THE BLOG

Marketing: The Missing Ingredient in Social Entrepreneurship

04/01/2015 12:14 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2015

I have been asked to teach a course in Marketing for the esteemed Master of Science in Social Entrepreneurship Program at USC. While I look at this as a great opportunity. I also recognize it is an enormous challenge. Why? Even though many profess a deep knowledge of these subjects, both are not well understood. Business people tend to look at social entrepreneurs as bleeding heart do-gooders that waste their time chasing after lost causes. Moreover, social entrepreneurs tend to view profit-seeking business people as money-grubbing and selfish with little concern about the greater good. Even worse, they tend to view marketers as slimy, sleazy liars. So why do intelligent people wanting to use their intelligence to solve the world's social problems tend to shun marketing?

Many culprits

There are many reasons for this negative view of marketing. Here are just a few of them.

  1. Our culture disparages it. From Arthur Miller's classic, Death of A Salesman, to Oliver Stone's Wall Street, and the TV hit Mad Men, marketers are frequently depicted in a negative light.
  2. Many universities don't teach it. Many academics think it is beneath them and often look down upon marketing as a soft subject. Some view selling as a mortal sin. Those that do offer courses in sales typically hire adjunct professors from outside academia to teach it.
  3. Most have learned on the job. Since there are few good places to learn, too many marketing people learn on the job from bosses that have acquired bad habits. This tends to perpetuate the negative stereotypes about marketing and selling.
  4. No quality control or licensing standards. Unlike CPAs, lawyers, architects, and doctors, marketing has no quality control or licensing standards that require passing comprehensive exams. As a result, the marketing profession is populated by a wide range of people with varying skills and ethics - from slimy, sleazy liars to some of the most professional and talented people in the world. Of course, when stereotypes are formed, "stereotypers" tend to use examples from the bottom of the barrel.
  5. Fear of rejection. Those that tend to be more intelligent and socially-conscious (the ones who gravitate to social entrepreneurship) tend to be more sensitive to rejection - a natural part of the sales process. The fear of rejection is often given as a reason why so many shun marketing/sales.

Given these misunderstandings and the fact that marketing is a critically important function to the success of any enterprise - social or not - what is the solution?

Better understand the importance of marketing

To explain the importance of marketing and convince a skeptical audience to believe it, it is useful to quote a well-respected independent credible third party who was not even a marketer. I choose the late Peter Druker - a management guru, professor at the Claremont Colleges, and the person who is considered the father of management consulting. Druker placed marketing on the highest pedestal possible. He is quoted as saying,

"Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two - and only two - basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business."

In the same vein, David Packer co-founder of Hewlett-Packard famously said,

"marketing is too important to be left to the marketing people."

This emphasized its importance at the same he castigated most marketers for not know their subject well enough.

What is this mysterious subject of Marketing?

When asked this question, most people answer either advertising or sales. This proves the point about the lack of marketing knowledge since marketing is so much more than advertising and sales. In fact, advertising and sales are only two of the numerous ways an organization can promote its products. And Promotion is only one of 7 Building Blocks of Marketing. While there are so many definitions, here is the one offered by the American Marketing Association...

"Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large."

The problem with this definition is that it is like so many others. It tries to include everything, and says very little. The one I prefer is...

"Marketing is the process by which products are developed and brought to the marketplace to satisfy the needs of the target audience."

Products include goods, services, ideas, and concepts.

Marketing Plan

To initiate this process, marketers develop a marketing plan consisting of measurable goals and strategies to achieve them. In executing this process, marketers implement the strategies and continuously measure and fine-tune the process to insure that the goals are being met.

Seven Building Blocks

The strategies to achieve the measurable goals of the plan are crafted from and organized using the marketing "periodic table" of marketing elements I call the 7 Building Blocks of Marketing. An older view of marketing uses the 4P's, which are the 4th through 7th building block.

  1. Marketing Information System strategies to research the market and to continuously collect, analyze, report, and act upon information from the marketplace.
  2. Corporate Image strategies to create, protect, and enhance the image of the organization.
  3. Positioning strategies that identify the target audience with an unfilled need and fill that need better than competitors with a unique and compelling image of the product.
  4. Product strategies that provide the goods and services that the target audience wants.
  5. Pricing strategies that offer the product at prices buyers are willing to pay and for which sellers are willing to sell.
  6. Distribution strategies that make it convenient for the target audience to find, buy and use the product.
  7. Promotion strategies that communicate the benefits of the product in such a compelling way to prompt a buying action.

Since promotion strategies, including advertising and sales, are used to communicate with the marketplace, most people equate these with marketing. However, they are only two of many ways to promote an organization and its products, and Promotion (as shown above) is only one of the 7 Building Blocks. To help insure that the communications are effective, one tool that works really well for clients and students is the Universal Marketing Structure.

Universal Marketing Structure™

The Universal Marketing Structure is comprised of the following seven elements.

  1. Headline. Data shows that 83.3%, on average, only read and remember the headline of a communication. Therefore, it should contain (1) unique and important benefits, (2) a hook to interest the reader to take further action, (3) the name of the company and product (unless the positioning strategy requires separation).
  2. Body text. The Body Text should provide more information and details for those that are interested to find out more about the product and company. Since only 16.7% get to this point, marketers should not rely on people reading the body text.
  3. Close. The Close should (1) Solicit a Buying Action, (2) Tie-in with the Headline, (3) End the communication, and (4) Contain a Marketing Information System code so the success of the communication can be measured.
  4. Photo and Graphic elements. The photo and graphic elements should help to communicate the main unique benefits, be visually compelling, show the product looking as good as possible, function as a size reference if necessary, help to break up the body text into "bite-sized" pieces, show before and after examples if appropriate.
  5. Format. The Format should make it easy for the busy or lazy members of the target audience to find and remember the main unique benefits of the communication without forcing them to read, listen to, or watch the entire communication.
  6. Signature. The Signature (which is comprised of the name, logo and slogan) should give identity to the communication and further the relationship between the target audience, the product, and the company so the prospect is comfortable buying.
  7. Everything else. Since people typically can remember up to 7 elements, all other important issues such as design, color, fonts, size, shapes, selling psychology, and putting "the WOW" into the communication should be considered here.

Adding this missing ingredient to Social Entrepreneurship

As discussed at the beginning of this post, one reason Social entrepreneurs lack marketing skills is they have a negative view of marketing. Hopefully, information provided in the preceding sections has transformed this view into the recognition that marketing is essential for success - no matter what the product.

The challenge.

What makes marketing more challenging for social entrepreneurs is that the target audience tends to be more complex. There is often more than one segment that has to be sold and satisfied. The end user of the products may be different from those that select, purchase, and evaluate them. No problem. That is often the case with many products. It just means that social entrepreneurs need to understand marketing better so they can successfully market their products to all the constituent groups that need to be satisfied. This cannot happen if social entrepreneurs look at marketing as some dark art or necessary evil. Marketing needs to be given the importance necessary for success. Rather than be missing, it needs to be more abundant and professionally executed so that everyone involved can "live happily ever" after as they taught us in grade school. If you are a social entrepreneur, I wish you the best of luck. Of course, better than luck is marketing knowledge.