In order to be a successful social enterprise, you need to make sure that your customers are engaged with your company and your products, and that they feel like participants, not just customers. As with anything marketing related, this is an art, not a science. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t best practices that will help you do so. In this article, we draw from expertise from across the field. We are grateful to OneHope Wine and TOMS Shoes for helping develop these four goals to aim to achieve when building customer engagement:
- Lead with quality
- Articulate your value
- Tell an authentic story
- Develop brand ambassadors
1. Lead with quality
A competitive company needs to be as good as… well, its competitors. Social enterprises are no exception. Having a good cause alone will not be sufficient. An inspiring social mission may earn a first purchase, but an inferior product will prevent a second. The social aspects of a social enterprise will act as a tie-breaker. Your company needs to be able to say: “we offer the quality of our competitors and we have a positive social impact.”
Andy Magel, of Mile High Workshop, explains the importance of leading with quality:
2. Articulate value
This is the fun part: bragging about yourself. Or put into marketing terms, articulating your unique value proposition. For social enterprises, this will be articulating the social value of the business. To do so effectively, meet the customers where they are; make them see the connection between their purchase and the impact that your business has.
One particularly effective method, recommended by Melissa Lake of OneHope Wine, is to clearly quantify impact. This means moving beyond aggregated statistics into clear demonstrations of incremental impact. Let’s look at a (made up) example of the former, more traditional way of communicating impact:
Your purchase helps our social enterprise which has helped employ 50 people.
While there is nothing wrong with this phrasing, it lacks the urgency and directness to really inspire customers. It has the formulation: your purchase helps us and we help them. As such, the customer is a step removed from the impact. Not to mention, the impact is in the past tense. A better alternative is to draw a clear line between their purchase and the impact that is going to happen:
Your purchase gives work to one person for one week.
Phrasing it this way allows a prospective customer to clearly see the impact that they are having and that this purchase is having. Now of course this was a somewhat exaggerated straw-man comparison, but hopefully it demonstrates how to more clearly articulate value to your customers. If you’re still not convinced, OneHope Wine reported a 30% increase in sales after moving towards a more quantifiable impact story on its labels.
3. Tell an authentic story
Don’t just tell people what you do, but why you do it. Storytelling can be an effective way to share your impact and make it more tangible and real to your customers. Share with them how your enterprise makes a difference, and don’t be afraid to be specific. Including real stories from real beneficiaries can be very effective. Overall, it’s important that you tell a cohesive story that is consistent with your brand.
We explore this topic in more detail in the branding segment of this series on social enterprise marketing.
Be a vehicle to mobilize people around a vision of a better tomorrow.
4. Develop brand ambassadors
One of the primary goals is creating a story that your customers can really get behind so they ultimately become your own brand ambassadors. TOMS Shoes is an example of a company that blends business and social purpose with remarkable success. We were lucky enough to have Kate Faith, a Marketing Manager at TOMS, share with us a four step approach to starting a social movement like TOMS has been able to accomplish.
Discover your unique purpose.
What societal need is your business trying to solve? Define the brand “why” and authentically communicate your story and vision for impact in an inspiring and engaging way.
Align on shared values.
When you align with people’s values, you connect with them on an emotional level and inspire them to work towards a collective goal. Define your shared value strategy – the intersection between what the world needs, and what the brand needs.
Define that personal and collective goal.
Identify your tribe, give them a role to play, and arm them to take action. Design a ladder of engagement, for both the individual and the collective.
Measure and sustain momentum.
Show the movement back to itself and use local recognition as an incentive for others to join in. Leverage milestone moments to ignite energy, provide momentum, and to build in accountability.
Engaging customers is an art, not a science. In order to be a successful social enterprise, you need to make sure that your customers are engaged with your company and your products, and that they feel like participants, not just customers. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t best practices that will help you do so. Remember to lead with quality, articulate your value, tell an authentic story, and develop brand ambassadors.