Social Entrepreneurship

Marketing Tips for Social Entrepreneurs

Written by Gautam Patil for Gaebler Ventures

Just like any other businesses, social ventures also require marketing effort to create or increase awareness and generate demand. Channels used by traditional marketers may be inappropriate sometimes thereby necessitating innovation and creativity.

The typical constraints faced by marketing departments usually constitute money and manpower.

Marketing Tips for Social Entrepreneurs

There are usually an abundant number of channels like television, radio, newspapers, and internet through which products can be marketed to reach the target audience. More importantly, market research firms also provide demand forecasts and metrics on effectiveness of each channel although at some cost.

Social entrepreneurs, in contrast, typically have highly strained budgets and have little or no resources to devote to marketing as it is usually considered an 'overhead' expense. In addition, even ventures with adequate resources are helpless because market research firms do not have data related to their niche products.

This makes it necessary to develop highly customized and innovative marketing techniques that are tailored to the needs of social entrepreneurship.

Let's take a look at some marketing tactics that can be effective for social entrepreneurs who are working in countries with significant rural and impoverished populations.

Exposure to target market

Target populations in far flung rural places typically have low media exposure and literacy thus making the traditional media channels unsuited for marketing.

In such circumstances, individuals who enjoy trust of locals - typically postmen, respected doctors, village elders etc - could become prospective brand ambassadors.

Local fairs and festive congregations may be used as a platform to obtain a large scale exposure. Many products and services have been successfully marketed through street plays using local legends and heroes.

This level of proximity is particularly important for those products which require significant behavioral changes. Locally active and trusted NGOs can also be a cost effective channel to introduce products.


Even after gaining access to the market it is important to communicate the economic and social benefits of the product. But rampant illiteracy, lack of awareness and sometimes even superstition may hinder this.

Sensitivity to local culture and fluency in local languages becomes extremely important here. It becomes necessary to develop simple to understand metrics and illustrations which can effectively convey complex ideas.

For instance, when KickStart International wanted to convey the income raising benefits of its human powered irrigation pump, instead of using neat sounding words like 'increase in farm produce per acre' or 'cost benefit analysis' or 'break even period' they simply demonstrated the technology and encouraged the locals to test it themselves.

The benefits were translated into simple terms and they were also actively encouraged to interact with current users.

Packaging of the product

Packaging here refers to the financial package in which the product is offered. Is it priced affordably enough and will its benefits exceed its costs?

Social entrepreneurs typically have very little upward leeway in pricing their products and for 'big ticket' items good packaging becomes even more important. For instance, if clients are required to pay only via the savings they get from the product instead of a flat installment or a down payment then it sends a very strong signal about the effectiveness of the product and may stimulate demand.

Periods of installment should be defined based on the client. For example, for farmers payments might be due at harvest season while for daily wage laborers the payment plan might involve daily collection.

Partnering with microcredit institutions - which disburse small loans to individuals - is also a good way to outsource collection and receive payments right away, but this raises cost of the product to the customer and could dent demand.

These are very generic tips because there is a wide variety of goods and services being brought to market by social entrepreneurs. To be sure, it is not always possible to put a price tag on goods provided social entrepreneurs and much must be learned on the fly through trial and error. Nonetheless, these marketing tips can help increase awareness about any social entrepreneur's product and improve market penetration.

Gautam Patil is a recent MBA graduate from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. In addition to serving as a contributing writer for, he will join the consulting firm Oliver Wyman at their London office.

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