An invitation to build lasting brand initiatives called Social Enterprises

This blog is by Ethel Sanchez, Regional Planning Manager at Lowe and Partners Worldwide.

At this point, so much solid proof has been put out there of the tangible and intangible gains brands get to reap for doing good (or as the industry fondly calls it, for effecting positive change in people's lives). I've been closely observing the recent inundation of goodvertising work globally, in awe of the way the world's most creative minds are building brands through ideas that genuinely make the world a better place. I am dreaming of this phenomenon evolving further into development of initiatives with the same power and longevity as the brands they support; initiatives with sustainable impact, not just bursts of brand buzz; initiatives that are self-liquidating, independent of corporate budget allocations generated inevitably through higher pricing.

I think it's just a step away.

If we take a closer look at the building blocks of sustainable Social Enterprises, these are undoubtedly the turf of the Marketing and Advertising community. It's what we are all good at. It also happens to be the kind of work most of us tend to enjoy most or find greater fulfillment doing.

Creative Innovation

A Social Enterprise is built on a fresh and smarter line-of-attack to an existing problem. Thinking starts on a clean slate, free from any baggage of what has been done. Thinking is aimed always at a smarter solution – an easier way, a more doable way, a more cost-efficient way, a more sustainable way, a more impactful way.

Sample problem: Vitamin C deficiency

What has been done: Feeding programs, food fortification

Insight: It takes steady supply and consumption to permanently address nutritional deficiencies

The Social Enterprise solution: Citrus farming; teach people to grow fruits they can consume and sell

Sample problem: Unemployment in developing countries

What has been done: Traditional livelihood programs, job fairs

Insight: Local folks are the best tour guides especially for today's history and culture-savvy travelers

The Social Enterprise solution: A service that connects travelers to locals in developing countries to provide local guided experiences (Terranga Social Travel Enterprise)

Clever, original, creative thinking – exactly what we live and breathe everyday.

Research, Competitive Analysis, and Concept Development

A Social Enterprise aims to create a clearly defined experience and behavior change for a clearly defined beneficiary in a clearly defined geographic scope (popularly known in the Marketing and Advertising world as the target, the consumer journey, and the desired behavior). The same quantitative and qualitative research tools we know are used to understand the problem experience, current way of life and behavior, and the triggers and barriers to this behavior being re-shaped to support the proposed solution. The macro forces are studied, too, such as culture, the bigger economic context, and all other community variables affecting the desired change

A Social Enterprise is a solution designed to be better than existing models (competitors in Marketing and Advertising parlance). It goes through the rigor of identifying advantages over existing models in every step of the experience, with focus on those directly impacting cost, adoption, and sustainability. Based on the above exercises, a positioning statement is defined – a Social Enterprise concept that is then pitched to investors; a concept that is clever, original, creative, and VIABLE because it is relevant, competitive, and differentiated.

I bet this is all sounding very familiar and close to heart.

Performance Measurement

The same thinking we do for Marketing and communication key performance indicators goes into Social Enterprise planning. The only difference is that a SOCIAL IMPACT side is added to the scorecard. A Social Enterprise has a double baseline – financial and social objectives, with equal weightage. That aside, we should be all set. While most would normally struggle with performance monitoring and measurement, for us Marketing and Advertising practitioners, it's as natural and as easy as writing briefs or managing image resolutions, not to mention the shiny tried and tested thinking tools and measurement models we already have in place.

It is the rather tricky task of optimizing financial and social measures through a single concept that calls for more than just business acumen or creativity, but a genuine social mission as well. For us brand-builders, there are three baselines – financial, social, and brand objectives. We have mastered the science and art of optimizing two. In goodvertising and CSRs we have started incorporating the social dimension. It's just a matter of pushing it some more from one-off messages and activations to sustainable solutions.

A pain point that has kept me restless ever since I started racking my brain for brands and businesses: if we could re-channel to the bigger problems of the world even just a bit of the passion, brilliance, and creative energies we give to brand/ business building or creative awards; a bit of the sleepless nights, passionate number crunching, or heated brainstorming sessions, imagine what we can achieve. If we have minds and tools so powerful in changing behavior, that can make bars in charts move from point A to desired point B, shouldn't we be at the forefront of social development?

Then came the Social Enterprise concept – built on the belief that the most effective way to create significant, sustainable change is to attack social missions like a business enterprise. The proven measurable brand gains for doing good and for having a sustainable brand initiative, finally closes the loop.

Maybe it's time to take goodvertising and CSRs to the next level.

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