There was never much of a battle between social enterprises and mainstream companies previously, since the operational scale at which the latter was growing was just no match for the former.
However, things have changed since then. Nowadays, with more support coming in the form of funding, it is not uncommon to see social enterprises scaling as quickly as mainstream companies. In fact, according to an article from the Guardian, some social enterprises are even out-performing mainstream companies. As a bid to raise awareness and visibility, there has also been a rise of social enterprises appearing on mainstream news, our own Society Staples on an article in The Straits Times being a good example.
While that is all well and good, in terms of customer perception, mainstream companies are still more prominent as compared to social enterprises. Perhaps it is due to the lack of knowledge, perhaps it is due to the perception shaped by the media. Nevertheless, here are some key tips on how social enterprises can stand out amongst mainstream companies:
1. Play to your Strengths
The key to being a social enterprise is, needless to say, being sincere about being a social company. So instead of trying to beat mainstream companies at their game, focus on your specialty without compromising on operations. This delicate balance might seem hard to achieve, but actually mainstream companies are already striving to balance social and profit objectives – meaning social enterprises actually have an early start on this!
2. Have a Kickass Team
Social enterprises usually do not have enough resources to have a large team of employees to support the business. However, small teams can be a big advantage as well!
With a smaller team, employees end up having to wear more hats in the business, with one person taking care of both marketing and finance while another is responsible for both operations and branding for example. This can turn out to be a good thing because employees will then have a more well-rounded understanding of the business and have a more holistic style of thinking, compared to other employees in larger companies which have compartmentalized job descriptions and stick to only what they are accustomed to.
Also, it is much easier to create an ideal company culture without all the hierarchy getting in the way of good work. Firstly, with a flatter hierarchy, communication between team members can be much more fluid, and members will be less intimidated by position but instead share opinions freely.
3. Build awareness
Similar to how a company needs a good PR team to launch a new product campaign, social enterprises also need to build awareness about themselves. Social enterprises are still an untapped market in so many ways when compared to mainstream companies, which means there is much more potential to gain traction.
One key characteristic of a social enterprise is that it targets a niche market and therefore a smaller group of people. Any good PR and marketing professional would recommend to use this opportunity to garner positive word of mouth among the relevant target audience, and with steady reputation growth, awareness will build slowly but surely.
4. Authenticity is key
It might seem like the more ostentatious you are as a business, the better you are. However, this too might change, with the focus on whether these businesses are able to back them up with not only quality product and services, but also the values they support. Pepsi’s recent campaign flop exemplifies this all too well. This example demonstrates that no matter how prominent a brand you are, audiences remain critical about the message that is being sent as well as the impact you create (in Pepsi’s case, none).
What people fail to realize sometimes is that for the most part, social enterprises are just like mainstream companies. Social enterprises are not cut any slack just because they possess the ‘social element’. Thus, it is important for social enterprises to not focus too much on the fact that they are ‘social’, but that they will, just like any good company, strive to produce the best product or service that will benefit the people.