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March 1, 2017 The A-B-C of social enterprise communications

Simon Francis, founder member, Campaign Collective

Social enterprises play a unique role in society – and social enterprise communications needs to be equally bespoke.

For most brands and businesses, communications is ultimately measured in sales; the activity put in place needs to communicate the benefits of the goods or services on offer.

While this is still part and parcel of what social enterprises have to communicate, marketing for organisations that place delivering a benefit to society at the heart of what they do will ultimately need to reflect more than just sales targets.

In the recent #CommsChat on social enterprises, the overwhelming interest of participants was on the role that communications needs to play in these organisations.

Social enterprise is a broad term which includes a whole variety of organisations, from charities, charitable trading arms, community interest companies, co-operatives, limited and even listed companies. In variety lies the strength of the sector, but trying to find a common marketing philosophy is challenging.

However, three broad principles for social enterprise marketing emerged from #CommsChat, These can be interpreted as an ABC for social enterprise marketing:
• Agitate for change
• Build sales
• Communicate value

The ideal communications strategy will deliver against all three of these objectives. Tactics will campaign for change while demonstrating the product/service on offer and communicate the added value of buying from a social enterprise.

On paper, this sounds like a tough job. In practice modern marketing methods make this easier to achieve than ever before. For example, creating a supporter-led campaign around the social purpose and showing how the product/service is part of the solution should be possible for most social enterprises. If it is not possible to develop such campaigns, social enterprises are faced with a choice. On one hand, marketers in social enterprises could develop siloed activity for each of the three change/sales/value objectives.

Or, perhaps the inability to communicate the full ABC of social enterprise marketing means that the enterprise itself needs to re-think its positioning. It could be that the social purpose is “bolted on” to the provision of services or vice versa. Both of these situations will only lead to confusion.

With the growing rise of social enterprise as a valued and favoured way of business, the final marketing challenge will be defending the authenticity of the social enterprise status.

Membership of a trade body (such as Social Enterprise UK) and the “Buy Social” badge should be a pre-requisite for being able to use the phrase social enterprise in marketing – and fake social enterprises (or those who are using the term to purpose wash their behaviour) should be called out.

While each organisation will need a bespoke approach to its communications, acting in unity in celebrating our shared take on redefining how businesses should be run will benefit every social enterprise.

What do you think? Continue the #CommsChat with @si_francis on Twitter.

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