Though social enterprises often tackle diverse issues and function under a variety of business models, I’ve found that we all face a very similar set of challenges. One challenge in particular has been plaguing my own social enterprise community here in Kansas City: With the growing number of businesses adopting practices that promote social good, how can we differentiate ourselves, ensuring our missions and impacts stand out from the crowd?
On the surface, this question may seem counterintuitive. There’s something inherently altruistic about social enterprise, so it’s easy to feel strange about concerning yourself with product sales and profit. But the bottom line is that the success of social enterprise is measured on the impact you can make in our community through the success of your business. The more successful you are, the greater the capacity for social good. For social enterprises to maximize their impact, they must effectively reach and activate their target audiences, something that’s more difficult than ever with the amount of likeminded companies competing for consumer attention.
Keep reading for four key ways to make sure your social impact gets noticed.
1. Align your cause with your consumer.
If you’re supporting a cause that doesn’t resonate with your customers, you’re already off on the wrong foot. Take time to understand the issues your target audience cares about, and insert your company into the conversation. For example, at my company, UChic, we found that our target market of high school and college-aged women valued out-of-classroom experiences, like study abroad trips and internships, yet lacked the means to fund them. With this knowledge, we created a scholarship program that provides necessary funding to our very same consumers, funded by our product sales. Align your social good efforts with your customers’ values and they’ll be more willing to advocate for and support your brand.
2. Show your impact.
Storytelling should be at the heart of your social enterprise. It’s not enough to simply spout numbers about total dollars given to your cause; go one step further and show the total impact of your efforts on a personal level. At UChic, we highlight the stories of the girls we support with our scholarship program, giving a face to those young women our customers are helping through product purchases.
Try creating a landing page dedicated to your cause, your goal and your tangible impact. Share photos, narratives and in-depth looks at the good you’re doing. Make it clear to your customers that you’re following through on your company’s philanthropic missions – and promise – and you’ll have advocates for the long term.
3. Get customers involved.
People feel more connected to social enterprises when they’re invited to participate in the process. TOMS Shoes has built an entire army of social good-driven supporters through this model. They encourage their customers to join “TOMS Tribe,” leading their own philanthropy efforts across the world – all backed by the power of TOMS. By doing so, they have people around the globe sharing stories of the companies impact. Whether it’s inviting customers to join humanitarian trips, asking them to share their own stories of social good or simply asking them what social issues matter most, involving them in the philanthropic process will help them feel connected on a deeper level. And change them from customers to ambassadors.
4. Deliver a stellar product.
You could follow the best social enterprise practices and support an amazing cause, but if your product doesn’t appeal to your market, your business won’t gain traction. A successful social enterprise combines appealing to the cause your target consumer supports and offering the products that resonate with their needs and wants. Warby Parker is a shining example. They attract busy, cash-strapped millennials with quick, easy and affordable eyewear options, and then seal the deal with their impactful social good mission. It’s a win-win.
By truly understanding your consumers and effectively articulating the story of your mission, you’ll set your social enterprise up for success, and ultimately, greater impact.