O Nox nasce a partir do Experiential Professional Development Program
programa de desenvolvimento do East-West Center
O projeto Nox foi construído com o apoio da instituição norte-americana East-West Center, a partir de um programa que tem como objetivo potencializar projetos de impacto regional atrelados às ODS da Agenda 2030 da ONU, de países das Américas e Ásia.
Nessa iniciativa, nós buscamos ajudar a atingir, principalmente, os seguintes ODS:
IF we offer a series of online meetings for mentoring on digital communication and marketing between professionals and socio-environmental client organizations/projects, providing technical knowledge in these areas to be applied in their particular contexts, THEN we will be able to jointly develop some plans and strategies aimed at creating and monetizing their online content, THEN these organizations and projects will be able to work on promoting their brand and their online activities and obtain new forms of revenue, THEN they will have a communication plan that is sustainable for a long time and they will be able to benefit a greater portion of society, beyond geographic boundaries.
Digital communication and marketing as powerful tools for social enterprises and entrepreneurs: the case of Nox
- What are the causes of the issues you’re addressing (globally, regionally, locally)?
We are self-employed professionals from different areas of communication and creative industry who actively work in the digital market and we know, through our daily practice, academic research and market research, that small organizations and initiatives that do not have a communication strategy and digital marketing are less likely to survive. Although investment in this area is necessary, it is still considered a secondary expense and is often not included in the strategic planning of the business, especially for initiatives that have a smaller budget to start. This is the case of many micro-entrepreneurs and small organizations that work with socio-environmental projects, that is, social enterprises, which usually already have a limited financial structure, dependent on public policies, collective financing and other activities.
Furthermore, during the covid-19 pandemic, the pressure for digitalization of work activities increased dramatically, as the vast majority of face-to-face activities had to stop or reduce their functioning. This is part of the digital transformation process already envisioned regardless of the pandemic context. However, some countries were already much better prepared for this, so they didn’t have the same negative impact as Brazil.
In this whirlwind of demands for digital innovation, countless contents appear on the internet that promise easy solutions for people who want to build their own digital communication and marketing plan, with tools and strategies supposedly replicable for any context. These miraculous contents are nothing more than professionals taking advantage of the market opportunity and trying to sell their products on the internet. They are usually more accessible products, however, they are not designed to consider the particularity of each customer, their context, their niche, their activities and their level of knowledge and ability to apply the strategies in the long term. Thus, small social enterprises and entrepreneurs that recognize the need to act digitally end up investing money in something that will not bring the necessary result and may even harm their brand or frustrate their attempt.
We understand that there is an urgent need to use communication and digital marketing as potential aspects of social enterprise activities, creating collaborative structures in the private sector that can strengthen all agents involved in the pursuit of sustainable development goals.
Although this is also part of the reality of many other countries, our gaze is focused on the situation and data in Brazil.
- What are the current facts on the issues based on published studies and reports?
General data on small businesses in Brazil:
In Brazil, we have an autonomous social institution whose aim is to foster the development of micro and small enterprises, stimulating entrepreneurship in the country. It’s name is SEBRAE and it is a highly respected institution nationally. It is from Sebrae’s surveys that we consult most of the data regarding the situation of small businesses in our country.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, SEBRAE has been conducting periodic surveys with entrepreneurs to learn about and monitor the impacts of this event in small businesses. By the end of this case study, Sebrae had carried out 9 editions of this specific survey. The last one was published in January 2021. Some of its data was considered relevant for the developing of our project, such as:
- At the end of March 2020, when the first measures of social distancing started, most companies temporarily stopped operations. Now, 86% of them are operating through changes in the operating mode. One of the changes observed is the introduction of new products and services.
- Another change in the way companies operate was the greater use of the internet as a tool for making sales. In May 2020, on the 4th edition of the survey, 59% of companies said that they sold using digital media (social networks, apps, message app). This proportion came gradually increasing over time and reached the 70% mark.
- We also had seen an increase in the proportion of indebted companies in May 2020, during the period of the 4th survey. This result has been decreasing over the last few months and parked at around 31%. As expected, the bank loans were identified as being the main type of debt of companies at this time. This means that small businesses were only able to sustain themselves through bank loans, which could be a huge problem for the future.” (SEBRAE, Observatório MPE, 12 january 2021)”
Data on small digital transformation in Brazil:
According to an interview given by Brazilian economist Gabriel Pinto to Jovem Pan’s Jornal da Manhã on April 30, 2020, all the items that involve the process of digitizing the activities of workers and companies in general is particularly difficult in Brazil, as we did not prepare our economy for this sudden demand. Countries such as South Korea did not have so many difficulties in adapting to the digital needs of the pandemic because they only had 22% of their workforce exposed to the need for transformation in this period. Everything else was already suited to the digital scene. While in Brazil, more than 60% of our workforce still had to go through this process. And this is just considering the workforce, but these data show how we were not prepared for any of this.
- What are the future trends (not only negative trends) on the issues based on published studies and reports?
As pointed out by several economists, digital transformation means moving activities to the digital environment, changing the configuration and functioning of companies and institutions in general, as well as our daily lives. The impact is generated by technologies and the internet, but the digitization process is not about them. It is about our need for social reorganization and how we will create new structures together. One of the items that is also part of the digital transformation is digital communication, but it is not its main point. It’s the heart of our initiative, though. Our proposal is about the creation of a collaborative structure to help social enterprises in the digitalization of their communication. So, what will be our social role and how will we execute it?
Stil according to Gabriel Pinto, the digitization of our social action models is a painful process with many challenges. However, this is not negative for the future, quite the contrary. There are excellent provisions regarding the quality of working hours and valuing human activity for the professions of the future, while more dangerous and painful functions begin to be reduced. Furthermore, by generating data on all our activities, we have the opportunity to offer better services and products, both for people and for the planet.
The most difficult period is the one we are going through now, while we still need to work on retraining professionals who are having their professions extinct, reconfiguring their form of collaboration with society in other ways. This challenge is related both to the activities of individuals and institutions in general. In this way, even the curriculum of professions will change more and more, adding subjects about new technologies, internet, communication through social media and digital marketing. It is extremely necessary that people and entities have basic knowledge of how these processes work, to understand what role they play in the digitized world, and especially what they need to do to create new functional work structures. Economist Gabriel Pinto also states that among the forecasts for the future of the labor market is the valuation of more human and social activities, aimed at caring for the other and especially education. Our tendency is to work together with the machines, delivering what only humans can offer.
- What graphs and charts illustrate these issues (with citations)?
Source: Sebrae Research – The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on small businesses – 9th edition. Collection: November 20th to 24th, 2020. This research compares number from previous editions as well.
More content about these data can be found in the report in Portuguese at this link.
We brought these two graphs to show that there was a transformation in the way small businesses are selling their services or products during the pandemic, transferring their activities to the internet, while there is less investment expectation at the moment. Of the few activities considered as potential investments, we find mainly the dissemination of their business, insertion of new products and services and even investment in training, which is consistent with the needs we’ve identified to work on our project.
- What short videos illustrate the issues (you may include your own videos)?
Some to understand the subject:
- Social Enterprise 101 (the base of our project and also the base for organizations we choose to work with)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_g5RqwW51I (in English)
- What is digital transformation? (beyond digital communication and marketing)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aXU6HeIMVQ (in English)
- What is the difference between digitization, digitalization and digital transformation?
- What is digital marketing? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDpwDwcXGoU
Specific videos to understand how to work these concepts in initiatives like ours:
- Similar idea of social enterprise focused on helping other businesses through digital communication (In this case, the focus was to help others using social media): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHs-6CG4aBY
- Our own initiative: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Uk8S7-Ci6AHF1OHvQf5LvvKKS9j4tZ-B/view?usp=sharing
Part 2) Mutually Reinforcing Innovations
- What is being done to address the issues that could be strengthened?
In Brazil, we have a public initiative that has the objective to train and professionally update the population, aimed at the economic development of organizations and the country in general. It is the “Sistema S”, a set of nine institutions of interest to professional categories, established by the Brazilian Constitution. SEBRAE (Brazilian Support Service for Micro and Small Businesses, already mentioned in this case study) is one of these nine institutions, along with others such as: National Service for Rural Learning (SENAR), National Service for Commercial Learning (SENAC) Social Service for Commerce (SESC) and more. All of them already present educational activities that include the new demands generated by the digital transformation and highlight the importance of working on the theme for general economic development. In this way, this works as a motivation for creating forms of professional collaboration that can deal with this issue, as well as the one we are proposing.
- What innovations are needed based on what is working?
We need to expand the number of initiatives that propose new formats for collaboration between people and institutions in relation to the themes of digital transformation for sustainable development. Mainly in the field of communication and digital marketing, which still have very limited educational activities and focus on greater amounts of profit and replication of strategies, without considering the social context of institutions and their values. Furthermore, we need to use the positive aspects of communication and digital marketing to empower social enterprises.
- Which Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) could the innovations advance?
New collaborations from private initiatives like ours impact: new ways of working; process industrialization; business innovation; collaboration between the most varied agents; improvements in the regime and value of self-employment; new products that contribute to conscious consumption; among other aspects. In this way, we seek to contribute directly to SDFs 8, 9 and 17, but we believe that our initiative goes far beyond them.
- What changes are required to ensure new innovations are equitable and just?
Our biggest challenge in this regard will be to ensure good dissemination of the project and a fair selection of participants organizations, after all, as we have a small team, the project starts small and manages to serve a limited number of organizations. The ideal scenario for us is that we are able to impact other professionals who are interested in developing similar projects so that we can all strengthen ourselves and to expand the impact of our efforts.
- What are the possible intended and unintended outcomes?
As this project depends on the engagement of the participants and has the objective of collectively building a work process, there are many risks in its execution. The main unintended outcomes that may occur, which we are able to estimate at the beginning of the process and which can define whether the project is effective or not, are: if the participating entities are not able to put into practice any of the activities built together (either by our inadequate selection of tools for their context, due to the level of their knowledge in digital communication remaining unsatisfactory or due to lack of engagement of their representatives); and if the digital marketing and communication strategies built together do not represent any positive return in revenue or in numbers of reach and engagement of their brands online. These results would show us that our goal of creating a service model in digital communication and marketing based on consulting, mentoring and direct collective construction with the client, empowering these entities with the necessary knowledge for digital transformation and still respecting their particularities and limitations, didn’t work or still needs to be worked on.
Related to intended outcomes, we hope: to promote greater awareness of the organizations about their mistakes and successes on digital communication and marketing, so they can continue to improve their internal processes in these areas, without the need for external assistance; to jointly develop digital marketing strategies to be executed by the organizations by a long period of time; generating revenue for the organizations; generating greater reach and recognition of the organizations’ work online; generating new online content available for everyone with themes aligned with sustainable development made by reliable organizations; encouraging more scientific discussion on digital communication knowledge as a social empowerment tool for organizations to face the challenges of digital transformation. These results would show us that the project was successful and that it should be continued to assist other organizations.
- How will you generate local community support?
The idea is for our work structure to focus on including online content monetization strategies within the digital marketing and communication plan developed together during the mentoring process with organizations. The easiest example to understand this monetization is thinking about selling digital products such as an e-book. This is the central point of our work. Using content monetization strategies, we will be able to generate revenue from the communication work itself (instead of costs), while working on the dissemination of the organizations’ work and producing valuable content for society that can help and engage them. Through the joint production and sale of the products between the professionals of the Nox Project and the participating organizations, the revenue is shared between the parties, making it possible to carry out all our service provision to these entities at a low initial investment.
Thus, the support we seek from the community is engagement with organizations on the internet in general, consumption of their content and filling out surveys for feedback so that we can deliver what they need. Our entire process is designed thinking about the users who will be interacting with us, from partner professionals to participating organizations and especially the end consumer community.
Part 3) Implementation Strategy and Results
- What is your chosen innovation strategy and how will you evaluate success?
After recognizing the need we have to expedite the adaptation of companies to the context of digital transformation, and in the case of our project, mainly in the field of communication and marketing, we now need to find ways of collaboration that are beneficial to everyone, aiming not only economic development, but sustainable development. Proposing a model for building digital communication planning through mentoring with organizations, focusing on collectively creating and monetizing content, we will be helping liberal professionals to work motivated by social purposes (since the method can be replicated) and we will be benefiting both social enterprises and their beneficiaries. In addition, we think of strategies that can last and work as a virtuous circle of resources and learning. The project proposal is organic and will be in constant transformation, through a model that will undergo results tests and review the process to apply improvements. We will be using Michel Thiollent’s theory of action research, and in this way we will keep changing the project from practice.
- Why have you concluded this innovation strategy should be used?
We seek to follow a path of creating new business models, because we believe that these are initiatives that have a greater tendency to last, regardless of public support. Our proposal seeks to create a social enterprise model that helps other social enterprises, bringing the responsibility to pursue sustainable development and the 2030 Agenda to the private sector as well. In addition, we believe that it is extremely necessary to work on the humanization of communication and digital marketing activities, which today are used almost exclusively for the purpose of capital accumulation, and which may indeed be of great importance for generating a positive social impact.
- What is your Theory of Change and Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning strategy?
IF we offer a series of online meetings for mentoring on digital communication and marketing between professionals and socio-environmental client rganizations/projects, providing technical knowledge in these areas to be applied in their particular contexts, THEN we will be able to jointly develop some plans and strategies aimed at creating and monetizing their online content, THEN these organizations and projects will be able to work on promoting their brand and their online activities and obtain new forms of revenue, THEN they will have a communication plan that is sustainable for a long time and they will be able to benefit a greater portion of society, beyond geographic boundaries.
- What were the goals and results of your implementation or trial?
For our trial, we had the main objective of starting a mentoring process specifically in digital marketing for the first participating organization, in order to test the format of online meetings, study and select the necessary tools and identify the potential and limitations of our collective remote work.
As a result, we were able to plan and execute several marketing activities with and for the organization Recicle Reutilize Plante (Recycle Reuse Plant) during the mentoring period and even create and launch our first digital product in partnership with them that has been sold for about a month now.
The most important of the results for us, however, was the possibility to gather important insights to continue building the ideal business model. From working with the first organization, we were able to eliminate tools that were not efficient for the process and choose different ones, understand what other information we needed to have collected in the diagnosis phase before starting the mentoring and obtain an initial feedback on the consumer public of contents on sustainability (necessary for the continuity of the work with this and other organizations).
- What did you learn about the issue, community, and your strategy through implementation or trial?
We learned that there is still a lot of data that we need to take into account before starting the mentoring process with organizations. We identified new opportunities as well as difficulties that we had not considered before. In addition to that, we learned a lot about the target audience of the organization we worked with (its beneficiaries). And this type of learning is crucial for the maintenance of our initiative. In fact, for us, it is part of the very design of the initiative to predict that it will change all the time. We use Michel Thiollent’s theory of action research, and in this way we keep changing the project from practice.
- What questions are left unanswered?
What datasets are essential for us to start working with each new organization? What are the limits that our collaboration will not be able to access in any way? How can we more easily find the ideal types of digital products for each organization’s audience, before we have a practical result of our actions?