As a concept, ‘social entrepreneurship’ has been around for decades. This term is used to describe a profitable business undertaking that is developed to address or solve a societal need or problem. Marketing these types of businesses can come with unique challenges.
In this article, we’ll take a look at what social entrepreneurship means in today’s business landscape. We’ll also review several examples of the ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ of how to market a socially-minded brand. Let’s get started!
An Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship and How It Can Impact Your Marketing Strategy
The concept of social entrepreneurship has been around for more than 40 years. However, the term itself was coined by Bill Drayton of Ashoka in the 1980s. Essentially, this approach describes a brand with the drive and passion of a startup that is tackling a societal challenge.
This kind of business can take various forms. At their foundation, all social enterprises create a profitable structure that also addresses a problem faced by society, either at large or within a specific community. With that in mind, such endeavors often start with a mission, not a product.
In fact, sometimes the product doesn’t matter at all so long as it creates revenue to support the mission. This is one of the reasons social entrepreneurship is a deviation from traditional business models. It’s also important in terms of marketing strategy.
Promoting a social enterprise can sometimes be a bigger burden than marketing a business that is simply focused on the desires of consumers. A socially-minded company has to cohesively market a brand, a product, and a mission, while a traditional operation might not have to juggle all of these areas at once.
It’s important to clarify that social entrepreneurship is not necessarily the same thing as ‘cause marketing’. That term refers to how a traditional business might draw attention to their humanitarian efforts or charitable acts in order to win customers. The company itself doesn’t support a social mission, however.
Social Entrepreneurship in Action (3 Case Studies)
Marketing social enterprises often involves using the same channels as a traditional business. The techniques implemented can differ, however. To get a sense of what this looks like in action, we’ve explored three examples, highlighting areas where they’ve succeeded and failed.
TOMS is considered to be the company that paved the way for the ‘one for one’ business model. Its mission is to provide a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair that’s purchased by a customer.
The company’s extensive social media marketing approach is a model worth replicating. For example, its #WithoutShoes campaign managed to engage 3.5 million people in one day. Ultimately, its strategy supports the concept of emotional marketing and has enabled it to build a loyal community around its mission.
TOMS has been wildly successful and its consumer product has developed a bit of a cult following. There have been some missteps along the way, however. It’s important to be mindful that your good intentions don’t end up causing harm.
Due to some of its giving practices, TOMS was met with criticism and accused of contributing to aid dependency. Studies proved this claim was not incorrect. Extensive research and data analysis of your proposed model can go a long way toward avoiding this issue.
United By Blue uses a spin-off of the one-for-one model. Its mission is to remove one pound of trash from the ocean for each product sold. They also highlight that they have achieved Certified B-Corp status.
This means United By Blue meets the highest standards of transparency, accountability, and verified social and environmental performance. Even with this hard-to-earn status, there are pros and cons to highlight in this example.
It’s vital that you know both your audience and your competition. After experiencing mediocre returns, United By Blue underwent a major marketing overhaul that involved in-depth competition and market research. The result was a tripling of their return on ad spend.
If you don’t fully understand your audience on each platform, you could end up misusing your social media channels as well. A United By Blue photographer highlighted the importance of this, noting that engaging influencers can be tricky. Vet your partners to ensure each is a solid, authentic fit.
The Goodwill business model serves two main purposes. It creates opportunities for people who live with disabilities to build skills and find work. It also helps divert items from landfills. Donations of clothes and other household items are resold in stores that employ people as part of that mission.
Goodwill is an example of a mission-driven business that has been around far longer than the term ‘social enterprise’. As such, it serves as a strong model for both best practices and missteps to watch out for.
Since Goodwill has been around for a long time, it’s had to adapt or face the possibility of dying out. Modern technology has provided new opportunities for the organization. In order to meet the demand for e-commerce, it’s put items up for sale online while still supporting its mission of job creation.
However, today’s consumers are much more influenced by their ethical and moral beliefs, and it can be perilous to go against your own mission. Goodwill has faced scrutiny for underpaying their employees. This is particularly problematic since it claims to provide jobs to already vulnerable populations.
How to Launch a Marketing Campaign for Your Online Social Entrepreneurship Venture
You should now be able to make some clear distinctions between mission-based startups and other kinds of enterprises. For example, we’ve mentioned how ‘cause marketing’ can often look like a social entrepreneurship but does not operate from the same foundation.
This means while there are some marketing techniques that apply across business types, a different strategy is often needed for socially-focused ventures. After looking at the case studies above, some tips you may want to consider for launching your own social entrepreneurship marketing campaign include:
- Extensive market research to help you understand your audience
- Focusing your efforts on the most appropriate social media channels for your target audience
- Generating engaging content that speaks to the heart of your mission and customers
- Keeping authenticity at the top of your priorities, especially if you use social media influencers
- Using authentic operational practices and guiding principles
Social entrepreneurship endeavors can offer you an opportunity to blend your passions with mindful business practices. When marketed successfully, this can be a very rewarding way to shape your career.
There’s no doubt that over the past few years social enterprises have become much more mainstream. In fact, a third of all startup businesses aim to support a cause. However, marketing this type of brand requires some different tactics than traditional companies.
Do you have any questions about social entrepreneurship? Ask away in the comments section below!
Image credit: Ian Schneider.