Marketing and Sales

The basics of marketing social enterprises


“Marketing is everything” according to Regis McKenna, a marketing consultant and author who is one of the top 100 people who “made Silicon Valley what it is today” according to the San Jose Mercury News. So why is marketing everything? To start, let’s look at the definition from the American Marketing Association:

“Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

As you can see, this includes pretty much every aspect of creating something and getting that something into the hearts, minds, heads, and hands of the customer – whether that consumer is an individual, or an entire society. That’s a lot to cover, so let’s simplify what we’re trying to accomplish into four key questions:

4 questions


What are you selling?

Unlike most for-profit consumer businesses, many social enterprises don’t start their businesses by creating a product that is filling an unmet consumer need. For most social enterprises, the starting point is the mission. As long as the product or service works with their training and support program, and can generate sufficient revenue, it almost doesn’t matter what the product is. For many employment focused social enterprises, the purpose is therefore some variation on the axiom: “We don’t hire people to make a product, we make a product to hire people”.


Accordingly, a social enterprise is not just selling a product; it’s selling both a product and a mission. In turn, it’s selling itself – the social enterprise – and it’s also building (and selling) a brand. Your social enterprise’s brand is your reputation and credibility, and don’t assume consumers aren’t going to give you a pass on that just because you’re doing good. So what are you selling? You’re selling all of the above – a mission, a product, a brand, and a social enterprise – and in order to succeed you need to be good marketers.


Whyare you selling it?

Since the product and brand are intertwined with the cause, when it comes to defining the “unique selling proposition” (USP), a social enterprise has already got a leg up on the competition. For example, take New Mom’s, a member of REDF’s national portfolio. They’re not just selling sweet smelling candles made of healthy soy, they’re also changing the lives of formerly homeless young moms who make the candles. With effective marketing, it’s the ultimate deal for customers – fulfilling a consumer need and improving world at same time.


Who are you selling it to?

Now onto targeting – who are you selling to? In order to successfully market your product, you need to know who is most likely to buy it and focus your efforts on selling to them. This means you can’t target everyone. As with most things in life, in order to be successful, you have to focus and perhaps, in turn, give something up. This is particularly true in the nonprofit sector and with many social enterprises where resources are limited.

So as marketers of social enterprise products you need to really understand your consumer and develop both products and communications that will speak to them. In order to do that, you need to “segment” your target market. That means dividing them into groups of people with similar characteristics and marketing to them accordingly.


How are you selling it?

How refers to your marketing mix or the means by which you are getting your product into the hands of your consumer and the communications you create for each medium.

Marketing Mix

As you can see, there are a lot of options. In part, this is because you’ve segmented your audience and, therefore, you’re not selling to everyone exactly the same way. You are also trying to break through the clutter of the marketplace and create a strong impression and an urge to buy. That means you have to reach your target with the most compelling messages multiple times, in as many different mediums as your resources allow. Again, you are doing good, but you are still competing. That’s why smart marketing is key.

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