, beauty brands, vegan celebrities you follow, your vegan friends, all of this will help. And if you are a parent, maybe you do take your kids to the zoo or aquarium once a year, but you don’t have to share that content. Instead share when you take your family to the local animal sanctuary and share photos of animals being saved, instead of ones that are being consumed, or exploited.

Did you know that you can feed a family on less of a budget with a whole food plant-based diet instead of putting meat, dairy, seafood and eggs on your plates? I love sharing deals that I find at the grocery store. So you can also share deals that you find on plant-based products at your grocery store, or the hacks that help you cook great vegan dishes in the kitchen.

Be creative. If you consider yourself an online activist, you can start a website and appear in the media and further the conversation about the importance of veganism. And if you love talking, you can start a podcast or a YouTube channel of your own. And be like people like Tabitha Brown, Simon Hill, and Daniel Morgan Jones, who have gathered hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers.

And finally, tell your government representatives to endorse the Plant Based Treaty and divert our subsidies away from animal agriculture and toward more plant and fungi based industries. You can also tell them you want to ban ads on animal products like the residents of two Dutch cities did. And those bands are going to be implemented in the Netherlands if they haven’t already been implement—been implemented.

Now for my founders and business owners, what’s the difference between marketing a vegan business and a conventional one? Well, now you know that animal industries have a leg up because of subsidies. But other than that, we all have access to the same tools. I would say the only difference is, if you offer a vegan product that is an alternative to, let’s say, a food or fashion product, you’re gonna have to do a little bit more work in messaging to tell consumers why they should buy your product versus the animal default. George Monbiot said it takes 10 times the effort to dismantle misinformation than it is to put out, so we really have our work cut out for us.

I’m going to zero in for just a few minutes on food businesses because this is where we can make the most amount of difference. People eat three times a day. So if you sell a product that is an alternative to the animal version, it must be just as easy to prepare. It must taste delicious. It must match in price or be cheaper, and it must be readily available. Those four things are really important.

Sensory appeal is so important. You must share photos and videos that make our mouths water, and use descriptive language. Phrases like “rich, buttery roasted sweet corn,” or “zesty ginger turmeric sweet potatoes.” One restaurant study found that if a dish highlighted taste, texture, and the dish’s origin, it helps to sell the dish so much more. So instead of just “vegan burger,” use “juicy smoky American-style burger.” And instead of just veggie lasagna, use “cheesy Italian vegetable lasagna.”

People care more about what a product is than what it isn’t. And we have to do these things to out-market and outsell animal products. About half of omnivores say that they want to eat—they want to transition and eat more plants for health reasons, or if it’s cheaper.

So if your product does have health benefits, you’ve gotta highlight that right on the front of your package. So—so whether it’s high in iron, calcium, fibre, good for the gut…And if you do have a product with a protein source, you’ve got to identify what that protein source is right away. That’s really important for all of the health and fitness conscious folks out there.

Omnivores say that they prefer to see the terms “plant protein,” “plant-based” or “100% plant-based,” “veggie,” “non-dairy,” or “dairy-free” instead of the word vegan, but I say we’ve got to normalize that term. Using vegan can set you apart from both your vegan and non-vegan competitors. And if you’re still afraid to use the v-word on the front of a package, you can always put it on the back.

So to recap, the most successful vegan food companies are just as easy to prepare as their animal counterpart. They—they taste just as good or even better. They match in price or are cheaper. They’re readily available. They highlight sensory appeal with great photos, videos and descriptive language. They highlight that it’s vegan in some way. And they highlight the health benefits, especially the protein source.

Now I’ve got a few more tips for all types of vegan businesses. Again, as I mentioned earlier, stories are incredibly powerful. You’ve got to share your story and share it often. Whether it’s why you created your company, why your company is vegan, why you yourself are vegan, you’ve got to share those stories.

Don’t be afraid to market to vegan consumers if you’re just starting out. Vegan consumers are some of the most loyal consumers on this planet. The success of companies like Beyond Meat and Oatly were built on vegan consumers who then spread the word to our omnivore friends. Was anybody at The HWY. Cafe pop-up at To Live For Bakery last year? Maybe? Okay, I waited four and a half hours for my food. The last customer, Bear, waited six hours. That is what vegan—vegan consumers will do for the companies that we want to support. So if you’re just starting out and building up your following, don’t be afraid to market to vegan consumers.

Finally, be known for a marketing tactic. If you master a marketing tactic and do it over and over again, chances are consumers will remember your brand when they’re choosing between you and a competitor shopping online or in store.

Now I’m going to show a few video examples of vegan companies and the first is of a company called Mid-Day Squares in Montreal, Quebec. They sell functional plant based chocolate bars and they’re known—they have built a cult following in the last five or six years because they’re known for their reality TV-style documenting. They share absolutely everything that’s going on in their company, and this is a fun video that they did to announce they were being distributed at Sprouts in the US.

My next example is of THIS, a plant-based meat alternative company in the UK and they’re known for secretly filming their publicity stunts. So in 2021, they took out a booth at the European Pizza and Pasta Show in Europe, and they didn’t tell samplers that they were not giving out meat.

And my last—it’s so good, right? Applause deserved. My last example is Oatly based in Denmark [correction: Sweden], which is known for being quirky, weird, and poking fun at itself. So last year, they took some old American milk commercials, and slapped their brand on them.

I’m going to leave you with a quote from my marketing guru, Pinky Cole, the Founder of Slutty Vegan, one of the fastest growing fast-food chains in the US and she says, “You’ve got to be a marketing genius. If I’ve got people running and getting excited about my brand, they’ll tell a friend who’ll tell a friend who’ll tell a friend, and I’ll have everybody talking and coming back to my business.” So go forth and be a great vegan marketer. I believe in you. Thank you.

Stevan: I’m pretty sure I introduced you as a lucid thinker. Like, just clarity. It was like point by point by point, here we go. We’re gonna walk you through this. Anybody can do this. That’s what it felt like at the end of it. I was like, yeah, there’s some things Planted Expo could do a little better.

Sandra: Mission succeeded.

Stevan: But no, well done. Thank you, Sandra. I appreciate you sharing those things.

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