As we become more aware of the power and influence we have on the world through our consumer choices, more and more social enterprises are popping up to fulfil this need. The role of the social enterprise brand is not only to communicate the benefits of the product or service they are offering but also to communicate how they are contributing to improving society. The bottom line is though, a good story isn’t enough to build and maintain customer loyalty you need to build a good brand to support your efforts and in doing so you’ll get more customers which will increase sales, allowing you to have greater impact.
What is a social enterprise?
Social enterprises unlike not-for-profits trade to make a profit however they pledge a certain amount of their profits to make a positive impact in the world.
According to Social Traders Social enterprises are businesses that trade to intentionally tackle social problems, improve communities, provide access to employment and training, or help the environment. Social enterprises:
- Are led by an economic, social, cultural or environmental mission consistent with a public or community benefit
- Trade to fulfil their mission
- Derive a substantial portion of their income from trade
- Reinvest the majority of their profit/surplus into the fulfilment of their mission
The age of conscious consumerism
Not long ago our buying choices were based on “bigger, better, brighter, more features” while today a lot more plays into our decision making process; Is it responsibly produced? Are people earning a fair wage? What is the impact to the planet? Where will the profits end up? It’s no longer enough to get a good quality product or service that meets our needs we want to make conscious choices about our shopping behaviours and know that we are having a positive impact on the world. We actively want to support business and brands that have this as an intrinsic part of their brand. Social enterprises simplify the decision making process and make it easy to identify an organisation that is doing good.
Connecting with your customers on an issue or through a higher purpose that they believe in too creates a stronger connection which in turn leads to loyalty and long term relationships with customers which is incredibly powerful for any business.
Even organisation who aren’t social enterprises but who are invested in making a positive impact on the world are investing in certifications such as BCorp to signify to potential customers that this is an intrinsic part of their business attracting customers who are looking for a brand with an edge of purpose.
Being a social enterprise isn’t enough for compelling differentiation
With so much at stake it’s so important that social enterprises build a solid brand strategy and a powerful and emotive brand that connects with their audience and delivers against their needs. The reality is, social enterprises are not competing against other social enterprises they are competing against other organisations who don’t commit to donating a portion of their profits giving them more money to invest in advertising and brand development. So social enterprises need to ensure their products and services stand out.
It’s not enough to have a good story
While your brand can be built around your social story and this can be at the heart of everything you do, you shouldn’t rely on it alone to build your brand. You need to clearly demonstrate how you are fulfilling a need, how you are different from everyone else and the overall value that you will bring to their lives.
In reality social enterprises have it tough, they need to communicate two stories to the market. On one hand they need to ensure they meet their sales targets and make a profit and they need to do this by communicating the product and service benefits to attracting more customers but they also need to stay accountable for their social impact and communicate the benefit of this. Their hierarchy of messaging and subliminal cues of the brand identity becomes extremely important. If they’re not careful the messages can be lost and consumers will be left feeling confused about the brand proposition.
Investing in branding
While social enterprises operate to make a profit, they want to invest it into the causes they support rather than their branding and marketing efforts. Which makes sense. But then again if some of this was invested into their branding and marketing to create a professional and compelling brand they may find themselves in a position with increased sales, more customers and greater market share with increased profits which will allow them to support their social enterprise efforts.
The reality is their brand will be going head to head with brands who have the luxury of investing more profit into their business. Consumers will be comparing their online presence, packaging, social media, quality and emotive appeal.
A higher purpose gives them an authentic story that consumers can connect with, when this is backed up with a solid brand proposition and identity this creates a brand force not to be reckoned with.
We’re all winners
As consumers we get high quality products and services, we know that we’re supporting a business which does good in the world. The world benefits because we’re spending our money with organisations that have a positive impact, social enterprises win because they make more profits to support their efforts.
Here are some of my favourite Social Enterprise brands, it’s no coincidence that they are doing good in the world but also have stand out brands.
Thankyou produces are range of fast moving consumer goods. After expenses, Thankyou distributes funds to life-changing food, water and health and sanitation programs around the world.
Who Gives a Crap
We’re a big fan of Who Gives a Crap, using their products in our office. They make all of their products with environmentally friendly materials and donate 50% off profits to help build toilets for those in need.
Half United sells products that use a recycled bullet casing to represent the fight against hunger, and provides a week’s worth of meals (half of the profits) to a child in need for every purchase.
Tsuno produces feminine hygiene products and 50% of profits are donated to charities that focus on empowering women, with the main focus being education and menstrual support. Tsuno is currently working in partnership with One Girl, who provide education scholarships and sanitary pads to marginalised girls in Sierra Leone and Uganda.
This Bar Saves lives
This social enterprise makes gourmet, healthy snack bars – and gives a packet of life-saving food to a child in need for every bar purchased.
Director of Brand Projects