Why everyone should learn how to brand social enterprises — Brand Ethos
28 May 2015

Why everyone should learn how to brand social enterprises

Our simple guide shows you how
Social enterprises show how making a living and a social impact are not necessarily at odds. They are ideal models for all brands

Today sees the coming together of the Big Venture Challenge 2015 winners at the Barclays Escalator in London’s East End. This will be the third year Brand Ethos will be supporting UnLtd, the leading provider of support for social enterprises, which organises the challenge. UnLtd supports ambitious entrepreneurs with access to business support, powerful connections and match funding to help them raise investment and deliver social impact at scale. The programme is funded by Big Lottery Fund. The launch event (the video is a snapshot from last year) is a blend of excitement and optimistic trepidation for the journey the winners are about to embark upon. I am sure it will be the same tomorrow and we’ll be there again to offer advice on how to brand social enterprises.

Why everyone should learn how to brand social enterprises

Social enterprises come in all shapes and sizes, especially in how they are legally formed and the nature and scope of their activity. However, what does bring them together are two things. First, they are established first and foremost with a social purpose. Making money will be what they do, but it will be so that they can meet a social need in the world. Secondly, they will be developing a theory of change. They may not have written it down, but they will have a really good idea that they are catalysts for change, or providers of products or services that make a real difference to people’s lives, and why that is.

In other words, they have answered, or at least are on their way to answering, the three questions in Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle. Why? How? and What? If you have these three things clearer in your mind, you are well on the way to defining your brand purpose. You can learn more about this in our blog More why ‘why’. Getting to your brand purpose.

But why should everyone learn from this? We know that organisational brands must make money. Even charitable foundations have to make money just so that their endowment keeps up with inflation. Yet, many in business are realising that having a purpose, beyond making money, is about contributing to the world in some positive way and brings with it better rewards, and not just for shareholders. This isn’t corporate social responsibility. It’s not a department, or a policy, or a good intention. It goes to the very heart of why you do what you do, why anyone would care and why people trust you, even if you slip up every now and again.

If every organisation had a brand purpose that answered the question ‘why?’, then it would be a lot easier to answer the question ‘how?’ they go about doing what they do and decide ‘what?’ it is they should do to achieve this. All too often, however, people start with the ‘what’ we do (because that’s easy), probably have an idea about ‘how’ they do stuff, but struggle with the ‘why’ they do it. The problem with this is they wander off course, have lots of different ways of telling their story and become motivated by ‘me’ and not ‘us’. They get confused.

Research by Harvard prof Nathalie Laidler-Kylander and brand guru Julia Shepard Stenzel and reported on in their great book The Brand IDEA suggests the fundamental difference between for-profit and not-for-profit brands is that the former needs to manage its brand for competition and the latter to achieve its mission by building partnerships based on a shared idea. We think that it’s about time all organisations did both and social enterprises are bang in the middle and leading the way.

In our first couple of years of support for Big Venture Challenge we ran some workshops on brand and branding. We developed a ‘how-to poster’ called A simple guide to reviewing your brand, when we discovered that there’s lots published on developing and launching new brands, but nothing we could find on reviewing your existing brand.

A simple guide to reviewing your brand, for social enterprises, or anyone

This is a short precis of the poster. If you’re a Big Venture Challenge 2015 winner drop us a line and we’ll mail you a free copy of the full poster.

1  Be clear why you are reviewing your brand

If you struggle describing what you do, then that’s a good reason. You may not need a full review. Perhaps you need to think about your brand propositions only. If so, ask us how we can help.

2  Create a plan

The strategic bit of reviewing your plan is the exciting bit. Implementing it is hard work. Create a plan that will guide you and develop some principles to help you make decisions.

3  Use a simple diagnostic

We use a hybrid of models based on the model outlined by Denise Lee Yohn in her book What great brands do, which captures three things: your company, the context in which you operate—the market and your competition—and your customers. Put them in a Venn diagram and these three circles overlap and create points of parity (between context and company), points of difference (between company and customer) and vulnerabilities (between customer and context). This exercise is a great foundation for any business plan.

4  Audit your brand

What do you put your logo on? What are your customer journeys? What are your recruit and employee journeys? Brands are effectively the sum of individuals’ experiences, so knowing what these are is vital to making changes in the future.

5  Define your brand

Start with your purpose. Why you do what you do. How you do it. What you do to fulfil the ‘why’ bit.

6  Don’t go values-crazy

Think of just three (little) words (or phrases) that capture your ethos, or your combined values and beliefs. Something you know is true for you, true for your employees and true for the people you want to connect with. Keep them real, interesting and original. Words like innovation, professional and trusted are not words for a brand model. It’s a sign you haven’t been these things in the past and you should be anyway.

7  Next: principles

What do you need to say to your employees that enable you to deliver on your ethos? These guides will help determine have you ‘behave’ as a brand and that, of course, influences what people’s experiences of you are.

8  Think about how you’d like to be overheard

Imagine you’re at a party, or a conference. Someone is talking about your business. What are they saying? What would you like them to be saying? Do they match the ideas in your three little words? This is your personality. It’s the result of how you behave and the experience people have of you. Remember: personality is what other people say about you (to other people), not what you say about yourself.

9  Finally, promise

What commitment can you make to every one of your audiences that’s short and sweet. No more than five or six words.

10  Write a creative brief

Put all of the above into a two-page creative brief and that will be the basis from which your designer can work. Do not tell them they have a blank piece of paper. Your brief should narrow it down so that they can focus.

Some simple rules

  • Keep it simple.
  • Test as much as you can afford with as many people as you can reach.
  • Get advice on naming, trade marks and copyright.
  • Follow your implementation plan, not forgetting all your customer and employee journeys.

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