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What the Food Revolution Summit Can Teach You About Marketing

Ocean-Robbins-2012There are few pleasures greater than seeing friends succeed. 

And even fewer pleasures greater than when it’s two of the dearest people you know succeeding in one of the most beautiful projects.

My dear friend Ocean Robbins and his father John Robbins (author of Diet for a New America, The Food Revolution and many others) are now working together to create, for the second year in a row, The Food Revolution Summit – a tele-summit dedicated to exploring the cutting edge of what’s happening around food issues globally from the lenses of health, politics and philosophy (and from the most trusted advocates and experts of our time).

Ocean and I have worked together, on and off, for the past 18 years with the group he co-founded Youth for Environmental Sanity. He started out speaking to hundreds of thousands of students in high schools across North America, and then lead summer camps, and then gatherings of leading young changemakers and now is focusing almost entirely on growing this new social enterprise with his father. I couldn’t be happier for them.

This is a fine example of how to become a hub.

You can get more info on the summit here.

And what follows is my interview with Ocean about The Food Revolution Summit from a marketing lense.


Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 1.47.07 PMWhat’s the response been so far?

More than 30,000 people from 100+ countries participated in the first Food Revolution Summit, and response was amazing. Our affiliates were thrilled with the results, too. One person mailed to his list of 50,000, and wound up earning more than $10,000. And since the summit, our list has continued to expand. Popular blog posts and an online petition calling for labeling of GMOs have drawn us lots of attention. Our list is now more than 80,000.

What’s the story of how this came about? What was the need you saw in the community that it emerged from?

Our food chain is in crisis. Big agribusiness has made profits more important than your health — more important than the environment — more important than your right to know how your food is produced. Large-scale industrial agribusiness is controlling an expanding share of the world’s food supply. They have huge advertising budgets to market highly processed, genetically engineered, chemical-laden, pesticide-contaminated pseudo-foods. Meanwhile, people keep getting sicker. Disease care is now eating up 20% of US GDP, and more and more people are chronically ill.

But beneath the surface, a revolution is growing.

From rural farms to urban dinner plates, from grocery store shelves to state ballot boxes, people are rising up and taking action. We’re reclaiming our food systems and our menus, and we’re taking responsibility for our health.

Today there’s a huge and growing demand for food that is organic, sustainable, fair trade, non-GMO, humane, and healthy. In cities around the world, we’re seeing more and more farmer’s markets, and more young people getting back into farming. Grocery stores (even big national chains) are displaying local, natural and organic foods with pride. The movements for healthy food are growing fast, and starting to become a political force.

Can you share a few examples of how your project works?

The Food Revolution Summit: Over the course of nine days, we gather together leading insights from some of the world’s brilliant scientists, doctors and nutritionists. We conduct 24 inspiring, galvanizing and deeply informative interviews, and broadcast those interviews worldwide. Folks can listen for free to the interviews, online or through teleconference. They can also purchase an optional Empowerment Package that gave them downloadable recordings, transcripts, and a whole collection of bonus items, for a fee. Sales of the Empowerment Package cover program costs and also inspire affiliates to promote the summit to their lists, since they can earn up to 50% of any resultant downstream sales. We offer a free service widely, we earn enough to make the program profitable and to make it a win for our promotional partners, and we offer real value every step of the way.

Who do you find it’s working best for?

A survey found that our 2012 Food Revolution Summit participants were highly motivated, and the majority were 40 and 50-something women. There was strong international representation, with a majority in the United States and Canada. Many of them already know that our food system is messed up, they’ve already eliminated most junk food, white bread, and trans fats from their diet. They already know that their food choices affect animals and the planet. But they’re frustrated with the world around them. They want to be armed with the facts so they can become effective spokespeople and advocates. They want to know how to influence people, how to help their families and loved ones be less sick, and even how to change government policy to stop tilting the playing field to favor the pesticide and junk food companies over family farms and healthy foods.

How did you promote this in the beginning? What were the top three most successful approaches at the start of it?

We lined up great speakers. That was enabled by the fact that my dad and colleague, John Robbins, is a bestselling author in this field, and literally wrote the book, “The Food Revolution”, in 2001. So we had strong content and some degree of prominence to start things off.

Then we created strong, authentic and effective landing page and sales copy. This is not something that came easily to me. I needed a lot of help, and was lucky enough to find good people who could offer it. It doesn’t matter how many people click on your page, if it doesn’t motivate them to sign up and to take the next steps. Also affiliates won’t want to promote a page unless they think it is well done.

Third, we reached out to affiliates who had shared values and big lists, and invited them into partnership. By offering them the chance to promote a great project, that was smartly presented, and giving them half of any resultant revenues while offering to do all the followup sales path work so they could just promote the free summit, we made it easy for them to say yes.

What are the top three most effective ways you’ve found to market this?


Good copy.

Focusing mostly on content with our list, so we offer lots of stuff for free, and are clearly driven by mission first. This is our integrity, and it’s also building trust.

What have you learned about ‘affiliate marketing’? What’s worked best for you? Any blunders along the way?
What I love about affiliate marketing is that it turns competitors into partners. We share a stake in one another’s success. If one of our partners gets a bigger list, that means they can do a better job promoting our work.  If our event is a hit, then to the extent that they invested in it, our affiliate partners reap the benefits. I also like the models in which folks offer lots of free content, with paid content on the backend for participants who want to take a deeper dive.  As an affiliate for other people’s ventures, I like being able to offer our list free stuff they will find useful, and I also like being able to share in the profit if they go on to purchase something they think may be of value to them.
My biggest mistakes have been agreeing to promote things to our list that I thought sounded cool, but that were not what our list wanted.  Our list didn’t sign up to hear about “everything Ocean thinks is cool.” They are on board to learn about healthy, sustainable, humane and conscious food.  We can broaden that a bit, but for the most part, we get the best response when we stay focussed on our core brand.
I have also met a lot of potential partners who want reciprocal promotions.  They’ll promote our work, if we will promote theirs — and we’ll both be affiliates for each other.  This can work really well when we are offering resources of mutual value. But I have to be careful, because while the potential value of promoting something that “converts well” and getting a strong reciprocal agreement from someone who will promote our work is appealing, I can’t let it lead me to compromise on the integrity of knowing what I should send to our list.
You’ve spoken about the importance of having good sales copy on your website. I’m curious how that feels for you to be writing a compelling sales letter when you’ve primarily been a speaker, activist, executive director and community builder your whole life.

Writing compelling copy that doesn’t come across as icky or read like a “sales letter” is a tricky business and I am still learning about it.

Ronald Reagan once said, “sincerity is everything in politics.  If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” I’m not interested in faking anything, and have at times felt so grossed out by the way that everything, from sex, to love, to God, to even social justice, can be used to market stuff.
But I’ve also been learning that effective copy writing is a means to an end. Like any tool, it can be used for good or bad.  But I want to use it for good.  It doesn’t have to feel slimy to be effective.  But I also have to be willing to employ some of the tools that have been proven to work, if I want to be effective.  If I’m not effective — if our landing page (aka “opt-in page”) doesn’t generate opt-ins, and if our “thanks for signing up” page (aka “sales page”) doesn’t convert into sales, then our affiliates won’t be happy, our operation won’t have the money it needs to continue, and our potential customers will lose out on some valuable resources that we think can change their lives.
So it is an art, I think, to learn how to use the medium of emails and websites to generate clicks, to create action — and to do so in a way that feels filled with integrity and that is aligned with our values.
And can you give some examples of how your copy changed and evolved from the start and what you think people can learn from that?
My email mantra now is: “informal, urgent, connected.”  I make my messages shorter.  In fact, I imagine that my audience is at a 7th grade reading level. I use short sentences and short paragraphs.  I make sure to have only one call to action per message (occasionally one more in a P.S.), and I pay a LOT of attention to the subject and the first sentence.  If those aren’t good, I’ve lost 50% of my audience already.
I avoid use of words like “free”, “diet”, weight loss”, or, God help us, “viagra” (not that I would be writing about viagra anyway — but those words will all get you killed in spam filters).  I write in the first person, using the word “you” freely. I need to make sure that I address the problem / need / urgency, the benefits that they can derive from connecting or engaging, and stay warm and personable.  I want to value connection over information.  And I also want to make sure thre is something of value in every message, even if the reader never clicks on a link or opens anything.
Can you give five examples of the kinds of emails you’ve sent to your list? I think you’ve done a great job of sending out high quality content that I know I am personally excited to receive. They’re always things I can take action on or share on social media. And I’d be curious to hear your thought process on how you choose content because, in the world of health, there must be so many options.

Five of the most popular emails I have sent our list have been:

1) How is John Robbins holding up? — This was shirtless pictures of my 65-year-old dad, who has been a health author for decades and who is RIPPED.  A picture is worth a thousand words, they say.  Or in our case, 10,000 clicks.
2) Our last chance to stop the Monsanto Protection act — This was a call to action, to try to stop President Obama to veto a bill that gave legal immunity to the biotech industry.  The effort failed, but our list responded big-time.  People want to take action on the issues that matter to them.
3) Look who’s in bed with the junk food industry — This was an email teaser linking to a blog post I had written, exposing links between the Association of Nutrition and Dietetics and the junk food industry.
4) What your doctor never told you…  — This was promoting a free video of Dr. Joel Fuhrman, and we were an affiliate for a promotion in which folks could opt in to receive the video for no charge, and then would later be invited to dive deeper into nutritional programs in keeping with his philosophy.
5) Huge Revelations Totally Embarrass The Diet Industry — We wanted to announce a film launch, which was available for free on an opt-in basis.  We were also serving as an affiliate for the promotions that would follow.  Instead of some lame title likeL “Announcing an awesome film”, we went with “Huge Revelations Totally Embarrass The Diet Industry”, which was also a part of the film’s message – and watch opens and clicks go off the charts.
Out of necessity to make this summit go, I’ve seen you dive into the marketing world so hard. Are there any other marketing or business tips you can share as a hippie who has gotten into marketing in the past few years?
Don’t be afraid to succeed.  You can use the tools of the world to change the world. But remember also that the smell of greed can be seductive.  Stay connected to your mission, and never lose site of that.  Hopefully you are working for a lot more than money.  Keep your eyes and your heart on the prize — the change you want to see in the world.  Integrity is everything in business, and when people can feel your integrity, they will trust you more.  I also advise to steer clear of over spending. Only scale up as you can afford it.  Overshooting can lead to vulnerability to external forces that can pull you off your center.
In the world of online tools, widgets and geekery – what are the coolest things you’ve come across that you’d recommend to other entrepreneurs going about building their business?
1shoppingcart is great for online affiliate marketing and list management if you are starting out small.
If you get bigger and need more customized sophistication, I suggest Office Auto Pilot.
I like http://www.timetrade.com/ which helps with booking interviews and appointments, and http://easyseminar.com/ which is great value for the price for teleconferences and online seminars.
And I do love my google calendar.
You’ve also written a number of pieces for Huffington Post over the past year or so. How did this happen? What’s been the impact of it? Is this something anyone can do?
The success of my pieces on HuffingtonPost has had a lot do with with our list launching them, strong topics of interest, and a combination of strong research and pithy content.  I think blogging is a great tool if you love to write and have a gift for 500-1,000 word pieces that really move people.  But I do not recommend it for nearly everyone.  Huffington Post will use a strong viral reaction to a piece, and your own promotional efforts, to draw views (and advertising dollars) to their site.
They also provide some promotion of course – though for most posts, not as much as you might think. So sometimes you may be better off posting on your own site, if you have a platform for launching it, and then you get the traffic of all the readership the ensues.  Blogging can be a great way to build brand recognition for your message, and to make an impact on issues that matter to you.
It is not a great way to generate opt-ins or any other direct call to action, though it can help with those things a bit.

What are the three biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way?

Writing good sales copy is a skill set. There’s a lot that’s been learned about it. We aren’t born with it, and for most of us, it doesn’t come intuitively, either.

Combining awesome free content with a strong opt-in hook is a great way to build a list. A big list of engaged, inspired, and interested people is a powerful force for social change and for business success.

Affiliates represent an awesome way to turn the competition into partners.

At its heart, what is this project/business really about for you? (beyond money, status and such).

Large-scale industrialized food production is wreaking havoc on our forests, topsoil, air, water, and climate. Farm animals are being treated with tremendous cruelty, and farm workers are often exploited. Genetically engineered “Frankenfoods” are being released, inadequately tested, into the food supply on a vast scale. Meanwhile, people are eating more and more artificial food — and getting fatter and sicker. In fact, more people are chronically ill today than at any time in the history of the world.

Our goal is to offer a diverse, gourmet, tasty and nutrient-rich powerhouse of resources that’s designed to help people move from being medical time bombs to health superstars, and from frustrated spectators to empowered agents of change.

I’m also motived by the fact that I love food. I love eating it, I love preparing it, and I love sharing it with other people. Throughout the world, “breaking bread” together, or sharing a meal together, is an act of connection. Food bonds us to the world, to culture, and to one another.

When we bring more consciousness to our relationship with food, we improve our health, and we contribute to a more healthy, humane, sustainable and beautiful world.

What’s the next level for your project? What are you most excited about that’s coming up?

The 2013 Food Revolution Summit runs April 27-May 5, and it’s going to be our best one yet!

We’ve compiled a book of interviews from the Food Revolution Summit, and edited them to make for a strong and cohesive flow. Voices of the Food Revolution will be published in June, 2013.

We’re also developing online courses, and offering free weekly emails to our growing list, with action alerts, practical tools, inspiration and information to contribute to the food revolution.

If people want to find out more about your project, support it or get involved – what should they do?

Join us at http://www.foodrevolution.org, or sign up for our free 2013 Food Revolution Summit at http://www.foodrevolution.org/summit

Anything else you’d like to add?

We wish you radiant health, abundant joy, and a life filled with meaning. And we wish you good, delicious, nourishing food. If you’d like to become an affiliate and earn a modest amount of money while helping spread the word, you can sign up here: http://www.foodrevolution.org/affiliate

Bon Appetit, food revolutionaries!

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