|Delivering on the value proposition to the target customer is the critical element of any business model. The customer in turn will pay for the service, generating the revenues to make the business viable. For most businesses, customer adoption is a key measure of success.|
Every type of business, both social and traditional, has many types of customers; however, typically in traditional businesses, the paying customer makes the purchase decision.
In the case of social enterprises, the customer who buys the product or service may often not be the ultimate consumer (or target customer) of the product or service.
The decision-maker on the product or service is likely the party paying for it (the payer) and this may be the government, a foundation, an individual or other third party such as a funder. The customer who consumes the product or service (the participant) will likely have access to the product or service at no cost or a lower than market price through the payer. This added customer profile means that your marketing strategy and planning will be slightly different from traditional businesses.
An effective participant-focused marketing plan shifts the focus of your organization’s business plan from being program driven to being market-driven. Without the key bottom line metrics that keep for-profit businesses on track, focusing on and understanding your participants may be the only way for a social enterprise to accomplish its mission.
To fully understand the needs of each of the target participants and payers for your organization you should apply customer segmentation strategies, a key marketing tool for social enterprises. With a customer segmentation strategy, you will be able to:
Describe, quantify and promote your social and environmental outcomes. How has your product or service improved social and environmental conditions?
You need to demonstrate a measurable impact by using tools like:
You should prove further impact through outreach, influence and leadership in the community.
Think of the payers as customers (the retailers of your product or service to the end-consumer); this helps to shift the perspective away from feeling that the third party isn’t getting anything in return for their financial purchase.
Market your social mission as well as your product or service. A social enterprise can further enhance their reputation through public recognition.
When evaluating your current participating customers think about:
For social enterprises, customer preferences, as reflected in market demand, do not always indicate social value creation and might mislead from the optimal social impact. Examples of when this might happen include when:
For example, a public health organization may be pressured to lower payments for drug rehabilitation services to a point lower than practical. In this case, organizations compete to be the lowest cost provider, which may compromise social impact.
Measuring social value is difficult. As a result, customers lack adequate information to gauge the quality of social goods and services. Social value is not determined by customer demand or a lack thereof.
The total societal benefits surpass what they directly provide to the individuals they serve. This would be seen in programs that prevent youth from committing crimes that generally have a high cost to society or reducing the incidence of spreading diseases among the healthy population. Alternatively, high consumer demand does not necessarily indicate high social value. Homeless shelters serving alcoholic beverages may demonstrate high demand, but this demand is not a sign that these shelters would be superior.
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Dees, J.G., Emerson, J., & Economy, P. (2001). Enterprising Nonprofits: A Toolkit for Social Entrepreneurs. Toronto: John Wiley & Sons.
Dees, J.G. & Anderson, B.B. (2003). For-Profit Social Ventures. Duke University.