Reminder: Selling Your Social Enterprise’s Products Is Not the Same as Selling Your Story

Have you ever wondered what makes some social movements stick more with people than others?

If you look at the Civil Rights Movement, the Feminist Movement, the Black Power Movement, the Free Speech Movement, the Ethnic Studies Movement, the Anti-War Movement, the Climate Change Movement, the Hip Hop Movement or any other movement that has started since then, they all shared the same goal of making America a better place for all people.

But the ones that have been the most successful in changing our hearts and minds shared a similar trait: they changed the way we see our future…even when things didn’t completely change for the better.

So if you’re concerned about your social enterprise’s website traffic or disappointed with your latest digital campaign’s results, perhaps it’s best to consider not just the products you sell or the messages you say but, more importantly, the vision you paint for people.

Help people believe in an alternative vision

This tactic of changing the way people see their future is a tool called foreshadowing, and it’s one of the best tools a social enterprise can use.

The Center for Story-based Strategy sums up foreshadowing this way:

“When we forecast the future we desire through our messaging and our images, we bring people with us towards being able to imagine and embrace a visionary solution.”

When you invite people to tap into their imaginations and believe in an alternate vision, you have more of a chance of people supporting your cause and, more importantly, taking action.

Too often, however, I see organizations get people riled up about what’s wrong with society. They tell people that the system isn’t fair, institutions are racist, politicians are crooked and the places where we live are doomed.

Speaking out against the status quo is one thing. It’s another to help people believe in an alternative vision.

That’s because the doom-and-gloom, no-other-alternative thinking plays right into the hands of those in power, who like to keep people believing that change can’t happen.

With foreshadowing, however, you can challenge the myth that there is no alternative by making alternatives real and visible.

Planting seeds of hope in people’s minds

One of the best examples of foreshadowing I’ve seen recently has come from the Urban Farm Movement. It’s the basic concept that in most urban cities across America, there are vacant lots and food deserts that could be transformed if people were able to start their own farms on those vacant lots and feed the communities who really need healthier food options.

Just watch how Ron Finley, known in some circles as the Gangsta Gardener because he started his own urban farming project in South Central Los Angeles, changed the story of urban America’s future with his TED talk.

Ron Finley, the “gangsta gardener”

In that talk, he said Los Angeles leads the nation in the number of vacant lots owned by the city. He went to describe that those vacant lots equal 26 square miles or the equivalent of 20 Central Parks. He also showed an image of Central Park just so the audience could get an idea of how much space is being wasted. With that space, Finley said, someone could plant more than 700 million tomatoes.

That’s a lot of food, and that’s a whole lot of lives that could be changed.

Why does foreshadowing work so well? It’s pretty simple, actually.

If you complain about a problem without giving people something to hope for, then they’ll either get fed up after a while or they’ll get jaded and eventually lose interest in the cause.

When there are real issues affecting people’s everyday lives, you can’t just be all negative. That’s the easy thing to do, but it is the wrong way to get people to take action.

You have to give them something positive — an alternative vision. Just like Ron Finley did in South Central L.A., foreshadowing plants a seed in people’s minds and eventually helps change a bad situation into something good for everyone.

Now that we’ve established how powerful foreshadowing can be for your social enterprise’s content marketing strategy, let’s look at how it can actually be used to attract the audience you want as customers.

How you should really be ‘selling’ your social enterprise

We all know that using SEO is a fantastic way to bring people to your website. And by writing great content, building lots of links and designing your website in a spider-friendly way, you can get a lot more traffic from visitors who are looking for the information or the service you provide. On its own, though, SEO can only do so much, and it is only one form of promotion.

When marketing anything, you need to have something to sell, and you need to make sure that your offering stands out among the crowd and piques interest. This is the way you need to be thinking when you’re trying to promote your website, and it’s what can really make the difference between a website people can find, and one that people can get excited about.

So what does every social enterprise have that a Fortune 500 corporation will always struggle with? A theory of change.

In short, you need to start viewing your theory of change as a product and that means that you should be doing everything you can to “sell” it in the same way a business tries to sell any item or service. This simple cognitive shift will make a huge difference in the way you approach your content and ultimately to the success of your brand as a whole.

When student activists organized a massive gun control march in Washington D.C. following the Parkland, FL, school shooting, they didn’t just set out to flood the Internet and news channels with messages about gun reform. They needed a symbol to make their theory of change real in the eyes of average Americans who may have been apathetic to the issue.

With the help of McCann, March For Our Lives launched “Price On Our Lives,” a creative campaign that used a wearable orange $1.05 price tag to symbolize the price politicians put on student lives by accepting money from the NRA gun lobby and show how politicians value money more than student lives.

Not only did that tactic generate more than 800 press mentions and 2.2 billion media impressions. The March For Our Lives rally cast an ominous cloud over the U.S. gun lobby, the NRA and NRA-backed politicians.

They even took it a step further by using the orange price tags to issue a warning to politicians and lobbyists who chose to continue blocking meaningful gun control legislation: do something now to pass stricter gun control legislation or be prepared to lose your job.

To give people hope, they used the same website where students downloaded the orange price tags for the march to raise money so that people could “buy back” politicians, state by state.

That’s one of the most creative uses of foreshadowing I’ve ever seen.

What does this all mean for your content marketing strategy? By showing people an alternative vision of what their lives would be like with your social enterprise’s impact, you could literally help people see the cost of doing nothing. Simultaneously, you would be giving people hope in a dark situation.

This is how modern-day social movements will be won.



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Martin Ricard

I write about social entrepreneurship and social justice. Learn how I’ve helped other mission-driven leaders succeed: