|Marketing a social welfare tool? ' I can see several raised eyebrows, especially my non-commercial friends and relatives who often look down upon me when I say I want to pursue a career in marketing. So you are going to be one amongst them? Them who coax, cajole and brainwash vulnerable consumers into spending their hard earned money on things that they hardly know whether they need or not. Well what if I say it's not all about money ' honey!
Example of Social Marketing
Ever heard about social marketing or that rare but growing breed of social marketers? They are the ones who are trying to the change the world, quite literally. A passing glance on the definition of social marketing as given by Philip Kotler will be enough to support my words. He says '
'Social marketing is the use of marketing principles and techniques to influence a target audience to voluntarily accept, reject, modify or abandon a behavior for the benefit of individuals, groups or society as a whole. ' (Social marketing ' Improving the quality of life --- Philip Kotler, Ned Roberto, Nancy Lee)
||He even goes further to christen the social marketers as change agents. So what do these social marketers sell? They sell a desired behavior. Behavior that is desirable for the good of the individual and the society at large. For instance, asking someone to abandon an old behavior of smoking or accept a new behavior of exercising five times a week.
Social and Commercial Marketing ' Differences
Okay, you may say, that indeed is work done for the welfare of the society but how is this in anyway related to the marketing principles learnt and spouted by most "B"- school graduates? How do the concepts of segmenting, targeting, and positioning, the 4 P's and the all important customer orientation help social marketing? These concepts are the building blocks for any social marketing plan although it does differ from commercial marketing in some respects.
Firstly, social marketing aims for individual or societal gain rather than financial gain. In commercial marketing often the segmentation is done on the basis of the most profitable segment. In social marketing too, the return on investment of sources is important but in terms of the degree of change brought about. Hence, criteria like extent of social problem, readiness to change and approachability become important.
In commercial marketing, competition is viewed as firms, which sell similar products or satisfy similar needs. In social marketing, the competition is the benefits obtained from adopting a behavior opposite to that promoted by the social marketer. For instance a social marketer who wants people to abandon the habit of smoking is competing against the pleasure derived from smoking, which makes their task all the more difficult.
The differences between social and commercial marketing notwithstanding, there are certain aspects that are common to both. Customer orientation is found in both forms of marketing. The social marketers know their customers and they know that their offer should appeal to the target audience. In both cases the customers must perceive benefits that equal or exceed the perceived costs. For instance if the marketer needs to ask people to stop using plastic bags and use paper bags, the perceived cost of using a paper bag should be less than the benefits obtained by using them. This is often done through legislation, imposing fines etc.
Market research is fundamental in both commercial as well as social marketing. Market research is undertaken by social marketers to understand the customers' present beliefs, attitude and knowledge about a relevant social issue. In a campaign for donating blood, it will be beneficial for the marketers to understand the reasons why people hesitate to donate blood, what kind of beliefs and attitudes color their decision to either donate or not donate blood.
There is a segmentation of audience in both cases. A campaign to adopt stray dogs may be more meaningful for middle and upper middle class localities rather than for lower middle class households. So, relevant social issues must be identified and the marketing strategy must be tailored accordingly.
The 4 P's are as essential in social marketing as in commercial marketing. An interesting example is that of using environmental friendly carry bags, the product, price, place (availability) and the promotion constitute the marketing strategy for inducing the people to use biodegradable carry bags.
Social marketing by whom
Social marketing is deployed by government departments agencies, non ' profit organizations and non - governmental organizations. Several NGOS like CRY, WWF have managed to create and sustain heart- wrenching campaigns. Several commercial organizations also apply social marketing for their CSR initiatives. No wonder social marketers seem to be in great demand and their role in the society is receiving a tremendous impetus. Most often NGO's and NPO's recruit marketing professionals or agencies to drive home their point.
The Challenges faced
Social marketers face almost the same amount of challenges as those faced by commercial marketers if not more. Their task is made difficult by the fact that returns are difficult to measure. Unlike commercial marketers who have their all important quarterly or yearly sales report to measure their success, social marketers may have to wait for years or decades to see some form of social change.
Communication about sensitive social issues may be like walking the tightrope. There might be a very thin line between a hard-hitting and a gory campaign against AIDS. At times, the communication may be so poignant that the next time an individual sees it he/she may like to ignore it rather than think about the issue at all.
Regional differences in a country like India pose similar challenges to both commercial and social marketers. A campaign to save the girl child will be more relevant in a state like UP or Bihar than a state like Kerala.
Social marketing is gaining importance worldwide as humans become aware of social and environmental issues both old and new. It becomes all the more important in cases where legal or political solutions have not helped the cause and voluntary change on the part of the individual or society is desired. Social marketing could well be the answer to several pressing issues worldwide and this in itself could be overwhelming for social marketers. Big advertising names like Ogilvy & Mather are often involved in the rigors of social marketing.
Commercial marketers can now put their skill and expertise to bring about social change and I can now tell my socially aware friends, that for every cigarette ad there is an anti-smoking campaign!