A Response to Marketing Social Impact
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Several weeks ago, I wrote a post about an article I read on Forbes, which addressed the ongoing debate of whether or not marketing social impact is always a good idea. I argued that perhaps it is never a bad thing to prove social impact.

The author of the Forbes article, Daniela Papi responded to our post:

“Thanks for the note and the blog. While I agree with your statement that tracking your social impact is an imperative, and I agree that how you tell your story is key, I disagree that sharing the full impact story in marketing is always a good thing. While you might share it with investors/donors, sharing in your sales and marketing needs to be evaluated on two fronts: on the income/impact generation front with regards to increasing sales and awareness, but also on the side-effects front. In the case of Keok’jay, when they initially started, all of their craftswomen were indeed HIV positive, and an initial impact goal was indeed helping women with HIV to gain secure income. Of course investors/supports of these efforts should be informed about the impact of their funding, but I don’t think it’s a black and white issue whether they should market that impact to potential customers. Would it generate more sales? Perhaps. If so, would those increased sales and correlated increased income for the woman be more valuable or would protecting them from the stigmas associated with HIV be a better impact? Who gets to decide that – the company, or the women themselves? What if half of the women are ok with you sharing their health status in marketing, but half would rather forgo increased income for privacy protection? These are not black and white answers and I don’t agree that marketing that impact is always the right decision, even if it is the main goal and raison d’être of the company. That doesn’t mean that withholding from marketing it is always right either.

That said, on a whole separate note, one of the reasons I believe Keok’jay will continue to be successful is that many of the hundreds of tourists I’ve watched shop at Keok’jay over the years buy their beautiful products without knowing anything about the “we’re helping women” origins. They buy the products because they are fashionable and comfortable, and some might never read further to find out that their money was also “doing good.” Some day we might get to a point where marketing the fact that “these products are helping woman” will turn people off, as skepticism of social enterprise’s actual impacts continue to increase or, perhaps we’ll get to a point where making such a statement is no longer necessary, as it will be assumed that all businesses are. Either way, Keok’jay is one of the one’s paving the way in this debate, and I think these conversations will hopefully continue to help people consider the ethics of marketing as they grow their own businesses or buy into the sales strategies of others.”

It’s delighting to see the conversation opening up about this increasingly “brave new world” of social enterprise. I hope to see these discussions lead to broader consensus and understanding of marketing for social enterprises and nonprofits, transparency, and amplifying impact. Thanks Daniela!


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