Amplify Your Social Enterprise's Impact Story to Grow Your Business
The guide to making your social enterprise stand out: Start with your impact story. Tie it into your marketing to drive sales. Watch your business scale up.
Social enterprises must perform a challenging balancing act. Like for-profit businesses, they must create market-viable products and solutions that meet their customers' needs and drive revenue. And like nonprofits, they must nurture the social mission that is an authentic part of their organization’s DNA.
Many social enterprises understandably struggle to find the right balance between the dual priorities that make their hybrid model unique.
And all too frequently, it’s the impact side of the equation that gets the short end of the stick.
Even the most committed social enterprises struggle to fully own their impact stories. This means they fail to fully incorporate their impact stories into their marketing, communications, and customer experiences. But that’s exactly what they must do in order to prove their authenticity — and attract the right values-aligned customers to drive growth and further their impact.
Why Social Enterprises Fail to Fully Leverage Their Impact Stories
Typically, social enterprise companies undersell their impact stories for one of three reasons. The first is that they simply don’t know that they could achieve greater results in terms of sales and impact if they invested more heavily in telling their impact story. The second is that they aren’t consistently measuring their impact in a way that translates to a compelling story. The third reason is that they feel pressured to focus on sales and revenue and often de-prioritize their impact stories as a result.
In every case, these organizations miss the point. They fail to see how critical their social mission is to their positioning, brand differentiation, and overall success in the marketplace. Underinvesting in your impact story is a short-sighted, downward-spiral approach that leaves major business and impact potential untapped.
Not only that, but it also unintentionally gives your core, purpose-driven target audience the impression that you don't actually care about your cause or make much of an impact. Millennial and Gen Z consumers, especially, are highly adept causewashing detectives. Don’t give them the wrong idea about your company.
Social Enterprise Success Stories: Patagonia and Allbirds
The reality is that your responsibilities to your business’s bottom line and to your social mission are separate but very much connected. The most successful social enterprises — the Patagonias of the world — find a way to include their impact stories in every facet of their marketing and communications programs.
They do this because their causes are inextricably woven into who they are as organizations. And they do it because they are savvy enough to know that it sells.
It’s not enough just to have an impact or give-back page on your website and leave it at that. Social enterprises that put their impact story in a silo may not even be recognized as having a social mission at all.
For example, it may surprise you to learn that trendy eyewear company Warby Parker has a buy a pair, give a pair eyeglasses program, much like TOMS shoes. Unlike TOMS, however, the only time Warby Parker mentions this program is on a dedicated impact page on their website.
As a result, Warby Parker is better known for their $100 frames than for their social impact. It’s possible to buy glasses from them and never know they are something other than just a market-driven business.
Patagonia and Allbirds, on the other hand, are two examples of social enterprises that give their impact story a central role in their communications and customer experiences.
For decades, Patagonia has been in the vanguard of socially responsible businesses. In many ways, this well-known outdoor apparel and lifestyle company has helped to write the playbook for social enterprises.
The company’s recently refined mission statement — “we’re in business to save our home planet” — is reflected in everything Patagonia does. It's lived out from their use of recycled materials and the content on their blog to the company’s support of grassroots activists and environmental organizations.
Allbirds, on the other hand, is a relative newcomer to the social enterprise scene. As an environmentally-minded footwear company, Allbirds' tagline is “better things in a better way." In addition to using sustainable materials in their products, the company has pledged to go carbon neutral in 2019, starting with carbon offsets and other practices.
The interesting thing about Allbirds’ approach is that they are actively engaging consumers in their decisions about how to reach that goal. For example, after placing an order online, customers receive an order confirmation via email. In that email, they are asked to vote on whether Allbirds should invest its efforts toward carbon neutrality in environmental programs focused on land, air, or sea.
By weaving their impact efforts throughout the customer experience, Allbirds makes it clear that carbon neutrality and environmental responsibility are core values.
How to Incorporate Your Impact Story into Your Marketing and Communications
As Patagonia and Allbirds demonstrate, going all in on impact has the very real potential to drive sales, increase brand loyalty, and enhance your organization’s capacity for impact. Use the following ideas to amplify your authentic social mission and grow your business in the process:
- Make sure every piece of marketing and communications includes references to your impact story. Doing so reinforces your commitment as a brand and shows that you're authentic.
- Publish detailed, indexable content on your website that gives a transparent and realistic run-down of your social and environmental impact. Be honest about any areas in which you are currently lacking, and explain how you’re working to improve and meet your impact goals.
- Map your customer experience and consider ways to weave your impact story into each of the individual touchpoints. That includes everything from social media posts and email marketing to your website and the materials that accompany your products in the delivery box.
- Find ways to connect your impact with emotional, story-driven communications. For example, this may mean writing blog posts or producing video content explaining the issue your social enterprise supports and explaining why it matters.
- Provide up-to-date, data-backed proof of your social enterprise’s impact. Frame the data in a way that is humanizing and engaging. For example, you might tally the amount of trash your business has diverted from landfill over the past week, month, and year.
- Engage your customers by tying their behaviors, actions, and support directly to the impact your company is creating. For example, “your purchase today saved x number of trees or provided clean drinking water for x families.”
- Release an annual report that details your company’s impact and sets goals for the year to come.
- Find ways to create partnerships with other organizations, especially nonprofits, that are working to affect change on the same issues.
- Don't be afraid to advocate for political or social change that supports your vision of a better world. Your brand has a voice beyond the scope of your product or service offering. When you use it in service of the public good, you show your target consumers that you care about more than just building up your own business.
- Social enterprises across the board should strive to become more sustainable and climate-focused. Even if your mission falls outside environmental concerns, consider working toward carbon neutrality. Support the sustainable development goals outlined by the UN. Show your customers and community that you are a force for good working toward ambitious goals.
- Your impact story is even stronger if you can honestly say that every member of your team supports the mission in your marketing materials. If you hire with your mission in mind, feel free to proudly declare it.
Consumers are increasingly searching for brands that align with their values on climate and social responsibility. Your social enterprise is already making an impact. Now it’s just a matter of letting the world know where you stand.
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