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Content Marketing Lessons From the Food Babe

By Annie ZelmMay 11, 2015

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As a nutritionist, "Food Babe" Vani Hari's credentials are questionable. She's neither a dietitian nor someone with a health or science background; she's a consultant who came down with appendicitis and decided it must have been a reaction to toxic chemicals in her diet. 

So she quit her job and began a crusade against the food industry, demanding companies like Starbucks, Subway and Panera stop using genetically modified ingredients and, in her own words, anything a third-grader can't pronounce. 

At best, she's using an aggressive approach in an effort to help people live healthier lives; at worst, her critics say she's a fearmonger spreading lies while growing rich off the sales of her books and her sponsor, Suja, (a juice that has no GMOs but 42 grams of sugar). Yale neurologist Steve Novella has even called her "the Jenny McCarthy of food activism." And others, with the credentials she lacks, have taken her to task recently. 

But whether or not Food Babe's warnings have made you think twice before enjoying a Pumpkin Spice Latte (no guilt here), you can't argue her success as a marketer.

Her website had more than 54 million visits last year, and Time Magazine named her among the 30 Most Influential People on the Internet

So what content marketing lessons can we learn from her? Here are four.

Fear Is A Powerful Motivator

Telling people they're eating poison that could be slowly killing them may not be advisable, but it will certainly get attention. We're all anxious, stressed, frustrated or self-conscious about something. For Food Babe's followers, it's the fact that we don't always know what we're putting into our bodies or feeding our children, a real concern.

The best marketers know how to tap into legitimate concerns and provide a solution that addresses them. If you're the IT director at a large healthcare company, it could be the fear of someone hacking into thousands of patient records, compromising sensitive data. They may be looking for an extra level of security to safeguard that data. 

Successful marketers don't have to sound the alarm bells to make their audience listen. They just have to understand their buyers' pain points and write content that makes them feel understood at every stage, whether they are just beginning to search for a solution, weighing several options or clarifying some final questions before making a decision. 

Be Helpful and Inspiring

The Food Babe has an entire line of products she endorses in addition to her paid subscriptions and bestselling book, but these aren't the first things most visitors notice when they visit the website. 

She opens the conversation with her latest investigations, mostly controversial blog posts, recipes and healthy eating guides. She's giving away as much as she's selling, enticing readers with a large sampling of food-related information before directing them to her book for more. 

However, she does more than tell her readers what they should eat and why. She shows them how she looked before she made dramatic changes to her lifestyle and how her appearance has improved since then. She posts photos of healthy meals and recent workouts, giving readers something to aspire to that actually seems attainable. 

No matter what they're ultimately selling, every marketer should offer a wide array of content that's both practical and aspirational. For a manufacturing company, that might be a blog or microsite that showcases the latest innovations in the industry through content that may never mention the product. GE's Ideas Lab is a great example of this, highlighting some of the best ideas in transportation, energy, global business and healthcare.

Be Everywhere 

Food Babe seems to have mastered the art of spreading her message to the masses. She's been on TV shows including Good Morning America and Dr. Oz, and she's been featured in major publications. She publishes something new almost daily and promotes it heavily on social media. After quitting her corporate job, she devoted herself full-time to contacting companies, meeting with consumer organizations, attending trade shows and writing about all of it. In short, she put herself on the map. 

Sure, taking on Subway and other huge corporations while rubbing elbows with Michelle Obama on occasion certainly helped. But the reality is, building a brand through content requires a dedicated effort.

There's a common saying among content marketers: Blog as often as you want to be found. In fact, 82 percent of companies that blog daily acquired a customer directly from their blog, according to HubSpot's 2013 State of Inbound Marketing report. But even those that blogged at least once a month are still seeing impressive results; 57 percent of those companies also acquired a customer from the blog. 

That's why many companies are hiring their own dedicated writers, designers, videographers and social media managers. Others are hiring skilled freelancers or a content marketing agency to fill the void.

While blogging, email marketing, social media and other inbound marketing tactics are vital to growing your presence online, marketers cannot ignore traditional outbound tactics as a means of promoting all the content they are creating. Looking for creative opportunities to generate demand through advertising and PR should also be part of the strategy. 

Recruit An Army of Loyal Followers 

If there's one thing Food Babe has done better than perhaps anything else, it's recruiting a following of devoted fans who will spread her message. She's captured the attention of other food bloggers and advocates with influence who are willing to promote her on their own websites. 

She has created a popular hashtag, #FoodBabeArmy, to recruit and encourage others to take a stand. Upon a recent announcement from Panera Bread, she posted, "Because of you, Panera Bread is removing 150 additives."

She's good at this key to successful marketing: Finding influencers in the blogosphere and beyond who can make your content more visible. 

Marketers should spend time identifying these influencers in their sphere and building relationships with them on social media, at trade shows and elsewhere. One way to do this is by creating seed content, or content potential influencers are likely to share because it includes them. A top 10 list of the most influential people or companies within your industry is one example. 

The Food Babe's credibility issues and the controversy she's generated cannot be overlooked, but neither can her influence. No matter what their industry, marketers can learn from her success in building a brand and saturating the Internet. 

And no matter what we think of her, it has made her rich. Need more proof to show content marketing ROI and how to measure it? Check out our eBook, and let us know what you think of the Food Babe's marketing tactics.

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The Author

Annie Zelm

As the content manager, Annie manages a team of brand journalists and is the driving force behind the content strategy for companies in a wide range of industries, including healthcare, technology and professional services. Relying on interviewing skills she developed in her seven years as a journalist, she uncovers insights about what motivates buyers in these industries and uses that knowledge to shape client websites and editorial calendars.
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