Marketing and Branding for Social Enterprise: Where to Begin with Callie Himsl - Ep 20

This episode of the Social Enterprise Alliance Podcast aired on Tuesday, May 9th, 2023. This episode can be found on Apple Podcast and Spotify.

0:00:00.0 Callie Himsl: There's a generation out there where people want authenticity, right? Like that's what's attractive to them. Like we can all go to Coca-Cola, get a Coke and move on with our day and never think about it but if we can buy a water that's giving back to build wells in Africa or whatever, it looks like we'll spend the 25 cents more to do it. But alongside of that is also kind of this juxtapose that if your product that you're making gets to the store that it's selling at in America and the tag falls off during shipping, will your product still sell as is? Is your product high quality enough? And I think sometimes at least back in the day, like social entrepreneurship, social business is still kind of a new thing. But we kind of had these pity purchases back in the day because we were all just so desperate to get going and now we're learning how to do that more ethically. So one, how do you tell the story? How do you tell it? Well, but two, also, is your product good enough to be able to sell without the story?


0:01:19.3 David Gaines: Well, hello everyone, welcome to the Social Enterprise Alliance Podcast. My name is David Gaines and I'm here with Lauren and Callie. And it's perfect timing because we have a marketing and branding training series that Callie is leading us in a couple of weeks. So Callie, just real quick, is an experienced professional and entrepreneur with a strong history of international relations and social business. She specializes in community development and economic empowerment, utilizing our 15 years of branding and marketing experience and over a decade of international work. She is passionate about using her firsthand experience to educate those in the field so that they can be equipped with knowledge and skills to grow their business and ultimately grow their impact. So Callie, again, just with the timing and everything, we're really excited to have you here today as well as the upcoming training series in a couple weeks. So welcome.

0:02:15.6 Callie Himsl: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me.

0:02:17.8 David Gaines: So let's begin and dive in. So I just shared your bio with everybody, but let's go more into the detail of your story. How did you get involved with the social impact space, especially around marketing and branding work?

0:02:31.5 Callie Himsl: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks again for having me. I actually interviewed David on my podcast, The Point a few months ago, so it's fun to kinda have the tables turned a little bit. So I actually grew up in Minnesota, and the reason I start with that is because I think sometimes as listeners, or at least for myself, if I'm watching a documentary or listening to a podcast, I have this idea of who somebody is at the present moment and almost make assumptions about their past. And so I grew up in a really small town in Minnesota where everybody knew everybody and you literally had to ask people's last names before you started dating to make sure you weren't related. [laughter] And it was a predominantly white, German like goulash, meat and potatoes, farmlands, and now I love it. At the time though, I was like just craving culture and wanting to see what else was out there in the world. And so I moved to California when I was 21.

0:03:35.3 Callie Himsl: I got a degree in graphic design, started working in corporate America and was just going crazy inside my cubicle. Every day I was like, I know I'm made for more. I know that there's a whole world out there and I wanna do something about it. And so in 2010, I took a trip to Africa, spent a few weeks there doing mission work, a lot of things like... Knowing the things I know now, I probably wouldn't agree with, but that's how I started on this path. And I think even at the time we didn't necessarily know that those things existed yet. Some of the things that we'll talk about today, economic empowerment, et cetera. So I went to Africa, I came back and about a few months after that, my brother actually passed away in this really freak accident at work, and he was my only sibling. So through that, it was really the catalyst for change in my life where I began to say like, okay, if I'm gonna do something, I wanna do it now.

0:04:33.7 Callie Himsl: I don't want to waste this life that I've been given. And so I began interviewing with different organizations and an organization said, hey, we're going to Haiti next month. And again, knowing my background as I just described it, I was like, great, that's in Africa, I'll be there. And so I was just very naive to the rest of the world. And Haiti is not in Africa, by the way, it is in the Caribbean. It's only about an hour and a half from Florida where I am now. So I went there. The big earthquake that everybody knows about was in 2010 as well. I went there in 2011 and then ended up moving there full-time in 2012. And then spent about a decade living and working in Haiti. And really got turned on to social business after really just about six months in Haiti, I started learning the language, I started learning the culture, and beginning to say like, maybe the way we've been doing things is really not the best way, there's gotta be a better way, and began to explore that new path.

0:05:36.5 Lauren Dekleva: That's so awesome. And then what was kind of your journey in the social impact space? Like were you doing social enterprise work in Haiti, and then how did that transfer to the marketing and branding work that you do now?

0:05:49.3 Callie Himsl: Absolutely. So for my first six months, I was doing church, a church partnership. And then as I mentioned, like just got turned onto this idea, there was a woman, Shelley Jean, she was in Port-au-Prince and she was one of the only people at the time really pursuing this idea of social entrepreneurship. So like many people, she had moved there to do an adoption and began to say like, wait a second, these kids who are living in orphanages are not orphans, they have parents, what's going on? And began to bridge that gap to say like, if these parents can have jobs, they can keep their kids and if they can keep their kids, we're now breaking generations of generational poverty and reactive attachment disorder and gang violence. And just simply having a job, what that can do. And so I began working with her as a designer and went back to school for community advocacy and social policy through the school of social work. As I began just because I was living there, day in, day out, no water, no electricity most days, and it's hard. It's hard when you're living and working in a very vulnerable environment.

0:07:03.6 Callie Himsl: And so for me, in my healing process as well, through some of the things I experienced, I was like, I wanna gain theory, I wanna gain knowledge of why this is happening. But this was one of the most incredible experiences. After the earthquake, Haiti was getting a lot of money put into it. And I'm sure that there's many articles if you know anything about Haiti, about what went wrong during that time. But the organization we were with, we were able to get connected to some really heavy hitters including Vogue, the Clayton Foundation, we worked with Donna Karan of DKNY. And my own freelance, I worked with Sony and TOMS Shoes. And so really understanding that there's this world out there of corporations. And David talks about this in his book too, that you can be a business, but you can use that business for good. And so I just really fell in love with that idea and again, that combination of having the degree in graphic design and then having this degree in social work and being able to combine the two to make more impact in the world.

0:08:14.3 David Gaines: I just love the story so much where the tools of business can accelerate these social needs that have typically been in that nonprofit space, but the day-to-day work and applying that to the needs of people, accelerate everything and can solve so many different problems. So I just love hearing kind of that evolution and your experiences of living in that journey and then just seeing how business could make such a deep impact. So let's kind of shift gears for a minute. I think it's really important to understand your perspectives of how you arrive to where you are, but with that said, your expertise really is in this branding and marketing space. So this question I think applies to pretty much everybody, but specifically we really wanna help social enterprises deepen their impact and increase their profitability. So for social enterprises specifically, what are some of the biggest mistakes that you maybe see in their branding and marketing strategies?

0:09:16.9 Callie Himsl: Yeah, thank you for that question. Hopefully I don't offend too many people. I think that as a fellow social entrepreneur, take this from my heart to your heart, but I know we wear a lot of hats, right? Especially if you're just starting out, you're the fundraiser and you're the marketing person and you're the hiring person and the firing person, and you're doing all of the things, right? But at some point, those things need to be delegated. And I think marketing, because it is so subjective from everything, from what color do we make our logo to what should the logo be? What should the tagline be? Well, how should we run our website? All of those things are marketing and branding, and they can all be subjective. And so I think a mistake that a lot of people make is not delegating and not bringing in somebody from the outside to help with that. Some of that is rooted in founder's syndrome, I think. We create these nonprofits and these social businesses, and they're our baby. They're what we live off of, what we think about, we eat, breathe, sleep with.

0:10:34.2 Callie Himsl: But at some point, especially with marketing and branding, we need to recognize that we're not trying to sell to ourselves, right? So say there's a woman who's in Cambodia and she's making these incredible bracelets from girls who are rescued from sex trafficking. Well, she's probably being a social worker, she's working with the police to get these girls out of trafficking and she's doing so many things. And the last thing, it's 10 o'clock at night and she's taking a picture of the bracelet and putting it on Facebook or whatever, just trying to get a sale. And that can work and it can work for a while, but how we market and how we brand these businesses also needs to be a reflection of the integrity that we want to bring to these people groups. And I think sometimes if we're not taking enough time and taking ourselves out of it, that we can really end up doing a lot of harm and that those girls in Cambodia, people might still think about them in a negative way simply because there's not high quality stories and ethical storytelling and ethical picture taking and all these things that are surrounding it.

0:11:53.4 Lauren Dekleva: Yeah. That makes so much sense. Well, and I'm just wondering, I think this will be kind of a question that a lot of people will know the answer to already, but just to kind of establish a baseline for all of our listeners and all of our members, why is branding and marketing so important for a social enterprise?

0:12:15.8 Callie Himsl: Yeah. I always kind of start these when we do trainings, we start with this idea of establishing what branding even is. And after two decades in this field, I've come to like the term of branding is how you make others feel. And so leading people through an exercise to say like, I'm gonna say some words, think about what that means to you. Target. Women are like, yes, let's get our Starbucks, let's go shopping and spend way too much money, even though we just went for toilet paper. And then you say Walmart, which sells the exact same things and your chest gets tight and you feel stressed and you're like, oh, the parking and the chaos and the shelves are messy, and like, ugh. But they sell the same things, right? And Walmart's even cheaper than Target. So why do we choose Target over that? And so really, branding and marketing is the story you're telling to the world, right? And especially because everything's online now and you're competing with multi-million dollar businesses, how are you telling your story and how are you telling it well, and how are you telling it ethically? And that has a direct reflection again, on the people group that you're there to serve.

0:13:31.4 Lauren Dekleva: Yeah, that's so awesome. It is so true. It's crazy. Whatever kind of product you're selling, whatever kind of industry that you're in, there is so much competition. We live in an era of big businesses and a lot of capitalism and extractive business models. And so how practically do you think that social enterprises can use their branding to stand out from the competition? Social enterprises, we want collaboration. Obviously, there is a little bit of competition there as well, but just standing out from the competition of these huge businesses who have a ton of resources at their disposal.

0:14:13.9 Callie Himsl: Yeah, that's a great question. I'm sure David has some good stuff to say on that too, after all the research he did on his book.

0:14:20.9 David Gaines: I was gonna say, no, I love that question because... And Lauren, you did just ask it, but when I compare myself to the big business and the budgets that they have and the resources they have, marketing and branding quite frankly do feel overwhelming. So that's why I really love this question.

0:14:36.2 Callie Himsl: Yeah. And I think it comes down to, well, two things really is like storytelling. Like how are you telling your story? And there's a generation out there where people want authenticity, that's what's attractive to them. Like, we can all go to Coca-Cola, get a Coke, and move on with our day and never think about it. But if we can buy a water that's giving back to build wells in Africa or whatever, it looks like we'll spend the 25 cents more to do it. But alongside of that is also kind of this juxtapose of that. Somebody told me one time when we were working in Haiti, they said, if your product that you're making gets to the store that it's selling at in America and the tag falls off in the way, during shipping, will your product still sell as is?

0:15:28.0 Callie Himsl: Is your product high quality enough? And I think sometimes at least back in the day, social entrepreneurship, social business is still kind of a new thing. We didn't have the vocabulary for it, but we kind of had these pity purchases back in the day because we were all just so desperate to get going and now we're learning how to do that more ethically. So those are two of the things that might sound a bit contradicting, which is one, how do you tell the story? How do you tell it well? But two, also, is your product good enough to be able to sell without the story?

0:15:57.1 Lauren Dekleva: Yeah, that's a fantastic point. And it's definitely something as we talk to our product-based members, that's something that can be challenging to create a product that is unique enough, that's high quality enough with the resources that you have that can compete with other products that come from a lot more resources perhaps. But it is, like it is so essential and so important to have that.

0:16:25.8 David Gaines: Yeah. Yeah. Well, one question that I have, a huge number of our members are really still in that startup stage of social enterprise, and I think we're attracting more and more people that are, again, stumbling onto this definition, kind of similar to you, realizing that they can use this framework to deepen their impact and really accelerate all of that. If someone is starting a social enterprise, and the first half of the answer of this question is sign up for the course in two weeks. But if you don't sign up for the course or you're not available, where do you begin? What is the most important aspect of branding to kind of start as you're thinking through this aspect of your business?

0:17:07.1 Callie Himsl: Yeah, that's a great question. I think, again, going back to the idea that branding, marketing, art, it's subjective. A big step that a lot of people miss is the analytical side of it, right? So do market research, figure out who's out there, what are they doing, how are they selling, how do you compare? Don't forget the analytical side that will lead you to figuring out how to then turn that into the visual side. For somebody that is already established, that's a great place to be as well because I think people can get discouraged to say like, I don't wanna redo our branding and we have to create new business cards or whatever and do new print materials, website. But what's really great about somebody that might be in this stage as well to do rebranding is you have that data to pull from. So look at your SEO. If you don't have Google Analytics, pay somebody 50 bucks and get it installed if you don't wanna do it yourself.

0:18:09.7 Callie Himsl: Get numbers, get information, get data to back up why you're about to do what you're gonna do. So a lot of times people will come to me and say like, I need a logo. How much do you charge for that? And I back up and I say, okay, I understand you need a logo and we could get there, but there's actually a whole series of steps that we need to do in order to create a strong foundation so that your logo is gonna make sense, that it's gonna help your business and not hurt it, that it's still gonna be around in 15 years. There's a stat that says somebody has to see your logo 27 times before they remember it, and that sounds odd. And I would beg to say that it's probably now that social media exists, I wouldn't even know because we're just so bombarded with images constantly. But again, take yourself out of the picture. Bring in outsiders, bring in people that are able to see a fresh perspective and help you through that journey.

0:19:07.2 Lauren Dekleva: Yeah. That's awesome. And kind of I guess on the flip side of that a little bit, if you are an established social enterprise with maybe more established branding, what are the indicators that you should re-evaluate your organization's branding? How do you know if that's something that... Because I know there's pros and cons to it too because people might have trust with your brand as it is, but maybe it's holding you back in some ways. So I don't know, how do you kind of approach that topic or that conversation?

0:19:41.7 Callie Himsl: Yeah, that's great. I think it goes back to the former question as well. It's like, look at your data. So I say just as you should be continuously analyzing your sales and your numbers and who's visiting your website, et cetera, continue to look at your data. Social media is free, incredible, and now gives you some pretty good insights as well. So figure out like who's visiting your page. If you originally designed your branding to market to 40 to 60 year olds and you're looking at your data and saying, well, actually people who are 18 to 25 are the people who are buying it, those are good indicators to begin to say what we're putting out there might not be what people are receiving. So always staying up to date with what your numbers are telling you.

0:20:36.4 Callie Himsl: Are sales slow? Have they been slow for a while? Have trends greatly changed? Are you about to raise your prices? That's a really great one. A lot of times people as I mentioned, the pity purchase, right? You're just like, I just need to get this out there so people buy it so that I could rescue more girls and get on with... And I get that and I'm here with you. We've been there. But then you realize like, oh I'm selling these bracelets for $7, it's not even covering the shipping costs or whatever. You then are gonna have to raise your... And you start running the numbers and you start again using data to help you and now you need to start selling your bracelet for $32. Of course your audience is gonna be like, what? $7 to $32? But that's a great time and great indicator as well to say like, okay, how do we elevate our branding to match where we are now out as a business?

0:21:28.6 David Gaines: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense that kind of the first thought about branding is probably someone thinking about that logo. So it's gonna be, hey, what is this visual? What does essentially the art side look like? The color, the feel, all of that stuff. So it sounds like effective branding is when you're taking, yes, that's all really important, but matching that emotional feeling with the thinking analytical is really where the magic of good branding comes together. So that's kind of what I'm walking away from that is how important it is to recognize the two halves of branding. And I love what you just said too about what are maybe the events that could trigger either getting more data or is there like a special event coming up, something to the effect of, okay, it is time to raise prices or a new story to tell. Maybe those are good checkpoints of like, does the branding still match with all that? So that's kind of what I heard you say. So I appreciate that insight.

0:22:34.7 Callie Himsl: Yeah, that's what I was trying to say. So thank you for hearing that. Thank you for receiving that.

0:22:39.8 Lauren Dekleva: Well, awesome. We're so excited, Callie, because this has been a really awesome kind of teaser conversation for all that is to come at the end of this month. So for those of you who are listening and maybe haven't seen our emails yet, Callie is hosting an amazing five-day training, May 22nd through May 26th. So at the end of this month and it's gonna be five days, an hour and a half each day, like an hour of teaching, and then another 30 minutes for some Q&A time. And each day, we're gonna cover a different topic in the realm of branding and marketing. So day one, for example, we're gonna talk about how to build a brand and create that strong foundation for your social enterprise. And so we're so excited.

0:23:30.9 Lauren Dekleva: I'm also really excited because this is the first training and course like this that SCA has offered. So something that allows us to take a topic and go really in depth with it. So we're really pumped about that. I'm also really excited because it's actually gonna be like a more intimate class setting. So it's all virtual, it's all on Zoom but we're capping it at just 20 participants and actually we have about half of those slots full. So if this is something that you're interested in, I definitely encourage you to register for it quickly, 'cause I think those last spots are gonna get snapped up quick. But Callie, what would you like to share about the training? What are you excited about?

0:24:15.2 Callie Himsl: Yeah, I'm excited because all of this knowledge has lived inside of me and it's what I think about every time I go to a restaurant and I look at the menu, and I think about how terrible it is and how they could sell more or I'm like, wow, this place is amazing. They have actually put in the work to do it. So personally, I'm excited to just be able to share this and I think professionally, spiritually, I'm so happy to just connect with like-minded individuals. Just know that I've been in your shoes before, it is not easy.

0:24:52.6 Callie Himsl: I know you're doing a million in 10 things and the last thing you wanna do is set aside of your hour each day coming up on Memorial Day weekend to learn. But I promise you it will be worth it and it's gonna save you so much headache in the future. And our goal is always just to give you real practical, tangible information. I'm not a person, if you can't tell already, that's a bunch of fluffy stuff. So if you're from the South, I'm sorry I'm talking so fast, but I wanna get you data, I wanna get you information that you're gonna be able to walk away with that day, that week and be able to turn it into something that can increase your impact. So I'm looking forward to connecting with all of you.

0:25:33.9 David Gaines: Yeah, Callie, I really appreciate your energy in putting that course together. I know it's gonna be fantastic. Your time here today is amazing too, and it all just really aligns with what we're trying to do. Your insights, your experience and then your expertise in this area really align with what you just said about how do we help someone save frustration in the future? How do we help someone tell a better story? Both of those things are about what SCA is about in terms of what resources we're trying to provide to our membership, and that is to deepen their impact and to increase their profitability. So this course really hits on both of those things and I appreciate your energy.

0:26:15.7 Callie Himsl: Absolutely. Thank you so much.

0:26:17.6 Lauren Dekleva: So we have the Eventbrite link in the show notes. So if you're interested in registering, go ahead and click that link. It's a $150 for the entire week, which is honestly a steal for this level of content and for the depth that Callie is gonna bring to it. If you are a member of SCA, you actually get to register for a $100, you get a $50 discount. So go ahead and email us at if you need that discount code for your SCA membership registration. And if you're not a member, go ahead and join. We also have our website linked in the show notes. And so you can join and get that $50 discount as well as access to a ton of other benefits and events that we have going on this year. But before we kind of close out here, Callie, I also wanted to give you the chance to talk about the organization that you are running right now to help social enterprises with this work.

0:27:22.0 Callie Himsl: Yeah, thank you for that intro. As I mentioned, this has been about the last two decades of my life in being able to combine these two things. And so when I resigned from my position in 2018, it became really evident that this was something that was needed. And because of those connections and that network that I was able to make during my time in Haiti, I began to see like, again, the people in Cambodia, the people that are working in Mexico, the people that are working in the inner city in Chicago, like we all were struggling with some of the same things. And this is a conversation even like just know that this training didn't come out of thin air. This is the conversation me and David had months ago when we began to talk about what are the pain points that people who are in this field are experiencing.

0:28:03.7 Callie Himsl: And a lot of it has to do with those first steps of like, great, we're doing something, we're doing something amazing, but how do we get other people involved? How do we tell the world about it? And so we, me and some other women with similar backgrounds, forms an organization, a company called Hark Creative Council. And so we are really there to provide communication and creative services for people like yourself, like your listeners who are in the field, who are doing work for Social Impact. And so you can find us at or follow us on our social, you can follow me personally, Callie Himsl. On my Instagram, I mostly just post photos of my baby. But if you like babies you'll be happy with that. [laughter]

0:28:50.8 David Gaines: That's great. Yeah. Well, again, thank you Callie for your work and passion here and the insights and to Lauren's point, I hope this was a fun teaser, but also walking away with some really practical information that you can use right away. So make sure you sign up and check out Callie's work for any of your future needs around marketing or branding.