Getting your messaging right: Secret Pillow Project

When running and marketing a business, it's essential to get your messaging right. What is at the heart of your business, and what do you want to say? If you're a not-for-profit or social enterprise, getting this right is even more crucial.

One such business is Secret Pillow Project, an initiative supporting women in India to create Secret Pillows - pillows that unfold out into a quilt. The social element is a key part of the business, but it's not the only reason to buy a pillow by a long shot. Communicating this in the correct way is essential to how founder Fritha Vincent markets the business. Here's her take on getting the messaging right.

Secret Pillow Project is aimed at empowering women in India, teaching them how to create Secret Pillows (a pillow that unfolds out into a quilt). We sell these in the UK, with the creator receiving a percentage of the price. They receive a larger percentage for their first sample pillows, to help them with initial costs and encourage them to invest the time needed to reach a professional standard.

I used to work at Save the Children, and there I learned that 80% of children are in poverty because their parents can’t afford to feed them, so I decided to use my 13 years of fundraising experience to find a solution.

My experience has taught me that empowerment of women is one of the fastest ways to raise standards. Having an income gives women the confidence to stand up and make change happen – there’s power in it. So when we work with challenged women, the impact we have ultimately is that they’re no longer challenged – they’re empowered women with resources.

We don’t want to sell on the guilt factor – we’re not a charity and the women on our schemes aren’t beneficiaries. They are women learning a skill and improving their own lives. Yet at the same time, the realities of their lives are part of our message, and it’s key for us to find the balance between talking about their lives and how the initiative is helping them without making it the only focus. When we asked one woman what she spent the money on, she told us medicine - she’d been ill for a long time, treating herself with natural remedies – and pots and pans. In a few years time, she might be spending that money on white goods or a laptop.

We ran a pop-up at Old Street roundabout where we showed how the pillows worked, and we had photos of the women who had made them. We found that people ‘got’ it right away and didn’t actually need us to go into huge detail about the benefits the project has on the lives of the makers. We didn’t have to lecture or persuade people to buy the pillows – they loved them in their own right. We’re not selling on a sob story, and the makers of the pillows wouldn’t want that either.

To make sure we get the messaging right we’re constantly trying to find a balance. We go back to the producers often so we can ask them how they’d like to be represented, and they like being involved in the marketing and sharing their ideas. For example, we asked their thoughts on our new gifting range, where pillows can be delivered as a present. The producers suggested that the pillows bring hopefulness and joy to the recipient, because when an order comes in the community centres where many pillows are made become a bubble of energy. There’s a sense of belonging and hopefulness, an energy they believe the pillows hold. We really love this idea and it’s a far cry from the bleak images we’ve become used to seeing in areas such as fundraising over the last 30 years.

More and more we’re seeing press around the pillow itself as a beautiful object – the story isn’t the whole focus. We want people to buy the pillows because they want a great pillow or quilt rather than because they feel sorry for the creators, to buy them on merit. Our producers can feel really proud of what they’re creating, and this to us leads back to the most important element at the heart of our business: empowerment, empowerment, empowerment.

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