Why every successful vegan business needs to build a tribe

To build a successful business, you need a group of followers who absolutely cannot live without your product and believe in your company’s vegan mission to their core.  

These people will help you spread your message and attract more people who also love what you are doing.  They will become your tribe.

Go back far enough and most of our ancestors will have lived in tribal groups.  From the Celtic tribes of Scotland to the pre-historic communities that roamed across almost every continent, people banded together in groups for safety, for a share of prosperity, or around a common belief and way of life.

When you apply the term ‘Tribe’ to business, the definition doesn’t really change.  We want to belong, it’s in our DNA to band together with people who love what we love, who want to achieve the same goals, and we want to buy from businesses who support and work towards furthering our world view.  But someone in your ‘tribe’ no longer has to live in the next hut – that person could be anywhere in the world but believe in the same things that you do.

One of the questions we are most often asked at VBT is how do you get your company ‘out there’, and our answer is always the same – go and build a tribe.

For some companies that can be difficult.  If you sell stationery, how can you build a tribe around you of people who love pens and staplers and will be your free marketing team?? It can be done, but you have to do it by stealing someone else’s following – such as licencing Hello Kitty or Harry Potter to put on the end of your pencils.

If you have a vegan business however, you are already part of a global group of people who are brought together by a single cause. That doesn’t mean they will automatically LOVE what you are doing, but you have a point of commonality to build upon.

Tribes start small

Movements throughout the centuries have started with a small band of people joined together by a clear, core idea. A small tribe of motivated people  can achieve a lot more than a large directionless crowd and you or your business can become the focus of that tribe.

You need to find the people who REALLY care about what you are doing and who LOVE your product.  Not just LIKE your product, but simply couldn’t live without it.  Only one in one-hundred thousand people might not be able to get through their week without vegan, gluten-free, palm oil-free, plastic-free packaged sweets delivered to their door as a subscription service.  But in a population of 66 million (in the UK) that means there’s more than 600 people who would be die-hard customers, whose calendar would be defined by that weekly ethical sugar hit dropping through the door.  These people are your tribe.

Viva La Vegan is a great example of a company who have built a core tribe of people who really identify with what they do and want to help promote the business because of a shared belief.

This is why when you are first building a business, you should focus all your efforts on finding these people and building your tribe around you.  Finding 5 people who 100% identify with your product, your brand, and you, is worth more than finding 20 people who might make a one-off purchase.

And when you find those 5 people, make them your best friends.  Shower them with attention, learn everything about them, engage with them and work out exactly what they want.  Make them your brand ambassadors.  Ask them if they would be open to a phone call to get their input and feedback on what they have just bought. And use them to recruit other people just like them.

Don’t start a business, start a movement

Every movement needs a leader or a figurehead, and that can be you or your brand.  Too many people start a business, not enough start a movement.  The fact that you are already a vegan business and have your roots in ethics means you have gone further than most companies, but how can you build a core business philosophy that means people will align themselves to you?  You don’t necessarily have to change what you are selling, but you can change HOW you are selling it.

Dale Vince, founder of Vegan energy supplier, Ecotricity

Take who you buy your electricity from.  Have you given it much thought, or have you just gone with whoever the supplier was when you moved in or who the price-comparison site said was the cheapest?  Would you ever be compelled to be part of your electric company’s tribe? Probably not, unless you bought your electricity from Ecotricity, the world’s first officially vegan energy supplier, founded by life-long environmentalist and green industrialist Dale Vince.  

This is an electricity company that promotes a sustainable and vegan world, makes sure that none of its energy is generated using animal derivatives (you would be surprised that some is) and carries the logos of vegan charities such as Sea Shepherd, Viva! and The Vegan Society on their website footer.  They have taken something which is everyday to most of us, but changed it to something that they can build a tribe around to change the world. And the best thing is, as a consumer you don’t even need to change how or what you are consuming.  You are just choosing to support a company who aligns with your core beliefs, and if this is a belief that is central to who you are then you will be a customer for life.

And you can do this too.  The reason most of us launch a vegan business is because we want to make a change in the world.  To make that change you need to attract followers.  To attract followers you need to have an idea at your core that will band people together.  That might be a big thing (moving the world to green and cruelty-free energy) or a small thing (giving people the most ethical sugar fix possible) but when you connect that idea with the right people, you can build your tribe.  They will spread the word on your behalf, they will be your brand ambassadors, and they will attract more people who believe in what you do towards your company.

And one more thing… 

After we posted this article, we had the following comment added by Saman, and thought it was such a great question that we’d add both the question and the answer to the article!

Saman Ali
Hi Lisa, when you say make them your ambassadors, what does this include for a customer who bought from us and loved the products? How do we encourage them to talk about it all the time as a brand? I imagine we cannot send them affiliate links, can we? I’m a little unsure as to what are the examples of different ways to connect with them that encourage them to do the work. I’ve noticed that sometimes customers do really like the products but this doesn’t necessarily mean they will shout out about it all the time.

This is a really great question of how you can use your company’s core followers to help build your business.  Once you’ve found these people who cannot live without your product, how do you then make them into ambassadors for your brand and use them to help grow your vegan business?

The first thing to remember is that your tribe is not motivated by money, they are motivated because they believe in you, your product or your mission – so many will be more than happy to help you grow:

First, talk to them so you can find more people like them.  And I don’t just mean send them an email, ask if you can give them a call.  Find out who they are, how old are they, where do they live, what are their hobbies and what do they care passionately about in life.  Doing this will help you build up a profile of who your ideal customer is – and be open and tell them that.  For instance, we were working with a company who discovered that almost all their core customers were also yoga enthusiasts, which led them to re-label a product to say it was suitable to use on yoga mats and helped them reach a whole new customer base.

Ask them why they bought your product and how they use it. For instance, you might find out they bought it as a gift and would love it if you made a gift-pack version of your product; or they might say your product is great but wish you also did it in a travel size so that they could take it in their bag with them.  Or perhaps they love your product apart from one little niggle – such as how it’s packaged or the amount of time it took to arrive. They might never feed this back to you as a standard customer, but if you get them involved as an ambassador you open up a more genuine two way conversation about how to improve.

Second, ask them to get involved. If someone is a true fan of your product, they will want to help you grow your business or get more people onboard with your mission.  For example, ask if you can feature them on your website as a happy customer, or even better will they record a video review of your product (just on their phone will do) that you can use on your social media or reviews section.  We’ve even seen examples where companies have used their core fans in Facebook live feeds or as part of online demonstrations and webinars. Someone else telling people how great you are is far more powerful than you saying your product is great yourself.

Ask them to take a photo of your product and tag your company on Instagram or Facebook so that it shows up both to their connections, but also to anyone who views your social media pages.  Ask them if they would like to join your testing panel, so that you can send them samples and new ideas before they are released to the public to get their reaction and feedback.  All this will get them talking about your product and want to help you more.

And then finally, ask them outright for help in growing your business.  You can assume that if they like your product, they will have friends or family who will love it also. Tell them your story. Tell them you are trying to build the business and that you rely on referrals of happy customers like them.  Ask if they can think of anyone who would love the product as much as they do, because you can send them a coupon code they can get their friends a discount on their first order, or you can send them a pack of samples to share.

If you spend time brainstorming you’ll come up with lots of other ideas that will work for your specific product or business. You don’t need to have a physical vegan product, you can also apply all the ideas above if you have a vegan service that you offer instead.

Lisa says :

It’s not just customers that building a core group of followers will help you find; it will start to attract the right employees, the right investors, and the right volunteers or mentors.

So take a second look at your business and who you are selling to already.  Which of those are your core followers who love everything you do?  Engage with them, interview them, make them into your ambassadors, use them to help you build your own tribe.

Please add your own comment:

6 comments on “Why every successful vegan business needs to build a tribe

  1. Hi Lisa, when you say make them your ambassadors, what does this include for a customer who bought from us and loved the products? How do we encourage them to talk about it all the time as a brand? I imagine we cannot send them affiliate links, can we? Im a little unsure as to what are the examples of different ways to connect with them that encourage them to do the work. Ive noticed that sometimes customers do really like the products but this doesnt necessarily mean they will shout out about it all the time.

    1. Hi Saman – that is a brilliant question! So good that instead of answering it here, I’ve added it to the end of the article. Scroll back up to see and let me know if you’ve got any other ideas to add.

    1. Thank you Roffer – spending time thinking about how you can build a company that will attract a tribe makes the job of growing a business not just easier, but a lot more fun as well!

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