Rebel marketing strategy: No budget, no problem.

I wanted to share with you a way of thinking about marketing which has proven effective in my businesses and allowed me to engage with my tribe with very little budget. Having launched 3 start-ups in the last 24 months on minimal budgets, i've had to get super creative with both my time & money. I detail below how you can effectively plan your marketing content and positioning whilst still having time to run your business.

Lets look at this in 2 parts; creative & positioning. If the creative is good, but the positioning is poor, nobody sees it. If the creative is poor, but the positioning is great, it doesn't matter how many people see it. Content for me comes in 5 forms; audio, video, photo, graphic & written word. Positioning in my business comes in 6 forms; Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, email & physically in the building. Within both, there are of course subsections. Video, for example, could be long-form, 1-minute interview style, 10 second IG video, etc. Equally within the positioning there are tons of possibilities. Within written word alone there is LinkedIn article, blog post, Facebook group post, etc. List all of these.

If you take away 1 thing from this post, let it be this. You MUST create content that sits at the intersection of what your customers care about, and what your business does. Now, before you start planning, you must understand & be able to effectively communicate why your business exists. Start by revisiting these questions; What problem are you solving? How are you uniquely solving it? How is it win-win-win? With your customers, ask these 3 questions; What do they care about? What else are they interested in? What drives them to buy? Lastly, your content should do at least 1 of these 3 things, in line with all of the above; educate, inspire or entertain.

Next, on to the strategy. Set a time frame. It can be a month, 2 months, etc. Then, i like to do the below:

  • Establish key themes, opportunities, events & dates

  • Review previous activity (what worked, what didn't)

  • Identify potential new partners, staff, customers & influencers

  • Set targets & KPIs for campaign

  • Spec out logistics, costings & potential risks

With the content itself, concern yourself with focusing on 2-3 pieces of macro content. E.g. long-form video, podcast, influencer event, etc. Plan these 3 things, and then from each of these pieces of long-form content, draw down multiple pieces of shorter form content. If you're posting 4 pieces of content per day (many people are nowhere near this) and you're planning this campaign to be a month long, you're going to want to generate 20 pieces of content from each activity. From a long-form video, for example, this could be the audio transcribed & repurposed as a series of 5 blog posts & 10 smaller Facebook posts, 10 1 minute clips & 5 quote graphic. This saves time, money & allows for consistency in the campaign.

Next, the way to go about executing these 2-3 pieces of long-form content for free, is to leverage influencers, collaborations with other businesses, your community, your product/service & your existing team. Examples of each below:

Influencers

  • Focus on micro influencers with relevant niche followings

  • Be specific on what you want (type of content, how much, etc)

  • Focus on how to offer them non-monetary value (exposure on your page, product, etc)

Collaborations with other businesses

  • Work with businesses who's audience share similar interests

  • Agree on outcomes & activity

  • Share costs (if any)

Community

  • Invite regular customers to contribute (e.g. blog writing)

  • Host community focused event & capture content to use

Your product/service

  • Consider how to build content opportunities into what you already do (if its a packaged product, can you include something photo worthy that encourages users to take a photo!?)

  • Drive user generated content via decoration or adaptation consistent with theme

Your people

  • Bring your entire team into strategy meetings & crowdsource ideas/skills

  • Give responsibility to the team to assist with content creation & comms

I have found it effective to do this monthly and set out my plan for the month ahead. Its a simple, effective & resourceful way to communicate with your customers. I wish you good luck!





The best advice for someone leaving school or university

It wasn’t so long ago I was in my late teens. I remember feeling this intense pressure to have it all together & be on a path to success, and perhaps even more so to be seen to be successful. In hindsight, my 20s has been a lot about failing as a means to grow, and I’ve done plenty of that. The thought of failing at anything at aged 20 was ego-destroying, a nightmare scenario I couldn’t entertain being positive, and anything that resulted in failure or not direct reward was hard to register as beneficial. In hindsight, the work i did for free and the failures have formed the foundation for what i rely on most now.

In hindsight, I took action around that time that i was largely unconscious of, but which has proved fruitful & I now recognise as a powerful play. I worked for the person who had my ideal life, for free, in exchange for knowledge & connections. More than once. I then crowdsourced as many of these people as possible, and consumed their ideas by books, videos & anything else I could get my hands on.

The beauty of personal development is that the effect of the work you do on yourself compounds over time. You reap the rewards way down the line, so it’s very much an investment and most appropriately at that young age, it’s one most can afford to make. For most of us, our late teens & early 20s are a time when we’re time rich & cash poor. At a young age, I truly believe the best investment you can make is exchanging your time for “free” in working for the person you’d most like to be in the world. 

Can’t access the individual on a personal level? I realise it’s not possible for everyone. The best minds that have ever lived have left behind their thoughts & ideas for us all though. For less than £10 a time you can buy a book by one of these people. In most cases, less than 10 hours can get you through a whole one. 10 hours a week & you’ve managed a book a week. Imagine doing that from age 18? Or 20? The impact compounds over time and over the course of a decade we become a fountain of knowledge. Add to that the application of this knowledge in support of someone we admire, then we get the real life opportunity to fail & learn as we go.

Many of the best minds today regularly publish their content via podcasts. An hour at a time for most, so imagine the power of 1 hour a day learning from the best in the business you aspire to be in? 

You don’t have to have a defined end game. Many industries require skills which crossover, but developing management, communication, marketing, critical thinking & general business skills from a young age can be hugely beneficial in later life. For most of us, we’ll work in a variety of sectors & be able to take lessons from each to the next. I’m amazed at how having to introduce football camps to 100 & parents kids aged 16 set me up to be comfortable public speaking in front of large groups aged 26.

If i could give my 18 year old self 1 piece of advice, it would be this. You don't have to have it figured out. Surrounding yourself with people who are on the way to, when you have the time of lack of responsibility to make it possible, is a course of action i cant recommend enough. Go and work for someone you aspire to be like for free. Find a way to add value to that person. And in your spare time, double down on building your own knowledge and perspective through books, podcasts, videos & events.




How NOT to make your restaurant "instagrammable"

I’ve been speaking on this topic for a while now & subsequently been misinterpreted more times than not. I feel obligated to go a little deeper than I may of done on this in the past, more so because I’ve seen people take what i’ve said quite literally and without real understanding. I have never encouraged people or businesses to make their offerings “instagrammable” purely for the sake of it. And certainly, as an extension of that, communicate to their customers that it’s what they’re purposefully doing! 

I have spoken about creating my restaurants with social media in mind. What I actually mean, is that I have created them with people in mind. I don’t want people to take a photo of another neon Pinterest quote for the sake of it, I want to wow people so they feel compelled to share their experience with others. It’s the intention, and resulting authenticity behind it, that builds real experience. 

When we create interior, food or serves with the aim of getting people to photograph it, there is a subtle difference. It comes from an ever-so-slightly emptier place than that which seeks to entertain the person with the camera. The need to capture the experience is the result, and I see recently so many people focus on this empty result, which ultimately manifests as a self-serving action & actually pushes people away from doing the very action the brand desires. It’s becomes “cliche.” 

Customers sharing their experience of visiting your restaurant are great. When it’s an experience of YOUR restaurant. If it could be mistaken for any one of 10 recent “Instagram” spots that have popped up, you’ve missed the point. You’re not building brand through unique experience, you’re hacking empty follows from people who don’t really care. And this speeds up the shelf life.

Longevity is achieved by focusing on brand. If it’s a quote, make it one that has synergy with what your business stands for. If it’s a particular way you offer the bill, engineer it to fit in with your companies mission. If you’re sustainably focused, this night be a recycled box in your colours, for example. Let’s get back to thinking about experience first, and giving people permission to share theirs as a result. Experience comes first, everything else is about how we communicate it. 

How to build experience? Start with bigger questions. What am i trying to achieve? What do i want people to feel when they eat here? As a result, how do we communicate this in such a way that it resonates to the degree the customers wants to join our narrative, and further, share it with their world online. For someone to adopt your message as theirs, its needs to be a well thought-out message that stands for something. Once you know what you stand for, you can set about communicating it in a way that inspires or entertains. The message is key, the experience is born here, and everything else is what you see online.


Why promoting your business as vegan is not enough

Once a niche industry with a small audience, it was possible to launch a specifically vegan product or service & be the only one. It was plausible for this, should you have found yourself in such a position, to be your only value proposition and you could be forgiven to expect your audience to support your offering on the basis you were the only show in town. As veganism has progressed into mainstream culture however, this narrative alone is no longer serving as your sole selling point. Yet, we still see well-meaning entrepreneurs launch companies, and make it all about the fact they’re vegan. They then become frustrated when they don’t receive the support they expected. The problem lies in the positioning. 


A number of factors come into play. Firstly, and most obviously, competition dictates that alternative solutions are now more available. As such, the mere fact the offering is vegan is no longer unique. Moreover, as veganism becomes more mainstream, a new wave of vegans don’t want to feel “special” at all. On the contrary, the objectification is seen as an obstacle & therefore they might favour brands that seek to normalise the lack of animal products. 


Instead, when putting a product to market that caters to vegans, brands are better poised to focus on solving a problem and cultivating a community that shares that same problem. In the process, meeting customers at the intersection of their wider interests & the relevance of the product moves away from the simple reliance on the fact it’s vegan. This could be, for example, a vegan leather boxing glove that builds a brand identity around being the underdog. 


For mainstream brands that launch vegan products, promoting the fact the product is vegan is necessary to effectively communicate to customers that it differs from their core offering. However, this can also be done effectively in creating sub-brands. See Tesco’s successful collaboration with Derek Sarno on their vegan range “wicked kitchen.” Taking this approach allows for brands to free themselves from the bounds of how they may be perceived in contradiction to the product. 


For brand strategy & positioning in the vegan space, my advice would be to focus on the problem that’s being addressed, how it’s being solved in a unique way, and most importantly, why. Veganism is reaching a tipping point & a product by the very essence of being vegan will attract customers. It’s the flexitarians & mainstream consumers who are important to tap in to, and finding a way to motivate this audience is key. Brands that “crossover” are successful, and most have learnt that just being vegan isn’t enough. 

How to actually be an influencer

Today, being an influencer is like being a pop star or professional athlete was 10 years ago. Social media influencers not only get paid incredibly well for doing seemingly very little, but are gifted the latest must-have items & flown to exotic locations. On the surface, they get paid to live & document their experiences for the benefit of brands. In my restaurants we've utilised influencer marketing to great effect, but i've also noticed an increase in the volume of inbound messages from would-be influencers, asking for free meals in exchange for not very much at all. There's a huge disparity between who's paid how much for what, the metrics used to gauge how "influential" someone is and what the "going rate" of pay is. So, from a business owners perspective who works with influencers, here's how to actually do it.

I must make clear first of all, i resent the term influencer, and more so people who use it in reference to themselves. By definition, only others can render you influential? I must also put forward that, aside from working with influencers in the capacity of owning restaurants, i've also been paid by brands to produce & post content, owing to my own social media presence i've unintentionally built. This gives me the unique perspective of being able to understand and appreciate both sides of the equation.

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The sentiment that should form the backbone of both sides is "prosperity is formed on a mutual exchange of value." Put simply, the benefit each party receives should be in as equal proportion as possible. This is why, when wannabe food blogger A with 150 followers, grainy photos & a blog that receives no views asks for a complimentary meal for a new article she is writing, i might as a business owner not consider it equal to the value i provide with a free meal. However, when blogger B contacts me with 20,000 relevant followers, polished content and a specific desired outcome, i'd be more inclined to agree to a meal for 2 on a busy lunchtime.

So, what if you're just starting out but aspire to be a big-time influencer? Consider the sentiment i mentioned above and apply it to what you do: give value! Initially, this will likely be at your own expense. Choose a niche you're passionate about, and actively go out to review places. Put effort in to create great content, write detailed reviews, reply to people's questions, be consistent, be authentic and PAY for your food. Create value for your followers & create value for the places you visit. Its not just about followers, it's about adding value. When i curate content creators for a campaign, i'm looking at the shots they take, the reviews they've written, how they interact with their followers and how they deliver their message, carefully choosing those that resonate with my brand.

Its more beneficial for me to work for an influencer who has 5,000 followers that hang on their every word, whilst producing informative & specific restaurant guides, great photos, a multitude of content and come up with creative ways of involving their audience, over someone with 100,000 unengaged followers they gained from a reality TV show 5 years ago. Perception is reality, so even when starting out communicate how you wish to be perceived. Have a media kit, have a website, invest in a decent camera & editing software.

As the influencer marketing sector grows, brands will continue to seek out creators & the industry is by no means saturated. For me, i never set out to work with brands in that way, but i've been fortunate enough in documenting my journey that brands have sought me out & i guess that comes from authenticity. However, i can absolutely see why people would aspire to be paid to post, who wouldn't? My suggestion, however, to anyone wishing to be one of those people, is to be patient and most importantly, lead with value.



5 tips to effectively market your restaurant with no budget

In using all of the below, focus on whats valuable to your customer before focusing on whats valuable to you. The variable as to whether your successful in using these tips will lay in both the value of the content & its positioning. Please feel free to shoot me a direct mail with any questions. These are my own opinions, and what i've found to be successful in my restaurants.

1.Leverage user generated content 

Incentivising your customers to create content for you presents a number of benefits. Firstly, it can help ensure a constant stream of fresh content to use. Additionally, as guests see restaurants reward creators by using their photos & tagging those users in their posts, they’re further incentivised to create more & give permission for others to do the same. A simple way to do this is to ensure food & drinks are aesthetically interesting, and that your venue whether by its interior, unique service style or otherwise, gives people a reason to take their phone out. 

2. Develop micro-influencer campaigns 

Invite local people with a relevant following to participate in campaigns with you, giving clear instruction & setting metrics by which to measure the success of the exercise. This creates the capacity to double down on the content created by the most effective people, and ensures you don’t just give away “free stuff!” Running campaigns as opposed to singular posts equals potential for genuine relationships with influencers & an ongoing stream of fresh content & engagement with their audience. 

3. Build community around valuable content 

Give your community, and would be community, content that meets at the intersection of your offering & their interest. If you have a health-focused brand, you could offer content that educates them on ways they can take care of their health at home, or share places they can visit nearby that are relevant. This not only cements your position as an authority in the market, but equally builds trust & loyalty without asking for something in return. 

4. Utilise search features to hack conversations 

“Butting in” on conversations where the topic is relevant to your restaurant is a great way to raise awareness of your brand. Contributing to a conversation, adding opinion, facts or knowledge, can help foster a position of relevance & expertise around a topic that’s being discussed, and help make you visible to a new audience. An easily actionable example of this is on Twitter. If it’s pancake day, for example, a simple search for “pancake day” in the search bar will bring up a host of conversation, to which you can reply to tweets & inject with your own content. 

5. Document the process 

Content can be expensive to produce, and difficult to come up with. A simple way to help you share more, and make your restaurant more accessible, is to document what’s already going on. This might be a meeting on menu development, or inside a staff training event, shared on Instagram story or via a LinkedIn article. This type of content helps to humanise your brand & involve your community. 

For more info, visit LouiBlake.com.



49% of millennials predict Veganism will be the next big restaurant trend

Last week a survey came across my desk that got me more excited than it perhaps should have. The survey in question, commission by Planday (the software i use to communicate with employees) and YouGov, showed a number of interesting outcomes. The survey asked 2000 people across the UK a number of questions about the future of the dining economy, and sought the ascertain the key restaurant trends of the next 2 years. The results prompted a truly exciting outcome where food trends in particular are concerned; “consumers are turning away from fast food & embracing more sustainable, healthy options.”

49% of those questioned predicted vegan restaurants will be the most in demand in the next 2 years. Now, on the basis that as much as 1 in 7 people are vegan, this would still suggest that even those who don’t currently adopt a vegan lifestyle are seeing the growth in demand of these types of foods. In fact, the survey found that 75% of millennials thought at least vegan, vegetarian or foods with good environmental credentials would be the most in demand, which in light of the recently well reported environmental crisis, makes for good reading.

Nearly half (47%) of those asked cited food waste as their top sustainability priority, demonstrating that we’re entering an age where, despite the significant diversity & scale of foods now available, younger generations are being more conscious of their consumption. Only 11% indicated that sustainability didn’t matter to them.

My statement on the results read as follows: “The results of this survey absolutely reflect what we are starting to see and are responding to with our two vegan restaurants, Erpingham House in Norfolk and soon to open Kalifornia Kitchen in London.  For us it is about listening to what the customer wants and delivering the highest quality food and service we can. We are thoroughly embracing the popularity of delivery services like Deliveroo, adjusting our menu slightly to ensure that we offer a menu where the food will travel well and not offering deliveries when it will put too much pressure on the restaurant to service in-house and external orders. We also know how important sustainability is to our customers and how crucial it is that we clearly communicate all the steps we take, from using Vegware plastics to carbon offsetting schemes, to reassure our customers that both we, and they, are dining without costing the earth.”

To read the survey results in full, visit https://www.planday.com/blog/planday-survey-explores-millennial-dining-trends/


How my restaurant reached 12k Instagram followers in 5 months

Disclaimer* Im aware there are many variables to having followers on social media that can render them useless. Largely, if acquired only for the sole purpose of leveraging the amount against appearing established, or for mere bragging rights, this is the case and it becomes a pointless pursuit. However, when opening Erpingham House back in May, i realised that if we could cultivate a community on the photo-sharing platform Instagram, we might just be able to hack our way to relevancy.

Building this community on Instagram has done a number of things for my business. Firstly, and most simply, its helped us showcase our offering to a substantial amount of people. It means that when we have something to shout about, and spend time crafting how we're going to deliver it, the effort doesn't go wasted. We've learnt the way to grow a following that participates the conversation & contributes voluntarily, is to incentivise them to do so & offer real value in exchange for their attention.

Erpingham house, Norwich.

Erpingham house, Norwich.

We started by involving the world in the process of building the restaurant. We let people in, a behind-the-scenes view of everything that went on in the building process, from plastering walls to testing the dishes. We used key features, such as the voting poll on Instagram stories, to ask our audience what they would choose. Being consistent with this daily caused people to keep coming back and more new people to the fold. When people saw us take action on their decisions, it gave them ownership and made them feel part of the project, a sentiment later made clear when we overheard people comment "i voted for that."

Next, the interior itself. We know that part of the process for many when they go out now is to take lots of photos for social media, so why not give them something to take a photo of? Providing a number of "Instagrammable" photo opportunities throughout the venue is a win-win; people get their golden photo opportunity, we get user generated content to share on our platforms, and promotion to their network on theirs. By strategically placing such features (flower wall on entry, neon seat outside the ladies loo) we made capturing these shots easy.

“User generated” content is king

“User generated” content is king

To give people a reason to follow & stay following, we have to offer value. Value for us comes in the form of 3 things; information, inspiration & entertainment. If we reverse engineer the needs & wants of our customers, given that they're patrons of us already, a healthy-eating restaurant, health facts are a really good way for us to help our customers learn more about healthy eating. Producing a short form video on how to make a smoothie at home, or an infographic on the benefits of one of our health shot components, gives our community relevant info whilst enforcing our position as an authority on the topic.

As our following grows, it further incentivises bloggers & Instagram users to feature us on their posts so that we might repost them, sharing their page with out community and helping them to reach more people. We've held a number of small events where we've set such things up, usually around a new menu or event launch, to help us spread the message. This is effectively free advertising, and allows us to leverage the following of "influencers" to showcase our news, whilst again increasing our reach & growing our community.

In an age of hospitality where budgets are tight & we need every ounce of return for our marketing pounds, utilising the power of narrative in real time on social media is a cost-effective, genuine way to create real customers and real relationships. I implore all small business owners to invest time in finding what works for them on Instagram and other platforms.



"Focus on one thing at once" and other bad advice.

To be an expert, or not to be, that is the question. Can you be an expert, or even excel, in multiple fields in succession? Can you work on numerous projects at once, and still have the capacity to offer each the required attention to get the job done? What are the variables that allow for some to seemingly be great at everything, all at once, whilst others struggle at their one occupation? 

I believe it comes down to knowing oneself. I’ve now had around 10 businesses, in different sectors doing different things. Some successful, some not. Some at the same time, some overlapping. The benefit, I have found, is the acquisition of a diverse range of skills acquired by working within vastly different industries & with equally diverse people. This is something that’s hard to quantify. Who would of thought nervously speaking in front of 50 kids & their parents at a football camp as a nervous 18 year old would pay dividends when 10 years later, I find myself lecturing a room full of university students on economics? 

The consistent advice I was given that’s bugged me, although I’m sure from a sincere place, was “you’re trying to do too many things at once” or “stick to your profession.” In the time I was getting to know myself, I would often seek out the advice of people who were adeptly more qualified to offer it in their knowledge of the subject, but less so in their knowledge of me. This has caused me to abandon projects & to work in a way that made me unhappy. 

The first piece of advice, the "you’re trying to do too many things at once” has its uses, although will of course differ from person to person & is open to interpretation. Knowing myself, I know that I have a limited attention span on one topic. I can work on a specific task for perhaps 90 mins to 2 hours, then I need something entirely different. That being said, I’m quite happy working 14-16 hour days if sufficiently engaged in what I’m doing, and can go back to projects after an hour or so of diverted attention. This is where having 2 businesses or focuses has been extremely useful. 

I’ve also found that when I stress test the boundaries of my skills, or focus them on an entirely different requirement, my mind is in fact being trained in a different way. This, again, has proved extremely valuable & allowed me to be highly productive. I know I work well to time constraints, so allocating an allotted time to a piece of work in line with my attention span helps me to stay focused, and the "reward" of being able to work on something else once its done keeps me in check.

Some notable people from history who were able to transcend one particular discipline at a time, and excellent role models to attest to the positive consequences of such outlooks, are Benjamin Franklin & Leonardo Da Vinci. Both were able to pursue not only a number of careers throughout their lifetime, but overlap and intertwine interests that were vastly different. The rounded interests expressed by each are testament to the value a diverse spectrum of pursuits can add to an individual.

The second piece of advice, "to focus on your area of expertise", is true to a degree but can be interpreted in such a way to sound limiting. As we change, so does what motivates us, and invariably this is manifested in what we want to put our time into. I loved football and working with kids. This developed communication skills (and patience) affording me the ability to clearly communicate sometimes complex information in a way that’s understandable.

 As my motivation turned years later into helping companies communicate their brand mission on social media, those communication skills came into play in an entirely different context. The way to interpret this advice is to learn what your uniquely good at, improve upon it, but don’t limit the application of this skill to one industry/business/job. The days where we would be limited to one career are other! You only need to learn the industry, the skills are transferable, even in the most contracting industries. 

In terms of advice, my advice would be, it’s not one size fits all. Those who know better, do not necessarily know you. Get to know yourself, and then find a way to work at the intersection of what you’re good at & what you’re interested in. If it doesn’t exist, create it by finding a problem to solve, or start by helping one person solve their problem. 

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Moving Mountains B12 Burger Tasting at Mildred's Dlaston

Last night (Monday evening) i was invited to a sneak peek tasting of the new "bleeding burger" by Moving Mountains (MovingMountainsFoods.com), the first of it's kind in the UK. Having tried both the Beyond Burger & the Impossible Burger recently in the US, I was keen to see how this one measured up! On arrival, i discussed with one of the founders the story behind the brand and their ambition for it's first product, and was suitably impressed with both their vision and ambition in disrupting the plant-based meat market here in the UK. 

Sarah-Jane Crawford (@sarahjanecrawford) and I in deep discussion, as per!

Sarah-Jane Crawford (@sarahjanecrawford) and I in deep discussion, as per!

It was good to see some familiar faces, with Gaz (@avantGardeVegan) and Tiago (@TheHealthyBeard) at my end of the table, and Tiffany (Tiffanyc_watson) and Clare (@Thelittlelondonfoodie) as well as some people i hadn't met before. After 30 minutes of eager anticipation, the first burgers were served, alongside chips and Mildred's signature pesto mayo. The burger patty was served in a brioche bun, classic style with lettuce and tomato, sizzling hot and boldly tall with a proud moving mountains flag in the middle. 

As per any blogger food event, nobody actually ate for the first 5 minutes as everyone clambered for the best photo, but having not eaten since 11am, i was pretty eager to give it a go. I found the patty to be juicy and thick, with a texture akin to how i remember meat, if not a little softer. The burger is made from a number for ingredients for different purposes. Oyster mushrooms to give a succulent texture, beetroot juice to bleed in the middle, coconut oil for a fatty consistency and wheat/soy proteins to offer a fibrous texture. I liked the inclusion of vitamin B12 as a means to genuinely compete with a beef burger, and from a nutritional standpoint perhaps goes beyond (excuse the pun) that of its competitors. 

Before you eat, take a pic. 

Before you eat, take a pic. 

Taste wise, i liked that it was served with minimal dressing so as to truly allow an experience of the patty, although i can imagine it would be excellent with a vegan cheese and gherkins, or served in a number of other styles. In comparison to the impossible burger, it held together more and was slightly thicker, with a less salty taste. The bleed was realistic, although hid the taste of beetroot quite well. The only criticism i would have is that i can imagine it would be better chargrilled after being cooked, and my personal preference is for it to be slightly more well done, although in direct comparison to the impossible burger, i preferred it. 

Discussing toppings with Flora (@FoodFitnessFlora)

Discussing toppings with Flora (@FoodFitnessFlora)

Its great to see a UK company actively position themselves to address the flexitarian market, as this is where i believe the low-hanging fruit (another pun, sorry) exists in convincing people to further reduce their meat intake and support plant-based alternatives. Innovation via competition in this sector will help to create better products and thus remove barriers to entry for those still unconvinced they can truly switch from animal-based products. The brand is presented in such a way that it appeals to meat-eaters and vegans alike, with a clear message of big ambition. 

The Moving Mountains burger is available in Mildred's Dalston from Saturday 24th February, from 12pm-2pm , on a first come first served basis. 

 

Branding your vegan business

Veganism is on the rise, the extent of which varies on the statistics you view, but even to the naked eye over the last 12 months the rate of adoption has exploded. I believe we’re seeing a transition from a niche lifestyle to a mainstream food trend, one which presents many problems for those who follow, and therefore many business opportunities by way of solutions. Over the last 12 months, a large volume of start-ups have entered the market, each looking to entice customers by offering pro-vegan products or services, but often not surpassing the initial USP of the fact they’re vegan. To crossover, and compete as the market grows, more is required.

 

Although veganism is growing, its still very much a nice market in the context of those considering themselves strict “vegans,” and as such any business that relies on high turnover of customers, such as food, will need to be realistic in its assessment of what portion of their customers this applies to. My estimation would be at least 75% of those buying vegan food products in London are “vegan curious” or “flexitarian.” Its invaluable to reverse engineer the motivating factors influencing purchasing decisions to better position your brand, and in this instance, i would also predict the fact they’re not fully vegan to imply that they will not resonate with intense, explicitly pro-vegan, or anti-carnivore, branding. 

 

As more products enter the market, having a strong “why” and understanding the way this is  translated throughout the output of the business is paramount to engaging with potential customers. Simply putting a “V”  at the beginning of your name, or using lots of green colours, is not enough to differentiate your brand, and lacks any depth in regards to an individual message akin to your company’s mission. Just BEING a vegan brand is not enough, and nothing demonstrates a lack of creativity like resorting to the simplest possible denominator in branding your company “Vegan X.”

 

A well thought out brand is developed by curating answers to core questions like “What problem are we trying to solve?” “How do we want to be perceived?” “What is our differentiating value proposition and how can this be communicated?” Then, asking how this can be communicated consistently, whether it be by key words, phrases, fonts, colours and patterns, for example. How is this then delivered in a way that your brand is uniquely capable of? If your companies core mission is to make Veganism accessible for inner male teens, and in understanding this market you learn their other interests are grime music, streetwear and slang, this will give you clear branding guidelines in the terminology, fonts, colour you use, and then the platforms, channels and methods of communication that sit best with this audience. You may, and probably will have, multiple customer profiles, so therefore have a more generic brand offering thats communicated differently according to the method of delivery and subsequent recipient. 

 

The key will be, as more players enter the game, to have a clear “Problem” you’re addressing, a “Point of difference” in the way its communicated, and a brand “Product” thats consistent throughout. 

The 3 P's: Purpose, Point Of Difference & Product.

Purpose. Point of difference. Product.

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My strategy when positioning any brand is centred around 3 P’s, in the order listed above. The order, and it’s conveyance in such an order, is paramount to its interpretation, and responds to psychological consumer & human behaviour research. It’s relevant to any brand, service or individual when promoting their offering, and in my opinion provides a solid structure for how to tell your story. 

Purpose: why does your product exist? What problem are you trying to solve? How does this help people? The answers to these questions can establish a common connection with those who also believe what you believe. If the meaning resonates with people, they become part of your “tribe.” We’ve evolved as a cooperative race, programmed to respond to working in cohesion with each other as our best means of survival, reciprocated by our body in the chemicals it releases to reward such behaviour. We trust people with common goals & values, which is why you can hug a fellow supporter at a football match you have never met or find comfort in a strange place with someone from the same country as you.

Our purpose outlines our beliefs, and when we believe strongly this is amplified - we speak differently. It also allows us to work through discomfort, and unite people behind a common goal. Our purpose should be a common vision throughout our employees, customers, suppliers & shareholders, not something spoken about on the first day but clearly consistent in the work &  underlying tonality of our combined voice. We know from neuroscience our “monkey brain” responds to this over logic, which is next on the list, but it’s most important first to create a brand which connotes the mission of your product. Tell a story. After all, this is how we’ve passed down knowledge for thousands of years, it makes sense for us to respond to narratives to remember and relate. 

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Point of difference - what is you differentiating value proposition? How is your offering diversifying outside that of your competitors? What’s unique about your product? This is the tangible, measurable ability of your business to provide solutions to common problems in the market, or create a new one. If you’re a technology company, what new system are you introducing & how does it benefit the consumer? If you’re a restaurant, what makes your food/service different to your competitors? Being able to list these factors then compound them into easy to digest, deliverable USPs will enable you to position your product to benefit the needs of your identified consumers. 

Product - what do you do? We sell computers. We sell driving tuition. We sell doughnuts. Whatever it is, knowing what you do, and knowing it is third on the list, is golden. Regardless of product or industry, if you want to inspire people, the actual product or service comes last in the context of navigating the noise when marketing it. 

If you sell vegan doughnuts, your marketing message may sound like this: 

Purpose: we believe you should be able to eat the tastiest food in the world, without feeling guilty! 

Point of difference: all of our doughnuts are free from sugar, animal products & come in over 30 delicious flavours!

Product: you can buy our doughnuts at....

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Adopt this strategy throughout your communications to build a loyal community. This community becomes not only your customers, but advocates & sales people. Building a brand in such a way allows you to diversify with technology & culture, meaning longevity. In times of difficulty, it provides a roadmap to convey importance of priorities, creating a way to reignite the very reason you exist. 

LA 28th November - 5th December

Last week i was fortunate enough to head back to one of my favourites cities in the world, Los Angeles, for some much needed winter sun and more importantly, amazingly indulgent food! I headed out earlier this summer in July, but being in mixed company wasn't able to visit the extensive restaurant list i'd had recommended to me on Instagram (thank you!) Needles to say, i kept the list and added a few more places, and once settled in, made my way over to Runyon Canyon to build up an appetite before my reservation at Crossroads that evening. 

View from Griffith Observatory 

View from Griffith Observatory 

Crossroads Kitchen is located on the corner of Melrose & Sweetzer, opening back in 2013 as LA's first upmarket vegan restaurant with cocktail bar. The setting is upscale and comfortable, with no reference to vegan or plant-based other than the instruction from the server. My advice would be to order 4-6 small plates, in particular both mushroom dishes and the kale caesar. The oven roasted potatoes were especially good, and if you're a pasta fan the rigatoni was excellent. Price wise it correlates with other restaurants of a similar standing. I would estimate a large proportion of guests were not strictly vegan, and my impression of the restaurant's market position is that of an upmarket, health conscious eatery - not necessarily a vegan restaurant. 

Plates cleared at Crossroads Kitchen

Plates cleared at Crossroads Kitchen

The following morning i met up with my amazing & unassuming tour guide Darbi (@Darbigwynn) to visit Moby's restaurant Little Pine for brunch (100% of profits are given to animal charities.) I went for the savoury option, choosing the scrambled tofu & bell peppers, whilst Darbi had the blueberry & raspberry pancakes. Amazing portion sizes and great service, plus a really quaint setting make Little Pine a must visit. The menu's pretty varied and the staff are happy to adapt based on your preferences. 

Brunch at Little Pine

Brunch at Little Pine

Other good spots for breakfast/brunch were Real Food Daily, which is a casual/semi-healthy spot, and a restaurant that was recommended by everyone, Cafe Gratitude in Beverly Hills. Real Food Daily was the original vegan restaurant in LA, opening over 10 years ago but recently entering new ownership. The menu's been updated and the place given an overhaul, with a relaxed and colourful new layout. I had the vegan burrito, packed full of rice, beans, mushrooms, onions and a generous portion of guac!

Cafe Gratitude's ambience, concept, and the way its delivered, is brilliant. The menu lists items with a trait (e.g. Glorious -  Blackened Tempeh Caesar Wrap) and encourage you to order by saying i am... We had the pulled mushroom sandwich, with barbecue sauce, creamy coleslaw and spicy cashew aioli on ciabatta bread, with a "soul" bowl - blackened tempeh, black bean dirty rice, smashed yams, coleslaw, deep-fried chickpea frittata, sautéed kale & barbecue sauce. 

I Am Committed @ Cafe Gratitude 

I Am Committed @ Cafe Gratitude 

I'd been keen to try the "beyond meat" burger, as it's not yet available in the UK and i'd seen the hype online. We visited Veggie Grill (there's plenty across LA) and put it to the test. Really efficient, fast food model allows an informal dining experience, the closest i've felt to a vegan McDonalds, albeit a nicer environment but equally as convenient. The beyond meat burger patty was very realistic, although the Impossible burger that night somehow blew it away. We headed to Mohawk Bend, where the menu is predominantly vegan and if not, states so, which i thought was a nice role reversal and signifies how far ahead the population of LA's understanding is on vegan food. The Impossible Burger is quite literally that, i find it impossible it's vegan. The texture, taste and consistency is the exact replica of a well made, thin beef burger (photo below.)

The Impossible Burger, Mohawk Bend.

The Impossible Burger, Mohawk Bend.

Vegan events in LA are famous the world over. Not wanting to miss out, and being very fortunate there was such an event on whilst i was in town, we heading 45 mins north to Eagle Rock for a santa-themed xmas vegan meet-up (we didnt get the costume memo!) The whole street was adorned by vegan vendors, with one in particular hosting a 30 person queue - Cena Vegan. The plant-based meat & cheese combination here was incredible, with enough packed into the burrito to make it heavy to carry. Desperate to make room for the vegan doughnut shop across the street, we managed to leave some and headed to "Donut friend" where the selection exceeded 30 different flavours, including make your own. I challenge anyone to produce a better tasting donut, animal products or not! We personalised ours, as most were far too sweet, but the long queue was testament to the shop's reputation. 

Menu at Cena Vegan street food 

Menu at Cena Vegan street food 

We headed out to Yoga-Urt in Glendale, a 40 minute drive from the hills, to sample their new yoghurt pies, sundaes and cookies. Nowhere in LA is close, but Yoga-Urt is definitely worth the drive. A small, family own dessert parlour on a strip of shops that would look more in place on the east coast, Yoga-Urt were hosting a blogger's tasting event in the rear terrace, meaning we got to try lots of different desserts. The coffee flavoured pie was incredible, and if you're appetite is big enough, the stacked cookie is a the perfect contrast between soft and chewy. There's a chalk board outside encouraging guests to write messages or answer questions - what change would you like to see in the world?

Yoga-Urt, Glendale.

Yoga-Urt, Glendale.

The diverse variety of options, understanding and different price points available around Veganism in LA make it probably the most vegan-friendly city i've visited. People view it less as a limiting diet, and more a lifestyle they can adopt and dip into when they feel like it. Many people who don't class themselves as vegan eat in vegan restaurants or buy vegan products, although there is a large present and committed vegan community. On the events side, it seems there's a nice balance between social, food and educational gatherings, whilst the make-up of attendees is diverse. There's plenty of low price options and an abundance of health stores promoting vegan products as a health option.

Venice has my heart for its art, relaxed attitude and proximity to the beach. West Hollywood's Soho House was my work base for the week, with panoramic views across the hills and LA. Its best to rent a car, although uber is relatively cheap, and although i didn't use public transport i haven't heard great things. Runyon Canyon is a must for amazing views and a good hike, whilst my curve ball favourite part of the trip was my visit to WiSpa, a korean spa in Hollywood (trust me!) Eating is heavy work!

Other restaurants to visit: 

Locali - order the Badass breakfast, anytime all day!

Organix 

Sun Cafe

Gracias Madras

 

 

 

Vevolution festival 2017

This week marks a year since I was dragged kicking & screaming on stage to speak for the first time. After meeting the organisers of Vevolution festival, Judy Nadel & Damien Clarkson earlier in the year, I’d spent quite a bit of time with them looking at their rapidly growing business. They’d subsequently asked me to join the entrepreneurship panel at their upcoming festival called Vevolution, a vegan festival featuring talks, ideas & workshops from leaders in the industry.  After initially not being too keen on the idea, I found I really enjoyed it, which was apparently quite obvious as I seemingly wouldn’t stop talking!

 

Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to speak at a number or events & for various companies, and a year later I look forward to going back to give a talk on “balancing profit & purpose - how business can drive veganism.” This year, the festival has grown astronomically, with prolific speakers & brands from around the world taking part. It’s a testament to the hard work through the year of the 2 founders, who’ve done an exceptional job of promoting the event. 

 

Why are events like Vevolution important? It’s a platform for ideas that have the power to change the world. It’s the bringing together of people that share a common vision, with varying perspectives to converse & network, providing a catalyst for much- needed disruption. The fact that the festival has sold out with 5 weeks still to go & has attracted such a diverse audience demonstrates just how hot this topic is, and just how well the team have done to crossover into the mainstream narrative. 

 

Balancing profit & purpose is a timely reference to the work of Vevolution, who (I hope they won’t mind me saying) have been so purpose driven that profit has often been an afterthought. It’s only through profit that the cogs keep turning, and such an important message reaches the audience it deserves. It’s a common theme in this space, and one that needs to be addressed to empower entrepreneurs & businesses without them feeling like they’re being judged, often just for being successful.

 

What am i most looking forward to this year? There's an amazingly diverse range of high-profile speakers, but im particularly looking forward to my friend Sarah Jane-Crawford citing her journey, and also Derek Sarno, Tesco's chief director of plant-based innovation, on hearing just how big business is embracing plant-based diets. There's also a Vevolution dragon's den, offering would-be entrepreneurs the opportunity to receive both investment & guidance, which i'll be judging with the awesome JP from All Plants and Laura from Votch, as well as Derek and the Bran investment teams. Throughout the day there is workshops, food stalls, networking and an after-party!

 

Seeing the work that’s gone into Vevolution festival would lead many to thing there is a team with various departments covering production, logistics, etc. False. It’s a partnership of just 2 people, who have worked tirelessly over an extended period to manifest a long-term vision, which I hope to see continue to grow over the years to come. If you have tickets, I look forward to seeing you there. If you missed out this time, the talks will be available online & look out for “Vevolution topics,” regular talks throughout the year.

 

Any press wishing to interview the founders can contact Damien@vevolution.co.

-- 

Wagamama UK: Vegan menu launch party 07.11.17

It was a pleasure to work with Wagamama UK this week on curating an event experience to celebrate the launch of their new vegan menu. After being invited to sample the menu last month, we discussed how to further promote the new offering and showcase the many facets i had been unaware of, but was sure other plant-based food enthusiasts would be interested to know. After learning just how much time & energy had been put into creating the new menu, from the ingredients to eliminating cross-contamination, i felt an opportunity to celebrate it would be appropriate, and who doesn't enjoy an excuse for a social event!

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We invited a diverse list of bloggers, influencers and businesses to attend a private launch event in Wagamama's noodle lab, a test kitchen concept on Soho's Dean Street on Tuesday evening. Here, new dishes adorn the menu on a temporary basis during the testing pahse, in addition to Wagamama's traditional offering. The menu on this night, however, was a huge assortment of all the delicious new starters, mains and desserts that make up the company's first exclusively vegan menu. From 6pm, guests arrived early and a steady stream of dishes were served sharing style. The mixed vegetable tempura and bao buns were particularly well received, but the "Vegatsu" (a vegan take on Wagamama's signature katsu curry) stole the show. Served with a sticky white rice and japanese side salad, the crispy, breadcumb-sietan is coated in a veganised, thick katsu sauce. More than one person ate more than one!

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During a short break, it was my pleasure to introduce Jas, one of Wagamama's marketing team, who explained how Wagamama has actively sought extensive feedback and intently listened to the vegan community on what would make this menu special. Executive chef Steve Mangleshot said: 'We've taken the time to make this menu as exciting as we can. We haven't just taken ingredients out and called it vegan, we've created dishes with vegans in mind and will continue to do so." 

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Steve and the entire Wagamama team were mixing in with guests all night, answering questions and listening to feedback. It was amazing to see a large company paying such intricate attention to the needs of its customers and truly caring about their experience. The many comments from guests, who stayed well past the proposed 9pm close time, were just how impressed they were with both the food and the story behind it. It was an excellent networking experience, with so many influential and inspiring people in one room representing the changing face of veganism with guests from many of the UK's leading vegan companies, charities and media companies. 

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I believe its important to support big companies taking an interest in veganism. Im aware of many who feel its hypocritical, but if we all truly share the mission of creating a world free from animal products, we must understand that such companies have substantial influence and infrastructure to help propel such a message. The more accessible we make veganism, and the greater the uptake and we move toward the tipping point. 

Tiffany Watson (Made In Chelsea) joins the party.

Tiffany Watson (Made In Chelsea) joins the party.

Guests left with goodie bags from sponsors Plant Curious, Seedslip drinks and meantime drinks. Special mention to guests Tiffany Watson, Sarah-Jane Crawford and the teams from Plant Based News and Vevolution for their support. Look out for the latest vegan menu, available nationwide now, and more new dishes added soon!

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