Understanding and fulfilling your customers needs

another happy customer?

another happy customer?

How many people running social enterprises can really say that we understand our customers’ motivations?

 An interesting question and one that I suspect we don’t think about often enough.

Are our products and services really addressing the needs and challenges faced by our customers, or do they just build on the strengths of our own businesses?

In the social enterprise world there seems to be a universal agreement that if we shout loudly enough about social enterprise we will raise awareness of our business model and more people will automatically buy from us.

Is there a direct correlation between awareness-raising and buying behaviour?  Experience from the labelling world might suggest that this direct correlation is not true. In the case of Fairtrade, awareness is now extremely high within the general public, but it appears that sales have levelled off over the last few years. 

Awareness-raising to a wide audience is, of course, very resource intensive and perhaps we should be learning from the paradigm shifts in the marketing world?  The increase in the level of ‘noise’ from social media, multi-TV channels and mobile internet means that we need to be much more targeted in our approach.  It is only by transposing ourselves into the position of current and future customers that we will really begin to understand where we can put our efforts to greatest effect. 

This challenge is that much greater for us at the Social Enterprise Mark Company given the diversity of motivations that certified social enterprises (i.e. Mark holders) have for holding the Mark, in addition to the diversity of the customer base of these social enterprises,  themselves.  This has been a lesson from 50in250 and by attempting to bottom some of this out, we can better target our messages and services in our future campaigns and services.


7 responses to “Understanding and fulfilling your customers needs

  1. Glad that SEM understands the complexity of selling SE to a range of customers. I don’t think that all SE think that by shouting loud enough the British public will want to buy from us. What we do know is that we have to be the best in class and give good value for money to be taken seriously. If SEM can help get the message to the great British public that SE plus great products equals a better overall service, then they would be doing us all a great service.

    • June – I totally agree that the first and formost quality and value for money have to be the number one. It’s about the boiling down the essence of what a social enterprise adds – in some cases this might be service (which could be seen as part of quality), but for others it might be about a feel good factor ie an emotional response. A large part of buying behaviour is driven by emotions (which is why personal connections to our customers and branding matter) this is then justified with price and quality arguments.

  2. I’m someone who definitely doesn’t think that shouting loudly about social enterprise will automatically cause people to buy from social enterprises.

    Promoting social enterprise is a very different challenge to promoting Fairtrade because with Fairtrade the goodness is intrinsic to the product rather than to the business that delivers or produces the product.

    So far, I think the social enterprise movement has been guilty of under-estimating the complexity of the challenge but – ironically – has simultaneously been guilty of trying to tackle that challenge with messages that are too complex to be effective.

  3. We use the ‘trading for people and planet’ strapline to try to make things simple, along with the visual of the Mark. How would you make it simpler David?

  4. I don’t have a problem with ‘trading for people and planet’ but a strapline isn’t the same thing as a message. Straplines – if you have one – reinforce and remind people of a message (or messages) that you’ve already communicated.

    ‘Trading for people and planet’, is slightly amorphous without resonant messages to back it up. What does trading for people and planet mean – in terms of ‘I buy this and …. happens’? Communicated that is the big challenge.

    Fairtrade’s message is, roughly, ‘if you buy this product the people producing the stuff get a better deal’ – and they’ve communicated that very effectively. As far as I know they don’t have a strapline because ‘this is Fairtrade’ serves that function.

    The Big Issue’s use of ‘a hand up not a handout’ was is/as also good. It gets across clearly what you as a customer are doing by buying the product.

    I think SEUK’s ‘Society Profits’ was/is potentially a good basis for communicating some key messages around social enterprise. Because it can be backed up with clear examples of activities and ways of doing that society profits from.

    It’s about communicating ideas that aren’t complicated but are more specific than ‘this is good’.

  5. For me the strapline is the simple message. If you buy from this company it trades for people and planet ie you are helping society and the environment. This message was backed up by our original independent research which showed that most people when all other things are equal to buy from a business that puts society and the environment at its heart. The stapline was tested in a number of focus groups including the general public.

  6. I think there’s two separate questions there, though:

    1. Will people – if most other things are equal – buy from a business that puts society and the environment at its heart?

    2. Will putting a logo and the strapline ‘for people and planet’ on products (and information about services) cause large numbers of people to associate those products and services with those qualities?

    The answer to 1 being ‘yes’ doesn’t mean the answer to 2 is ‘yes’. Creating a situation where it is the task for a social enterprise promotional campaign, not the answer to the task.

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