May 11, 2007

Word of mouth marketing and planting seeds

Posted in animal advocacy, vegan, veganism at 12:36 pm by nevavegan

When someone opens a business, typically a small business, they find that the customer who likes them is their best asset. This customer promotes them to friends. “Look at this great work!” she exclaims to her mother, “and they’re local and very affordable.”

We call this word of mouth marketing, and it’s an excellent kind of marketing to have. People are often more likely to listen the story of their friend, neighbor, brother, sister, or co-worker than they are to listen to an ad campaign or someone who works for the company. We trust in their honesty because they aren’t trying to get money from us, instead they’re just sharing something they are enthusiastic about.

In this we find the advantage of speaking up about our veganism. We do our own word of mouth marketing for something that matters deeply to us. I’m not saying that we should make pests of ourselves (except for those times like protesting when pestiness is really called for). I’m just saying that we shouldn’t hide our vegan pride. We should proclaim at the business lunch that we’re vegan. We should tell the dinner companions that we don’t eat meat, fish, dairy, eggs, or anything that comes from an animal. And if people ask why, we shouldn’t sugar coat it. We should be as honest as we can in any given situations. We should try to answer questions as accurately and honestly as possible.

A few people have suggested to me lately that the word vegan is threatening. We should tone down our message they insist. I’ve been working now for 6 years at a job where I’m the only vegan, though more recently we’ve acquired a couple of vegetarians (within a very large organization). So I think that the majority of the people I work with never knew a vegan before they met me, and judging from the questions they ask, they have a limited understanding of what the word “vegan” means. Yet, other than some teasing about wondering if I eat leaves and twigs, I haven’t encountered any negative reactions. People don’t think I’m radical, they don’t think I’m extremist. They think I am who I am and they appreciate that I speak to them when they ask questions with patience and honesty. If they ask me something I don’t know the answer to, I’m honest about that. Although at this point I’ve heard most of the questions on veganism and have my answers at the ready.

Other activists have suggested to me it’s just as beneficial to convince several people to eat a few vegan meals a week as it is to convince a single person to go vegan. I’m not opposed to urging people to try vegan foods. In fact when people at work say my food smells or looks good I give them the recipe or tell them where they can buy it. The one thing I’m hesitant about is asking people to try eating vegan without much instruction or input, because I fear it will be a repeat of my college efforts.

For what it’s worth, in college I would sometimes urge people to try being vegan and then 2 weeks later they’d declare I’m sick of eating potatoes with nothing on them, dry pasta, and salads without dressing! This vegan thing sucks! So I want to be careful now that I direct people to try vegan foods that are appealing, tasty, and can make an average person satiated. Of course tastes vary. I do have to say “Ok, this is the brand of veggie burger I like, but some of my friends hate my favorite and prefer this other one. I’d suggest you try four or five different types to see which one you like best.”

And introducing people to vegan foods hopefully will nudge them down the path toward veganism, and if nothing else it’s a meal where they don’t eat an animal. However, if we can actually convince people to become vegan, there is so much benefit that doesn’t come with converting someone to a flexitarian (or whatever we call the person who sometimes eats a vegan or vegetarian meal).

Obviously the first advantage to reaching someone with a message of veganism is that it extends into all areas of their life, not just dinner on Tuesday. You hope that you’ve persuaded them not to buy fur trim, not to buy leather shoes, and so on. Rather than addressing each issue individually, it’s a holistic approach of respect and compassion for animals.

The next advantage is that if you reach a person with a message of veganism, you hope they spread it. Many new vegans will say that they don’t want to seem pushy. That’s fine. They don’t need to be, just the very act of adopting a vegan lifestyle is powerful. They become another example that it’s possible to lead a conscientious vegan life and still love other people, still love food, still have fun. They will talk to their friends and family about why they made this choice. They’ll share their favorite foods. Hopefully they’ll pass along the brochures, videos, and books that helped them on the path to veganism.

They can help spread the word that we already know: Vegan food isn’t bad or boring. As a vegan I eat a better, more varied, more interesting diet than I ever ate as an omnivore. Heaven forbid, growing up where I did, had I not become vegan I’d probably be on a steady diet of cheeseburgers occasionally broken up with some meat lasagna. I sometimes think of my becoming vegan the way some people describe eating after they quit smoking: I appreciate more subtleties of flavors than I ever used to.

And so another person becomes vegan and loves that they’re doing so much to help animals and the environment, and they love the food, and they’re happy. So they grab their friends and say “Guys, you gotta try this new recipe I made! Best of all, no animals were harmed for it.” There’s your word of mouth marketing.

Does word of mouth marketing work when we’re talking about veganism? Hopefully. It’s got to work as well as anything. But keep in mind that we’re not telling someone to try this new super-soft t-shirt that only costs $12, we’re asking them to rethink some of the basic premises they’ve taken for granted most of their lives. So you’re not hoping to sell someone on veganism in the next five minutes (though wouldn’t that be cool?). You’re just hoping to make the information available to them. You’re hoping to plant some seeds of compassion which might grow in the future.

You don’t need to see an immediate result to be a positive influence. Maybe someone will take that information, and then on their own decide to eat less meat. But maybe after some reflection they’ll decide they really are troubled by our treatment of and our very relationship with animals. Maybe they’ll do some research on their own. Maybe they’ll forget about it until they see a news program about animal abuse and then they’ll reflect on it again.

The goal is to keep making that information available, to keep sending the message, and hoping that at some point, for some of the people who hear it, it will start to mean something. You never know who might be the most affected. That guy who laughed at you when you first became vegan, might have been using his laugh to cover up a sneaking suspicion that you’re right. The friend who says “I love animals but I love bacon more” might start to feel differently after she hears the message again and again from different sources. So don’t rule people out. Don’t sugar coat or dilute your answers just because you aren’t sure this person cares. They might care more than you know.

I recall a friend who said things like “I could never give up meat” and “stop being all high and mighty and pushing your values on me,” who is actually still vegan. Sometimes that kind of reaction from someone is a defensive reaction because they actually are deeply moved by the information but don’t want to admit to themselves just yet that they need to change. But you just hope to keep adding to the information they have, and keep triggering their compassion until it reaches a tipping point.

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5 Comments »

  1. bazu said,

    I appreciate what you have to say, and agree with you in the long-run. It is really great that you are having such a positive influence on your co-workers and those around you, planting all the right seeds.

    However, based on what I’ve seen (I’ve made the mistake of reading too many “debates” and hearing the general population’s take on veganism and animal rights, I guess) I’m firmly of the 90% belief. I’m not sure this is even in opposition of what you’re advocating. What I mean by it is, I’d rather have everyone eat 90% vegan than to have the current 1-2% of the population eating strictly vegan. For me personally, I don’t want any animal products in my life. But I’m just too much of a pessimist to think that at this time, many people are going to go for that. I’d rather have a multi-prong approach: hit them with ethical, health, vanity, environmental, and “wanting to be cool” reasons to gradually cut out more and more animal products from their lives.

    Does that make any sense?

  2. PaulWolfe said,

    Bazu,

    I agree, though based on what Neva wrote I can’t say she would disagree with you.

    I think it is a huge victory to get someone to have, for instance, just one vegan meal per week. Getting people to realize they can have a fulfilling meal without flesh is a HUGE victory. And hopefully, on that vegan meal day, they think about becoming a more compassionate person and becoming vegan; maybe they think about it the other 6 days, too.

    This is much different, though, than trying to get people to eat “humane meat,” which may prevent someone from eating a vegan meal even once a week. It is also much different than telling people, vaguely, that they should “cut down on meat,” because almost everyone already believes they do this.

    I would mainly contrast Neva’s comments with “happy meat” advocacy. But of course she is right that we should not stop at 1 or 6 vegan meals per week. Only by becoming vegan will a person truly accept a compassionate lifestyle and try to get others to do so, too.

    Note I have not said that anyone would be vegan 1 day a week or 90% of the time. To become vegan is to accept and respect the rights of animals, and to live accordingly. If one eats vegan meals 6 days a week and meat on the 7th, that person is 0% vegan.

    Being vegan is about much more than what you eat. For instance, a vegetarian might go to the circus or buy a puppy. A vegan would do neither.

    I think a world in which 90% of the people are vegan is way more realistic than a world in which no one is vegan but everyone eats vegan meals 90% of the time. How would you ever reach such a large number when none of them truly believes in what they are doing?

  3. Neva Vegan said,

    I don’t disagree that there’s a huge value in getting people to cut back and eat some vegan meals. But as you say we keep bringing up the ethics and bringing up the idea of veganism because you never know who will be persuaded.

  4. Anonymous said,

    Why can’t I post my comment? It keeps disappearing!

  5. Neva Vegan said,

    Comments should be working now. Sorry for the glitch.


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