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An Approach to Planned social Change: Social Marketing

Category : Non Profits

Marketing of social causes-referred to as Social Marketing- has, over the years,  grown into a specialised application area. The growth has been slow but significant. Be it in fundraising ,health communication, or social welfare program,s the social sector has been increasingly looking to marketing expertise for conceiving an agenda of action and then implementing it.

This was not so  way back in late 1970’s when I started teaching the subject.The place was the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management of the University of Mumbai and the class, the first batch of students doing the Masters Programme in Marketing Management. The subject had not become fashionable then and had not entered the curriculum of any other programme including the full time MMS programme.

The Director, Dr Varanasy Murthy himself had put together the syllabus. When he told me to handle it, I was nervous and said I did not have the expertise to teach the subject. He said” If had found an expert I would not have called you. Try to coordinate the programme. Organize presentations by leaders of social service organisations and research bodies and get your students to analyse them in marketing terms and come up with solutions”

That was exactly what I did. I remember vividly the doubts and disbelief expressed by students and social service organisations alike about the relevance of marketing to social causes. Social organisations were at best moving from  philanthropy  professional social work; a marketing approach was considered an avoidable luxury.

We got a few social service organizations and research bodies to talk to the students about their work and experience. The students were marketing professionals, some senior managers in leading companies. In some of the sessions they provided an excellent analytical framework for the problems presented. I remember one such session where Dr Asha Bhende of the International Institute of Population Studies presented the findings of a study on family planning awareness among some 2000 workers of an organization… It was not a marketing programme but had the potential to become one. It was immediately apparent, when the class discussions began, that this could become a strong marketing programme very different from the marketing of soaps and detergents. At the end of the session, before our customary vote of thanks, Dr Bhende said she would like to thank us for having brought out an entirely new perspective.

Literature on the subject was scanty in those days. There was Kotler’s Marketing for Non Profit Organizations and a special number of the Journal of Marketing in 1971 devoted wholly to Social Marketing. In fact, the term Social Marketing is believed to have come from Kotler who, with Gerald Zaltman, wrote an article in that issue on Social Marketing: An Approach to Planned Social Change.

Things have moved far since then.

Social Marketing developed perhaps because of  three distinct developments:

  • growing recognition among non-profit organizations that a total managerial approach was necessary to get optimal results. The basic approach to business planning and development was relevant  to non-business situations and could be adapted to suit their needs. In this , as in business, marketing played the pivotal role-all activities started with understanding the needs of the beneficiaries and ended with ensuring that they were met.
  • insistence of donors , particularly the big Foundations in the U S, that the money they gave should be productively used because the intended benefits were often poorly configured and not directed or delivered to the target beneficiaries. Strong systems and structures had to be in place and to man them the organization needed, as in business, trained manpower.
  • initiatives of leading business schools and marketing thinkers in designing appropriate training programs. Centers for Non Profts Mangement were started in many U S business schools to do this. We have had great contributions from Philip Kotler, Alan Andreasen, including his books, – Marketing Social Change , Strategic  Marketing for Non Profit Organizations ( with Kotler), from Michael  Rothschild, Carol Bryant, Founding Editor of the Social marketing Quarterly and  James Lindenberger of the Centre for Social Marketing, University of Florida. The marketing experience of many organizations have been well documented in these schools. The Social Marketing Quarterly focuses on both conceptual and practical issues in Social Marketing, is into research and is perhaps the only journal wholly devoted to Social Marketing. The National Social Marketing Centre, U K and Health Canada have also documented valuable experiences in Social Marketing. A number of cases are available, particularly in the health communications field.

Here in India, my own Rotary Club took a bold initiative  in 1990, in instituting  a Chair in Management of Non Profit Organizations at the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies .Prof Y K Bhushan, the Director did much to develop it. From small beginnings, the Rotary West Chair has gone on to run full fledged training programmes including a three year part time Masters Degree Programme on Management of Social Service Organizations. The activities of what is now called the Social entrepreneurship Cell, under the leadership of Dr Meena Galliara, cover training, research and some consulting. It is a matter of pleasure to note that the Cell has brought not merely marketing but a total managerial approach to the functioning of Non-Profit organizations..

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