BuySocial currently markets itself as ‘aiming to build markets for social enterprises among the general public and private and public sectors’. But that’s not building a market, is it? It’s pushing against the existing markets, as though we’re trying to thinly squeeze through the obese for-profits.
To me, that’s playing on defence. It’s way too conservative. It’s giving the consumers a choice of two opposite assumptions – the for-profit who doesn’t care about doing good, and the social enterprise that is all about doing good -, all while being evenhanded. We’re marketing social enterprise as a choice, as a competitor. It’s not good enough. People don’t ‘look to buy from a social enterprise’, it’s arrogant to think that they do.
In the markets that a majority of social enterprises are in, supply clearly exceeds demand. Look at cafés and restaurants, don’t we have enough of them in the UK? By placing social enterprises in that same market, competition will only restrict growth. They will suffer financially as they fight to win a tiny share of customers, joining in the race to the bottom by competing with prices, leading to thread-like profit margins. And worse, as they try to maintain their social impact model alive they starve out their business model.
As social enterprises, we need to aim beyond competition. And improving our products or services isn’t enough. To market ourselves as ‘doing social good’, to the general public and corporates, isn’t enough.
We got to be creative. The social enterprises that succeed are those that open up new market space, the ones that push the market boundaries. The ones that make their competition irrelevant. Not the ones that tap into a market to grab a shrinking share of it. Tapping into a market means that we’re hesitating to be better.
We must focus on thriving to become entities that the industry has never seen or experienced before. Simply marketing products or services as being ‘social’ is not sustainable. Yes, it matches and drives the current trend. Yes, it gives the impression that you’re adding value to the customer. But you’re simply riding the current wave of choosing alternatives.
For long-term success and growth, social enterprises cannot rely on their social impact model.
So, what new experiences can you offer? How will you be innovative and differentiate from others in your market? Can you make the customer be a part of your social impact model, beyond the purchase of a product? What positive change can you bring about through focusing on your business model?