Marketing is in a funny position in social enterprises. They are organizations with great ideas and a great passion. So it makes sense to sell customers on the great things that they do for the community. Indeed, the enterprise's success ultimately depends on how well it does those great things or supports them. That's why social enterprises face intense pressure to get out and grow, despite the higher costs inherent to them and very limited sources of funding and investment. Yet there's rarely enough time and resources to back up this keen interest in marketing with adequate market research.
As a result of all these factors, many social enterprises are drawn to "cause marketing." Their brochures, ads, luncheon presentations, and radio spots emphasize how "good" their customers are entitled to feel after they make the "right" purchase decision.
This is the trap into which both Inner City Renovation (ICR) and Potluck Catering stumbled over the past five years. In Winnipeg, after losing some natural allies in the nonprofit housing sector, ICR tried to use cause marketing to find commercial customers. It didn't fly. Nor did Potluck's attempts to cause-market catered food to businesses in downtown Vancouver. As subsequent research revealed, what these markets really want is to get is quality building or quality food, not to help the disadvantaged. To sell the cause, ICR and Potluck first had to sell the product
And they have. Both have now established themselves as players in these markets. More important, each organization has made marketing a key function of their operations, with the staff and budget it requires. And guess what - they now find their customers are more receptive to "the "cause"!