Win Big in a New Market — Put Your Money Where Your Purpose Is
By Polina Pinchevsky | June 17, 2015
How do you enter a market that’s already oversaturated with products or services similar to yours?
You know you need to get noticed, but can you get noticed without spending a fortune? Should you allocate all your marketing dollars to advertising and direct mail like the competition does? Should you hire a PR firm to help you get publicity?
The best thing to do at this point is to stop and reflect and figure out what you have to offer. Ask yourself questions like How are we different from the competition? and What have we done in other markets that was successful? If your company is a benefit corporation or a B corp, some of your key differentiators will include your values, culture and Purpose.
When companies combine Purpose and marketing, they usually talk about their Purpose in their marketing. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but it’s often not enough. There’s another option that’s often ignored: Purpose as marketing.
What follows is the story of how one of our clients used the strong sense of Purpose they’d developed as a B Corp to successfully enter a new market. At the end of the day, their marketing dollars bought even more than they’d bargained for.
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Getting The Lay of the Land
When Clean Currents, a clean energy retail electricity provider in the Washington, DC area asked us to help them formulate a strategy for entering the Philadelphia market, we advocated for research as step one. A comprehensive audience survey found that potential customers might not embrace green energy for two main reasons:
Their comfort with the status quo
Their suspicion about green energy suppliers’ authenticity and motives
Philadelphia’s energy market had been deregulated in 2010, allowing consumers to choose their suppliers instead of buying through a single government-approved provider. To put it mildly, competition was fierce and aggressive marketing tactics had made consumers wary.
They loathed telemarketers trying to sell them electricity over the phone. They were inundated with direct-mail offers and even door-to-door sales. The one variant in the companies’ marketing plans seemed to be how aggressively they pursued their customers. The extreme competition meant that companies like Clean Currents could not compete on pricing.
From experience in DC, Clean Currents knew it was crucial to reach residents whose concern for their communities and city would inspire them to embrace – and encourage others to embrace – clean energy solutions. The best way to gain their attention and support was to show them that Clean Currents cared about their community too. To prove the authenticity of that concern, Clean Currents needed to get involved with its new community in a constructive way.
That approach may have been uncomfortable for a traditional company, but as a B Corp, Clean Currents already had tons of experience in community engagement. They could draw on their deeply rooted value of community to make an impression in Philadelphia’s busy energy market.
Creating an Entrance Strategy
In the DC metro area, Clean Currents partnered with nonprofits to lobby for enviro-friendly legislation, supported local schools, participated in local business events and engaged in other outreach. These activities bought them serious street cred the region – they were known as the green energy company that put Purpose first.
By conducting extensive research and engaging local activists in conversation, we helped Clean Currents identify an issue that was troubling residents almost universally: the many abandoned lots scattered throughout the city. It was clear that converting these lots into usable spaces would make a tangible positive difference to the community.
When the time came to implement the project, Clean Currents was able to draw on the collaborative spirit that characterizes the B Corp movement. They partnered with a local youth organization and a high school in the same neighborhood as the abandoned lots then matched interested kids with designers and architects as mentors.
With help from Pellegrino Collaborative, the Lots of Power project was born. Andrea Pellegrino was hired as a liaison between Clean Currents and all the city agencies, partners and sponsors. As the momentum grew, having a dedicated person to coordinate the moving parts allowed the project to move forward at a speedy clip.
We quickly discovered that if a cause is compelling enough, lots of very talented people will join in and donate their time. All of the designers and architects who spent six weeks mentoring teenagers were volunteers. Partners gladly sponsored the project with in-kind donations of building materials. Local community nonprofits gave us hours of staff time. When it came time to execute the plans, so many people wanted to help and be involved that there was a waiting list. The beauty of doing good is that it attracts all kinds of good people and good deeds.
As the project gathered steam, more partners joined the effort and the buzz spread. Clean Currents earned media through TV, media and print coverage of Lots of Power.
The Payoff — The Expected & Unexpected
Six months into the project, after the judges and the public voted on six winning projects, I met the three teenagers whose lot transformation ideas were selected. Their pride and confidence just blew me away. Each of these young people had a compelling story to tell, and each was keenly aware that working on this project was a pivotal point in his/her life. Our partner in executing the project, Andrea Pallegrino, summed up the experience and its outcomes well:
There are always snags in community-based projects due to a variety of stakeholders with a myriad of agendas. However, in my experience, the biggest wins are often those that are unforeseen and unplanned. I learned of one of these yesterday: that Salina – one of our teenage participants – has been hired by her mentor’s company. You should have heard him talking about her and her first week on the job! Made me very happy.
Lots of Power was the cornerstone of Clean Current’s marketing plan for entering the Philly market, which also included advertising, networking, sponsorship and a robust social media campaign. Of those tactics, Lots of Power did the most to help Clean Currents establish a loyal group of brand advocates in a very crowded market.
I see too many businesses afraid to invest in community level marketing because it won’t create an immediate uptick in sales or site traffic or [insert metric of your choice]. The truth is that building a strong community of loyal brand advocates is well worth the effort. According to a recent Gallup study on customer engagement, engaged customers aren’t just more likely to spread the word about your product or service — they tend to be, on average, 23% more profitable than their less engaged counterparts.
Since the most likely brand advocates share a company’s beliefs and purpose-driven companies inherently care about their communities, companies should seize opportunities for community engagement. It’s a great way to give back, but it’s also a brilliant way to form relationships with the people who might turn out to be your most enthusiastic supporters.
Have you combined marketing and Purpose in an interesting way? Maybe this post has sparked a crazy new marketing-Purpose mashup idea you’re desperate to share? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.