Selling Social Enterprise…

By Scott Leonard

I was recently asked by Social Enterprise UK to talk about brands, as their People’s Business report cited that money and marketing were the main obstacles to growth for their members. Selling Social Enterprise seemed like a strange title for the occasion, as the two words didn’t strike me as the best of bedfellows, but hey, I said I’d have a think and promised to start with the basics of brands.

‘What is a brand?’ was my first slide; “An emotional feeling or reaction to a service, product or organization.” was the answer. No surprises there. ‘Why is a brand important to your business?’ Was also easy to answer as without an emotional reaction it is purely value driven. It’s rare that social enterprise can compete on price as the organisation is not solely commercial by its definition.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that I’ve worked in the brand building business for almost twenty years trying to persuade people to form some kind of emotional relationship with brands. Suddenly the penny dropped. The one thing I’d always struggled with in my previous life as an adman was the truth, which is often one of the last things to be considered when building a brand. (I knew truths about brands I could never tell, some real shockers, but this is not the confessions of an adman so back to the story.)

Two things have dramatically changed in my career; the first being the ‘monologue’ that meant a brand could say what it wanted and you couldn’t argue back is over. As consumers we talk to each other a lot and in some cases will actively go out of our way to tell others what we think on sites like Tripadvisor.
Secondly; paid media that brands once bought to broadcast their brilliance is now overpowered by social media, which is easy to use and is predominantly free.

Here’s where the social enterprise advantage struck me, what do they all have? Values, ethics and transparency, that most brands couldn’t even dream of. They have governance documents and proudly publish their finances, so they can’t pass horsemeat off as beef, or cover up serious breaches of employees rights, or hide funds in off shore havens.

There is the answer to how do you sell a social enterprise: you sell your ethics. Forget selling your soul; leave that to those brands that have no choice. Initially I thought selling social enterprise was going to be tricky, as many had told me it would be, but when you think about what makes a social enterprise, it’s their ethics. Without those ethics our world would be chaos and we’d all be animals.