Social enterprises: We need to tell the right stories to the right customers

- August 12, 2014 2 MIN READ

At Gifts of the World  we operate a pretty simple business model.

We’re about lifting artists and designers in developing countries out of poverty by connecting them to a customer base they wouldn’t otherwise have access to – through our online store.

The more products we sell the more we invest in our partners and the more they invest in their local communities.

Like many social enterprises, marketing is big on our agenda but we’re not really experts in how it should be done.

Someone smart once said marketing is about connecting your brand’s story with your customer’s story. That sounded pretty smart so that was where we began.

And when you think about it, so much of marketing is communicating a narrative about how what you sell solves a problem, and why solving that problem matters to people.

But like many social enterprises, we were getting confused as to how we should do this. Because not only does Gifts of the World address a direct consumer problem with our products, we are also addressing a very real social problem through our broader business model.

And so there are two different messages that need telling as part of our marketing strategy.

The first one is the story of the social issues we are addressing through the sale of our products.

For us at Gifts of the World this is about creating jobs for people living in poverty or who have been trafficked, abandoned or victims of conflict. We work with organisations in Cambodia and East Africa who are doing a great job at this.

Communicating this social impact is very important for us. It helps us articulate our competitive advantage and point of difference compared with traditional businesses operating a traditional business model.

It is also a necessity. We have significantly higher costs than other textile and craft companies – for a number of reasons: organisations we work with pay higher wages, are not solely profit driven, they follow domestic laws, and they have administration and governance systems that cost money to oversee.

We must therefore be able to use this creation of higher social value to attract more customers – or at least get existing customers to pay more so we can cover costs!

The other message we are promoting is product focused – and it’s a more traditional marketing method that most businesses adopt.

It focuses our value proposition on our consumer by promoting the high quality products we are selling and the way meet the direct consumer need.

These two messages are targeting two different customers.

The first type – socially aware, story first and product second. The second type of customers aren’t as focused on our broader social message. They tend to want our high quality products and they are very selective of the patterns and colours they want.

They will hear ‘the product story’ once they have decided on a purchase, but if the product itself hasn’t convinced this type of customer that it’s worth buying, the social message won’t seal the deal.

Essentially our challenge is about making sure we are telling the right story to the right audience.

There are so many innovative and exciting social enterprises emerging in Australia and all around the world.  Our stories are unique and deserve to be told. And our customers are waiting to hear them.

Lets make sure we get it right.

Nathan Clarke is the director of Gifts of the World. Follow @Giftsoftheworld.