|Wednesday, 28 September 2011 15:58|
After a boom in membership, Social Enterprise UK realised it had an organisational identity that outstripped its brand: Something had to be done, reports Molly Pierce
In 2002, the Department for Trade and Industry defined social enterprise as “a business with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose”. So far, so academic. But Social Enterprise UK – formerly the Social Enterprise Coalition – believes that the mission of social enterprise can be defined far more simply, and engagingly: “Making the world better through business.”
Social enterprise fills the corporate space between businesses which distribute their profits to shareholders, and charities, which don’t seek to make profits on their work. The Social Enterprise Coalition was set up in the early 2000s in order to help businesses that traded with social and environmental goals as their ultimate purpose. The best-known British example of social enterprise is probably The Co-operative Group, which shares its profits with its members and supports a social and campaigning agenda set by them. The Co-operative Group was established in its original form in 1863 – so social enterprise in the UK clearly has a long history.
However, the organisational identity of the Social Enterprise Coalition had by 2010 outstripped its brand. Celia Richardson, head of communications at Social Enterprise UK, explains how things had changed: “The profile of social enterprise across the UK was altering rapidly. We had many more social enterprises on our membership books, and we felt that ‘Coalition’ had overtones of a temporary lobbying organisation. We started as a coalition of third sector organisations that lobbied to get social enterprise on the political agenda, but as the private sector began to see increasing value in supporting social enterprise we needed a name that really encapsulated what we do.”
Ethical brand design agency Spencer du Bois was brought on board to help Social Enterprise UK develop its new strategic and creative direction. Spencer du Bois specialises in creating strategy, identity and branding for social enterprises, as well as not-for-profit and public organisations, so the fit between agency and client made the most of both sides’ expertise.
Consultation with the organisation’s members – who were aware of its purpose – and with the public – who may have not known about social enterprise – led to a decision on the new name. “We wanted it to be clear about who we are,” says Richardson. “Social Enterprise UK sums up the fact that we are of the sector, for the sector, and by the sector: we’re providing a platform for social enterprises across the UK that can represent them to the government and public, as well as provide them with the support and services they need.”
Growing international interest in social enterprise also came into play when choosing the new name. Social Enterprise UK is increasingly called upon to present the unified face of British social enterprises to European and global public and private businesses as investment in social enterprises grows. Social Enterprise UK worked closely with the national bodies that represent social enterprise to the devolved UK governing centres: Richardson emphasises that they represent those national bodies to central government, rather than to their own governments – although the Welsh Social Enterprise Coalition has publicly registered its concern over the new name and the direction it perceives Social Enterprise UK to be taking.
The new visual identity for Social Enterprise UK is based on the essential messaging of ‘society profits’ developed by the organisation with Spencer du Bois. “‘Society profits’ works on many different levels,” says Claire Biscard, design director at Spencer du Bois. “Social Enterprise UK eventually wants to see social enterprise at the heart of the UK economy – it wants people to be setting up social enterprises, buying from them, and trading with them.”
Social Enterprise UK has placed those people – the ones working in and using social enterprises – at the centre of its new brand. Each visual manifestation of the brand is an image of one of those people, holding a stencil of the new Social Enterprise UK typography, communicating the organisation’s belief in and support of individuals, and, in turn, the work those individuals do for their organisations. The stencil motif brings out the concept of transparency and the way in which social enterprise can connect business to communities.
“The stencils frame each person in a really innovative way,” comments Biscard. “It’s a transformative identity, and it brings out the overall message of Social Enterprise UK, which is about bringing value to society as a whole, rather than just shareholders. The portraits add conviction to the inclusive message of the organisation, since each photograph showcases a success story from social enterprise, whether the subject is from a small community-based business, or a global organisation. The identity was inspired by society – just as Social Enterprise UK is.”
Richardson praises the work of Spencer du Bois’ design team in crafting the new identity: “It’s such an arresting visual. The creative team was excellent – very strong individually, but also good at involving us with the development. The brief hinged on our new brand mission, which was to engage our members through an identity that was strong, that would stand out, and that would convey the message that we stand behind those involved in social enterprise – and that’s what was delivered.”
In keeping with the new strategy of locating Social Enterprise UK as a platform for the sector, its rebrand involved focusing on the language used by the organisation in its communications. “We encouraged Social Enterprise UK to create a campaigning style in its language,” says Biscard, “and to really concentrate on how to portray the spirit of social enterprise. The positioning was as a voice for, not of, social enterprises – but it needed to retain the awareness that the organisation is a huge campaigning body that keeps social enterprise on the national agenda, as well as a provider of support and services.”
A reskinned website is currently in place while Social Enterprise UK and Spencer du Bois work on the roll-out of a completely new platform, but the implementation of the new strategy and brand began with the release of ‘Fightback Britain’. This report, designed by Spencer du Bois, produced by Social Enterprise UK, and sponsored by The Co-operative Bank, presented the findings of the State of Social Enterprise survey 2011. As well as helping to bring down the cost of the rebrand by tying it in with a report for which Social Enterprise UK had already secured funding, the survey also backs up the central ideas behind the new brand.
‘Fightback Britain’ found that there has been an explosion of start-ups in social enterprise – 14% of all social enterprises are less than two years old, which is three times the proportion of start-ups in mainstream SMEs. The median annual turnover of social enterprises is approaching a quarter of a million pounds, and they employ more people relative to that turnover than SMEs do.
Most pertinently, perhaps, the report found that 39% of social enterprises are active in the 20% most deprived communities in the UK, as opposed to 13% of regular businesses, and that a third of the start-ups are also in those communities. Some 82% of social enterprises are reinvesting their profits in the communities where they are earned. As communities across Britain struggle socially and economically, Social Enterprise UK recognises the businesses it supports and represents can step into the breach.
“Some of the problems in the state at the moment can’t be solved by government policy alone,” is Richardson’s take. “We think this is why we’ve seen a growing interest in social enterprise over the last 15 years. Governments have experimented with social enterprise – particularly in health services, and it seems likely that this government will extend this with its plans for the NHS. But crucially, consumers are becoming aware of the implications of their purchasing choices: they’re now presented with the option to buy, or to buy and do good. Most funding for social enterprise now comes out of direct trade with consumers. Business is such a powerful force for social change – the Social Enterprise UK rebrand is about helping us to present that.”
Piers Guilar, group director, strategy, Siegel + Gale
The rebrand is a positive step forward, but the organisation’s key challenge remains: getting people to understand the meaning of social enterprise. Losing ‘Coalition’ is a good start, and ‘Society Profits’ is rather ingenious. I love the simplicity of the stencil. It brilliantly executes the idea of a transparent organisation and movement. Moreover, the big, bold, capital type shows confidence, with imagery reflecting real life.
We need to see more of where this can go. Imagine a huge poster laid over the windows of an office with people working through the letters. Social Enterprise UK has the opportunity to show a better world, and the rebrand has legs. I only hope it can make an impact on society.
Andy Payne, global chief creative officer, Interbrand
The new identity for Social Enterprise UK is a richer, more emotional idea. In breaking free of a literal representation (the previous sound waves and “the voice of social enterprise” tagline) it has morphed into a flexible identity, reflecting the purpose and drive of the organization. It succeeds in conveying a more personal, benefit-centric point of view.
However, the challenge now will be how the new name and identity will go beyond the current campaign feel, and turn it into a compelling, holistic brand experience. It needs unique and ownable elements that will build awareness and recognition in the mind of its diverse audience. Also, as the organization works to strengthen its presence across the UK, it will be vital that the brand works across multiple touch-points.