First of all, let’s define what it is we are talking about here. This is about the marketing of ethically and sustainably produced and marketed products. During the last couple of years, we have seen a lot of new companies and entrepreneurs coming up with new products and brands that could be labelled “direct fair trade” or “direct trade”. Lots of these companies have implemented ‘good’ business models, where ‘good’ means well-done, well-intentioned, and based on sustainability principles.
What we can’t see are all of those that failed and those that didn’t make it to market. Failure in this context also means that the well-intentioned help doesn’t reach the people that it’s meant to help. You can have the best new superfood, an amazing underutilised species, or the most spectacular ancient and neglected crop, but, if you can’t get it going, then it’s all for nothing. So, here are 5 principles to make your project a success:
1. Get a cause
Define: WHAT are you doing and WHY? Define the purpose of your project, your venture, or whatever it is. Go for a cause that matters. Not only to you, but to the greater public, to all of us. Being motivated by only your own financial profit is possible, but it won’t be sustainable and it won’t take you where you really want to go. Ask yourself the question: “what would the world be like if I wasn’t undertaking this project?” The answer to this question is the basis and the fundamental foundation for your venture, and you’ll need to know this later in the process.
2. Get a product that matters
Clearly define what you want to do, and for whom. Understand your target group and their needs. Create a product that solves their problem or satisfies one of their needs or wishes. Don’t fall in love with your idea or project of trying to help some smallholders in Africa or Latin America: you won’t be able to help them if you don’t provide something that matters to the people who are supposed to pay money for it. A great way to do this is by using the effectuation approach: look at who you are, who you know, and what you know, and let this guide you. Make sure you don’t get stuck half way through: analyse, test and revise until you get a product that actually matters.
3. Get a business model that works
If you’re creating something that already exists, do it better, or don’t do it at all. Change the way the product is made, add relevant features, or change the way it is delivered or consumed. If you’re going for something innovative, make sure you apply principle no. 2: make it relevant. Create something that disrupts existing structures or schemes. Don’t do everything yourself. Get people to do stuff for you. Build a business model based on components. There is almost always somebody who is better at doing something than you are. Hire them, co-operate with them, or just consult them. Apply principle no. 1: look at your cause and ask yourself, “why am I doing this right now?” If you feel you might be replaceable, you probably are.
4. Get a brand that engages
Don’t be shy. No matter how small your venture might be, how niche your target group is, or how specific the cause you’re doing it for is, a brand protects your business. Supply chains, production facilities, technology, advertisements: you name it, anything can be copied. However, a real brand can’t be copied, because it’s an intangible asset in peoples’ minds. Don’t risk being copied. Once you’re out there, it can happen overnight. There is always somebody who has got more money to invest, more staff to put on a project, or bigger balls to shout louder. Don’t risk your good cause by not creating a distinguishable brand. Get a brand that is remarkable. A brand that is worth talking about. This will help you with applying principle no. 5.
5. Get an audience that listens
Don’t waste money on big adverts if you’re not sure who you’re talking to. Use social media and create word-of-mouth. Apply principles no. 2 and 4. Find out who actually cares about your stuff, and especially those who really care. Find those enthusiasts and talk to them first. Others will follow.
During the past couple of months, I’ve seen many highly committed people struggling to get their projects going. This appears to be a particular problem for small companies from the fair trade and direct fair trade business or everything centered around sustainability topics in niche segments. Most of them have applied principle no. 1 (naturally, because achieving their aims is what makes them tick), but they haven’t got to principles 2-5. As a result, all of these really well-intentioned projects never reach a larger scale. I think there are a lot of well-intentioned projects out there that should have a bigger positive impact by following the idea of, “people, planet, profit”; hopefully these 5 principles will help!