How branding can be used to grow the value and impact of social enterprises
I was fortunate to be approached by Gianni Greer, a student who was writing his thesis on social entrepreneurship with an emphasis on the importance of brand. He had 11 incredible questions around the topic, and the questions and my answers are below:
Answer: Brand value is important for social entrepreneurs because their brand brings attention to the systematic issues they’re trying to raise awareness of or solve. If they can get people to perceive them as a valuable organization, then people will also associate the same level of importance to the cause they’re addressing.
Answer: Social enterprises don’t have a lot of capital when starting up, so it’s hard to purchase quality services to develop their brand value. Social founders many times are focused more on solving the social issues they care about than communicating their solution to the world, so they don’t focus as much on brand.
Answer: Both challenges stand out, but I’d say the lack of start up capital is the foremost so far in my experience.
Answer: Social enterprise brands are inherently about a story, as opposed to products and features. So the storytelling model is much more central to social enterprises. Commercial enterprises more often focus on features and product specs. Social enterprises should use video more to communicate with their audience as it’s the “densest” form of branding – communicating the most emotion in the shortest amount of time. Video is the most engaging way to tell their stories.
Answer: I like to measure brand value of clients through the social impact that they’re creating. I think it’s directly correlated. If a social enterprise does a great job of bringing attention to the value of their solution, people will put more energy towards solving that problem, regardless of wether it’s through that specific social enterprise. That makes it difficult to tie social impact from perceived brand value directly to a social enterprise. It’s easier to measure social impact first through the actions of the enterprise, then estimate what that’s done for a community.
For example, for my client Orchard Community Learning Center, who provides organic compost to farmers, builds garden beds, and organizes farmers markets, you could start with the pounds of compost sold, garden beds built, and people at the farmers markets. You can then tie those numbers to environmental/social impact and say “X pounds of food waste turned into compost”, “Y number of carbon sequestered through garden beds”, and “Z number of farmers supported through our farmers markets”.
Answer: It really depends on the goals company and the audience they want to reach. If a social enterprise’s success is defined by things like widespread cultural and societal changes, a well-developed brand is HUGE. Branding as a social enterprise is how you get someone emotionally attached to the social change you are trying to enable. If you’re trying to really reach a wide audience, your materials should be well designed and intentionally worded in order to gather the right community. If your organization is more reliant on specific contacts in high places, like corporate CSR initiatives, it’s more important to keenly focus on messaging around your values and impact opposed to the branding/visual identity/ and voice in your marketing materials.
Answer: From the very beginning. Your brand value is your organization’s emotional value to people. If you focus on your emotional impact from the beginning, it will be easier to think of experiences, products, and initiatives that align with the desired emotional impact. If you don’t really know what your desired emotional impact is, then you probably won’t have one and it’s more likely your messaging and marketing materials will fall flat instead of pushing people to action. People are pushed to action by emotion.
Answer: By being truthful with themselves about the type of people that the social issue impacts as well as other stakeholders who want to solve the same social issues. Once you realize who has an emotional stake in your social issue, you can start to understand their perspective, and design your brand in a way that aligns with their identity, goals, and beliefs.
Answer: Social enterprises are built around social impact. Their social impact is the core of their company. It will be on the front page of their website. It will be in their tagline. With corporations, it’s more of a tangential approach, so their social impact initiatives are targeted towards a certain buyer segment who cares more about impact. Their social impact activities won’t be on their “front page”, but rather in front of where that buyer segment spends the most time. This is changing, however. Many corporations are realizing that “purpose driven branding” wins over people’s attention and loyalty, so they’re trying to restructure their companies around a purpose, which many times leads to their impact initiatives being front and center to signify their new purpose driven identity.
Answer: By creating and capturing value. Dollars still speak the loudest in business. If you can use social impact to empower and capture value from new markets, you will be sure to have other people copying you. For example, I for-see the community-based agriculture sector in Africa delivering massive value to communities and becoming a lynchpin for a growing economy. If there’s a company that can empower creatives in that space and make it profitable, the space will be crowded by corporations looking to create profitable CSR initiatives.
And that’s it! I hope you’ve enjoyed the Q&A. If you have any questions about branding or growing your social enterprise, feel free to send them to me me at firstname.lastname@example.org