Practically every day, I discover a new social business. It's so exciting to me to see how rapidly the field is growing. Change is happening in all sorts of ways and everywhere.
However, today I wanted to talk about value proposition in social business, also known as the reason people should buy your product rather than anyone else's. Many social businesses rely on sustainability for their value propositions. This works upfront for a little while, but it can't be the focal point.
Why? Ironically, it's not sustainable.
Let's look at the example of all the companies popping up who sell items like t-shirts with cute, sustainability-related slogans or bracelets that clean up ocean trash.
These products are awesome, and everyone might consider buying one of them. But... are you really going to buy more than that?
After you've purchased that one, that's probably enough. You've supported the cause sufficiently. And who needs five ocean trash bracelets?
That's why it's important, for the fate of the social business movement, for these companies to look beyond ethicality or sustainability as their focal points. They need to find a more comprehensive value proposition.
Consumers, in the long term, look for quality and value. Even for me, a person whose life is pretty centered around the pursuit for products that help rather than harm the planet and its people, I need these things in order to consider purchasing something. Even if I love a cause, if I'm not going to wear or use something, the chances I pick it up are slim because it's just going to go to waste.
That doesn't mean the cause shouldn't play a large role in marketing and branding. We know that consumers are more and more looking for sustainable and ethical products, so of course it's important for corresponding brands to get that message out there. It just shouldn't be first, and it shouldn't be by itself.
This whole concept might sound kind of sad to you: really, people are that selfish? And that shouldn't be the takeaway at all. In fact, this actually makes a lot of sense. Social business is all about empowering people, right? So shouldn't the end goal be for "social" business to need not exist anymore? We want to get to a point where social business is so common that we don't need to call it that.
And by creating businesses with amazing products of great quality, value, and utility, but which also help rather than hurt the earth and its people, we're modeling what that world and future will look like.
Australian-founded and Ghanaian-made clothing brand Yevu is an excellent example of this philosophy. They're a social business, but their branding puts forth a message that this component of their brand is entirely obvious, and consumers should get used to it. I found out about Yevu through this piece by Forbes, which tells the rest of their brand's story.
Who else employs this methodology? Everlane is another great example. Go take a look at their website and see how long it takes you to realize sustainability is at the heart of their brand. For me, it took about thirty seconds. I found the first indicator at the footer of their homepage, where there's a tagline that says, "Exceptional quality. Ethical factories. Radical transparency."
Notice that? Exceptional quality comes first in this piece of messaging. That's something that carries throughout their branding. At the forefront of what they want consumers to notice is how amazingly simplistic, yet entirely gorgeous their products are. And I can't help but wonder if this is why Everlane is so successful.
Yet another example is Patagonia. I've read a few of founder Yvon Chouinard's books, in which he speaks about this very thing. And Patagonia is a little different in how their website looks; when I was researching for this article they had a banner advertising their recycled duffle bags, as well as a link to their hemp collection and an article about extinction.
Indeed, there's no hiding what Patagonia stands for. But it works for them because of how well-established the Patagonia brand is. They put their logo on almost all of their products.
Moreover, the story of how Patagonia first built its brand is quite telling. You can read more about it in Chouinard's book, Let My People Go Surfing. He started Patagonia (under another name) to solve the problem of traditional rock climbing equipment hurting the rocks. So he made something better. But people didn't buy his tools solely because they were better for the rocks. They bought them because it was easier to climb with them.
So, let's build brands that help people - and not just the people who made the products, but the people who buy them, too. It's the only way social business will succeed in the long run, and it's the only way we create a model of business that puts the vendors and the consumers on a level playing field.