three marketing lessons from the man behind mother earth news

Bryan Welsh is likely not someone you’ve heard of. But if you’ve ever read Mother Earth News, Utne, Natural Home & Garden, The Herb Companion, Grit or The Farm Collector – then you’ve read one of the magazines his company Ogden Publications owns.

And, last night, I had the pleasure of seeing him speak at the Social Venture Institute at the Hollyhock Center on Cortes Island, BC. His presentation felt like a mix of Mark Twain, farmer and media mogul – relaxed, charming, engaging story telling.

Brian grew up doing farming as a young man and then worked in every possible role in the small town newspaper business – eventually becoming the owner of many of the most important progressive magazines worldwide.

And he had some real gems from a business and marketing perspective that I just had to share.

Lesson #1: Abstract vs. Practical Point of View

He felt that Mother Earth News did so well because it had always been about ‘cool stuff you could do.’ vs. just ideas, a critique of the dominant culture and the economy. That struck me. He pointed out that, economically, media properties that are about ‘ideas’ tend not to be as consistent money makers. Mother Earth News does much better than Utne.  People just don’t want to pay a lot of money to hear your ideas. It’s a hard business model.

I talk a lot about point of view in marketing and how important your perspective is.

But his sharing reminded me that point of view is almost always more clear and compelling when it’s infused into things rather than when it’s just talked about abstractly.

It’s one thing to talk about the principles of being a loving parent (e.g. be respectful, be kind, be loving etc) but it’s far more useful (for a parent) to have ‘here are five ways you can deal with your child not cleaning their room in a kind, respectful and loving way’.

It’s one thing to talk about the importance of honesty and integrity in marketing. It’s another thing to say, ‘here’s a five step process to filling your workshops with honesty and integrity.’

It’s one thing to say be sustainable and eco friendly in your lifestyle. It’s another to say, ‘here’s how to make natural cleaners with all natural household ingredients.’

It’s okay to talk abstractly, but make sure you give a lot of real world examples. Have your point of view show up in your practical, how-to info and you’ll have fans for life.

Lesson #2: Free Random Info Isn’t That Useful

We live in a day of free information. You want to know how to do anything, someone has an entire blog dedicated just to doing that. 100 people have created youtube videos on how to do it. And it’s all free.

Of course, the immediate challenge that arises is . . . who do you trust? What if there are conflicting opinions on how to get the job done? Holy overwhelm.

Brian pointed out that, ‘Information from a recognized source, in a voice you’re familiar with, values you understand on subjects you’re passionate about has more value than random free information you can find in abundance online.’

But let’s break that down.

  • recognized and trusted source: sometimes this comes from just sticking around for a while, building your relationship of trust with your following. They come to know, like and trust you. You become a trusted advisor because you’re such a generosity based business, you offer so much free content, you make it safe for your clients to get to know you. You showcase lots of case studies and examples of your work to demonstrate your expertise. And the easiest way to become a trusted source is to hone in on a particular niche.
  • a voice you’re familiar with and enjoy: this question of having a particular voice is powerful. When we say ‘voice’ we’re not talking about how it sounds when you speak but about the particular vibe, point of view and tone of your expression. Some people speak in a very conservative voice, some have a sexy voice, some have a politically radical voice, some have a quirky and fun voice. And people will be drawn to you based on your voice. Not just what you say but how you say it. The more you find your voice, the more you’ll attract clients who love you and are drawn to you just because you’re the way you are.
  • values you understand and resonate with: some times it’s so confusing why some people believe things. I don’t get the values of a white supremist. It makes no sense to me. If someone was a political conservative they might not get my hippie values. They’d look at how I do things and what’s important to me and shake their head.  It’s so wonderful to walk into a cafe and see how it embodies your values. For me, when I see fair trade coffee, local and organic food etc. I ‘get’ it. I understand those values. I resonate with those. When I see that a business embodies a bigger cause than just money that I also am aligned with I’m so much more likely to buy because, by supporting them, I am helping to further the cause I’m passionate about too. People don’t just buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Stop trying to change minds and focus on the people who resonate with your values.
  • on subjects you’re passionate about: again, abstract points of view aren’t that compelling for people. But points of view on subjects I’m passionate about? I’m super interested in (if they’re from a recognized and trusted source, in a voice I’m familiar with and enjoy). Those topics might be nerdy and they might be about pressing problems I want to solve or how to get results I’m craving.

It’s not enough just to talk about subjects people are passionate about. You need to build your credibility, develop your particular voice and clarify your value.

Lesson #3: Berries. Don’t put pictures of berries on magazine covers. People don’t buy them. Any other fruit or vegetable can work. But people don’t like berries. #nowyouknow

Scroll to Top