How can social marketing be applied by social entrepreneurs to achieve more effective, efficient, equitable and sustainable outcomes in pursuit of their vision?
For many social enterprises, the use of marketing may be limited to the products and services they offer, how they approach fundraising and public relations, or how they develop communication activities to raise awareness of, and change attitudes towards, various social problems (for example, HIV prevention, clean water, environmental sustainability and childhood obesity). They don't necessarily have a larger view of using marketing to influence behaviors that benefit individuals and communities for the greater social good. There is now some evidence that they should rethink how social marketing can improve their efforts.
Madill & Ziegler (2012) present a case study of ONE DROP, a nongovernmental organization in Canada that drives its vision of "Water for All" through integrated water and sanitation community projects around the world and by using social mobilization strategies to change water consumption and pollution behaviors in Canada. The Aqua exhibition, a multimedia event offered in several Canadian cities that is designed for 10-14 year-olds, is a key offering and is the focus of the report. As visitors exit the exhibition, they are asked to make one or more commitments to changing their behavior, from getting involved in their community to installing a device to reduce toilet water. Their methodology included key informant interviews, participatory observations of Aqua, content analysis of the ONE DROP website and Facebook pages, and a review of background documents. The results of their analysis were presented in a modified marketing audit format.1
The authors key questions and findings were:
Does One Drop through Aqua attempt to achieve behavior change? It appears that both awareness raising and behavior change are intended.
Does One Drop conduct audience research? Aqua has an established priority group (10-14 year-old children) and collects web statistics on their commitments to various behaviors (other examples included using both sides of sheets of paper, cutting back on bottled water and using environmentally friendly hygiene and cleaning products). An independent evaluation of Aqua provided evidence that Aqua achieved a strong short-term effect in the intention to commit to behavioral change. A second evaluation conducted 4 months later suggested that the organization had not been able to sustain these commitments.
Segmentation of target audiences (sic) and selection of target markets. There was no evidence in either the background documents or from the interviews that any segmentation analysis had been done. Instead, there seemed to be a post hoc analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of choosing a youth segment.
Creating an attractive and motivating exchange with the target audience? "The exchange created by One Drop through its Aqua exposition is one where consumers are being asked to change behaviors regarding water consumption and pollution (e.g., drink less bottled water). In return, they gain a world where water is a beautiful aspect of our shared world." Aqua did seem to be an attractive environment in which to make behavioral commitments, but there was weak evidence that any long-term relationship was established (despite having a website and Facebook page) to foster actual and durable behavior change.
Does the strategy attempt to use all four Ps? The answer to the question of "what is the product?" was that Aqua was the product being promoted by One Drop (note: not behavior change). Yet, one aspect of the Price element focused on the costs of the various behavioral commitments that could be made at Aqua. The second cost that was considered by the organization was the ticket price for entry into Aqua. The third element of pricing was the rental fee charged to museums for hosting the Aqua exhibit. The Place component was confined to where the Aqua exhibit was held - in all cases, science museums which fit well with the intention to attract children and their families. Finally, the Promotion of the exhibit was done jointly with each museum host through local schools as well as through the One Drop website and Facebook page.
Is careful attention paid to the competition faced by the desired behavior? "The design of the Aqua expo explicitly examines the competition by showing the results of how current polluting behaviors engaged in by both individuals and companies have resulted in ugly oil spills, as well as garbage floating in the world’s oceans and streams. It goes further in showing how continuing such behavior will result in further devastation." There was no indication of how Aqua may have been positioned against other exhibitions the museums could host, or how Aqua competed with other local attractions and special events in each city.
The authors concluded: "Although many elements of social marketing were adopted without conscious recognition that the organization was doing social marketing, it must be noted that a social marketing strategic view appears to be missing. Although One Drop intuitively utilizes many of the tools and approaches associated with social marketing, they do not strategically think it through…Perhaps, adoption of that strategic view would result in even better results in terms of achieving the desired behavior changes." [emphasis added]
While creativity and entertainment are at the heart of Aqua (the founder of ONE DROP is also the founder of Cirque du Soleil), the ability to leverage this experience to achieve behavior change and social transformation seems to be quite limited. This lack of strategic thinking can be seen in how the marketing audit uncovered the lack of clarity between Aqua and the behavioral change commitments offered at the exhibit.
If you asked me what to do to assist these social entrepreneurs in becoming more successful, it's time for two marketing plans - one for Aqua that clearly lays out the plan for its features, benefits, prices, place and promotion. But more importantly to achieve ONE DROP's primary goal is a social marketing or behavior change marketing plan - what are the behaviors, their costs and incentives, the places where they can be practiced and sustained, and how they are promoted before, during and after attendance at Aqua - that can transform this organization into a force for good (and not just one of good intentions). And I could only speculate about whether, and how, a similar lack of clear behavior change focus impacts their community projects.
I join the authors in their call for more case studies and research on the work of social entrepreneurs and how social marketing can be adopted by them to meet their social change goals. What Peter Drucker once said of business applies to social enterprises as well: "The business [social] enterprise has two - and only two - basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation reduce results; all the rest are costs."
1 For more information about social marketing audits, see Lefebvre, R.C. (2013). Social marketing and social change: Strategies and tools for improving health, well-being and the environment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (pp.290-297).
Madill, J. & Ziegler, R. (2012). Marketing social missions - adopting social marketing for social entrepreneurship? A conceptual analysis and case study. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing; 17:341-351.
Image from SocialButterfly