The carnivore is king – and other lessons from sales and marketing

Whether we like it or not, as people who want to change the world, we are in the business of selling something. We want to sell a message, a habit, a lifestyle… whatever you want to call it. We are idea merchants, and we need to get as many people as we can on our bandwagon, in whatever ways that are helpful.
I love to read out of the box and see if I can apply ideas from different domains to our movement. Here are some concepts and lessons I’ve taken from sales and marketing (check the links below each item to read some of my previous writings on these topics).

The carnivore is king
(Technically I should use “omnivore”, of course, but you understand I needed something with a c here)
As the carnivore is the person that we want to reach and want to become part of our team, we can’t alienate them. They are our future supporters. We can see them as pre-vegans. Badmouthing them will usually not motivate them to come closer to us. If we’re angry at them, if we accuse them or judge them, that’s kind of equal to giving up on them joining our team. Rather, like with customers, we need to listen to them, treat them like royalty, give them a cookie or bake them a pie (we can always throw it in their face if they really behave like assholes).
You are not your audience
You are not the same as the people you want to reach. Like a car salesperson, you have to adapt your message to what you think people like, are interested in, are open to, are ready for. Just talking about what you want to talk about is equal to the car salesperson talking endlessly about a car’s horsepower or technical abilities (because that is what fascinates them) to a young parent who is only interested in the safety aspects. It’s about your audience’s needs. Not your own.
Diffusion of innovation
We need to segment our “customers” into different categories. Innovators have different reasons for picking something up than the late majority. As vegans, we’re all innovators, and the arguments that worked for us will not necessarily work for people who are, in this domain, laggards. The famous marketer Seth Godin puts it like this: “The mistake idea merchants make is that they bring their fringe ideas to people who don’t like fringe ideas, instead of taking their time and working their way through the progression.”
What Godin and others are saying is that we should meet people where they are, and appeal to the values that they already cherish, rather than telling them which values they should have.

See Vegans: not like other people

Winning an argument is losing a customer
Even if the other person tells you that you are right, you haven’t necessarily had a positive impact. When the other person feels they’ve lost, it may make them feel even less sympathetic towards you or the cause you defend. Benjamin Franklin said it like this: “if you argue and rankle and contradict, you may achieve a victory sometimes; but it will be an empty victory because you will never get your opponent’s good will.” Dale Carnegie said it even simpler: “You can’t win an argument”.
See On being right versus winning

Persuasion resistance
Most people don’t like to be convinced by others and don’t like being told what to do. Also, with regard to the food that’s on their plate, they’ll decide about that themselves. They need no government regulations or animal rights or vegetarian groups preaching to them about what to eat, and what not, how much of it, or how they should prepare it. They’ll make up their own minds about all that, thank you very much. It is, therefore, more productive if we don’t give people the impression we want to persuade them of something, and instead help them come to their own conclusions.
See Persuasion resistance

Customer retention
Finding new customers is a lot more expensive than trying to keep customers and make sure they buy again. In our domain, research shows that a large number of vegetarians and vegans – no less than 84% – at some point drop out. We should have enough attention for customer retention, and make sure that as few vegans slide off the wagon as possible. We can do that, among other things, by helping to make it easier to be vegan, creating communities, and having enough attention for nutritional pitfalls.See research by Faunalytics

Switching costs
Many people care about animals, but are afraid of the practical consequences of caring about them. It is, in other words, too difficult to make the switch. Switching costs, in marketing terms, are the costs that one incurs when changing products, suppliers, brands, etc. These costs can be financial, but they can also be, for example, time costs or psychological costs. Phone or insurance companies, for instance, want to make switching to their product as little of a hassle as possible (while at the same time, trying to make switching away from their products as difficult as possible.). Likewise, we need to make it as easy as possible for people to move up the vegan spectrum. Preferably, so easy that they don’t even need any reason or motivation.

Know of more sales concepts that are useful for advocacy? Let me know…

9 thoughts on “The carnivore is king – and other lessons from sales and marketing

  1. Hi Tobias – another great piece! Another important step is what salespeople call “qualifying your customer” – e.g., figuring out whom to sell to. A salesperson who tries to sell to everyone generally wastes so much time that he or she winds up selling to no one. You need to sell to people who are likely to buy. When salespeople at luxe department stores check out shoppers’ shoes, handbags, etc., they are qualifying. And when car dealers ask a bunch of questions about our needs, finances, etc., so are they. And when we figure out who is most likely to respond positively to our vegan message so are we.

    Our group, Vegan Kalamazoo, just did a member survey and we found that many of our members really love outdoor and athletic events – and so will do more outreach to those kinds of organizations in the future, hoping to attract new people.

    I also want to remind people that Section V of my book The Lifelong Activist (published by Lantern Books) is a marketing and sales primer for activists, with examples from veganism and other social justice movements. It starts here:

  2. “You are not your audience.” This is the key message that SO many Animal Rights advocates just don’t get. They run around saying ‘I changed because of this reason or that reason, so you should, too’ or ‘I changed overnight, so if I can, everyone can’. They just don’t get that if everyone thought, reacted, and acted like they do… the world would already be predominantly vegan.

    Use of the word ‘should’ is very dangerous in advocacy, because although it’s usually accurate in terms of describing what rational and logical people would do in a situation… there is far more at work here than reason and logic. Telling people they ‘should’ do something innately pushes many away because it conveys the message that what they are doing now is wrong, and even though it is, many (most) people will not respond positively to that direct message. However, sharing information, sharing truth about animal abuse and slaughter, and perhaps relating our own stories of why and how we changed, does not impose that judgement that the word ‘should’ does. It gets people thinking without first throwing up the walls of defense.

  3. Silly Tobias. It doesn’t matter if anyone else changes their behavior. All that matters is that I STAY TRUE TO MYSELF!!!

    Vegan first, vegan only!!


  4. Hello,
    As a current meat eater who has joined your group I could not agree more! I have stopped eating beef and pork as a stepping stone but I may never progress beyond that. As someone who loves our planet and loves animals I want to reduce my meat consumption and have been focusing on that. Getting angry or acting superior to meat eaters is hurtful and mean….welcoming anyone who has an interest in your cause is fantastic…and good business. ❤️

  5. One of the principles, upon which all economic theory operates on, is “people respond to incentives.” What is the incentive for the average working american to go vegan? I hear the same arugments: it’s healthier, environmentally friendly, more ethical. There are people that value these things, but I think the mind of most americans is elsewhere. The past presidential election has been telling. Donald Trump managed to win by pandering to his demographic’s sensibilities(and Hillary’s inability to do the same). His promises were very material and immediate: a wall, muslim ban, jobs, protectionism. These are the things people respond to with fervor. Something like “health, environment, ethics” is too abstract and long term to provoke something like that. People are worried about growing material adversity and in the face of that problem, being vegan doesn’t offer a whole lot of incentive. Not in the way it’s been typically marketed. you’ll reach a fraction of health conscious people, well educated people, spiritual people, and people with a lot of money but there’s a huge chasm between the aforementioned and everyone else. I agree with your ideas about being friendly, supportive, and building community. inclusiveness is important as is “embracing a diversity of tactics.” I feel like anyone that’s trying to undermine political corruption, promote fair labor practices, address issues of education and welfare are facilitating an environment where more people are more inclined to ponder and address issues like factory farming, environmental degradation etc. I don’t know though sometimes I feel like a segment of the vegan population doesn’t care about any of these things. They just want to feel good about doing the “right” thing.

    1. thanks for your feedback. i find myself agreeing with it 🙂
      re. doing the right thing, you didn’t even mention the animals, which for most people is considered *the* right reason to talk about and motivate people.
      in my book i write about not overemphasizing moral arguments in general, at this phase in time.

      1. I totally understand the compassion for animals. There’s a lot of value in trying to omit yourself from the cruel, violent, wasteful dynamic that’s factory farming. To not take part in that is liberating in a sense, and of course good for non-human life. Getting the most amount of people to reach this conclusion is more what I focused on I guess. did you ever read this page?
        I don’t have much philosophy background( I studied economics in college) but the author mentions “virtue ethicist,” moral philosophy and how it relates to what he found most compelling about Singer’s arguments. This angle pushed the author to make the transition from omnivore to vegetarian. I just feel like creating a general “culture of care” would open a lot of minds. It wouldn’t be easy, but it’s realistic. I look forward to seeing more of your ideas.

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