Marketing as a tool for sustainable economic development

What is sustainable development? And what would be sustainable economic development?

Sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This is the definition according to the International Institute of Sustainable Development.

And what is sustainability itself? Sustainability can be defined on four pillars- Human, Social, Economic and Environmental. We will use the definitions of

Human sustainability is the maintenance and improvement of human capital in society. Investments in the health and education systems, access to services, nutrition, knowledge and skills. Social sustainability is the preservation for future generations, our acknowledgement that we have an impact on others and on the world with regards to the quality of our society, our country or communities and overall social cohesion. While Society will never be equal, that is utopian. We can all however agree that extreme inequalities and extreme deprivations and want side by side extreme wealth and opulence are not good for social cohesion. Economic sustainability can be defined as economic growth that comes with improved standards of living that everyone can feel. Essentially inclusive economic growth. Whereas the Nigeria economy is growing at 3 percent a year, most people can’t feel it. Even in the good old days of 7 percent growth in GDP, the challenge still was how to ensure that economic growth is inclusive and that our people can feel the impact on the quality of their lives.

The last pillar of sustainability is the environment. Essentially the preservation of our natural capital for next generation. So to keep it simple, sustainable economic development is inclusive economic growth and development that everyone can feel from the rivers of Brass to savannah of Birnin Kebbi and from the white sands at the Beach of Badagry to the farmlands of Biu.

Does Marketing have a role to play in this? And what should be this role? Let us go back to the basics and look at the definitions of Marketing to properly situate our discourse. The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines Marketing as “……as 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.…”

Essentially, we can conclude that our high rate of social exclusion in Nigeria also translates to high rate of commercial exclusion. That our businesses and our marketers are only serving and relevant to just about 40 percent of the Nigerian population

Watch and pay attention to the key words of customers, clients, partners and society. The scholars of the AMA in their wisdom deliberately introduced the word society into Marketing definition. However it does seem that the only words that most marketers hear are customers, clients and partners. Most marketers in this hall tonight including those who are not at this event, and I believe I guess right, are not likely to have “society” at the top of their mind when they discuss or define Marketing.

Why is the situation like this? The problem could be located in the more popular definition of marketing that we have learnt and passed on across different marketing generations.

The more classic definition of Marketing from Philip Kotler says Marketing is “The science and art of exploring, creating, and delivering value to satisfy the needs of a target market at a profit.

The problem with the Philip Kotler’s definition of Marketing, with which we were all brought up, is that it implies that where there is no profit, there is essentially no ‘worthy’ market. The extrapolation of this would be in how we also define addressable market in business plans based on those who need and those who can afford to pay for the products / services that we sell.

The big problem is that Kotler’s traditional definition of marketing has very serious implications for the social relevance of marketing in Nigeria and the developing world where there is endemic poverty and large problems of social exclusion. Come with me. I told you earlier that I want to prick your conscience tonight. I have not come to earn your clapping.

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About two weeks ago, the National Bureau of Statistics released a striking and concerning report on the Nigeria poverty index. That poverty in Nigeria is actually worse than we thought, than even what the World Bank estimated. The National Bureau of Statistics report says that there are 133 million multi-dimensionally poor people in Nigeria. Cry the beloved country. That 84 per cent of children under five years in Nigeria were poor due to lack of intellectual stimulation needed for childhood development. Cry the beloved country. That 65 percent of poor people – 86 million people – live in the North, while 35 percent – nearly 47 million – live in the South. Cry the beloved country. That Bayelsa, an oil producing state has 89 percent of its people poor, second only to Sokoto with 91 percent of its people poor. Cry the beloved country. That poverty is prevalent in Nigeria urban areas with 42 percent of urban poor as well as rural areas with 72 percent of rural poor. Cry the beloved country.

With a Nigerian population of 211 million and 133 million of which are poor, 63 percent of our people are poor and are probably not being served by our commercial markets who will find them unprofitable. From our classic Kotler definition of Marketing, a population segment that cannot be served at profit is not a worthy market. Essentially, we can conclude that our high rate of social exclusion in Nigeria also translates to high rate of commercial exclusion. That our businesses and our marketers are only serving and relevant to just about 40 percent of the Nigerian population or at best 50 percent. That as we celebrate ourselves tonight with various awards, we are not relevant to the lives of 50 percent of our people.

We see this in banking where formal financial inclusion is just about 50 percent and in internet and broadband penetration at around 40 percent. Telecom voice penetration is an exception to the rule. Telecom voice business shows the power of technology, especially digital technology in unlocking excluded markets with low transaction and distribution costs that could make traditional population segments that were thought previously unprofitable profitable.

Brothers and Sisters, let us go back to marketing definitions again briefly before we conclude. Can we truly say we are doing responsible marketing in a country like Nigeria if most of us despite our awards tonight are not relevant to 50 percent of the Nigerian population? America does not have this large profound exclusion problem, (at least not like our context), hence Kotler could have defined marketing with implications that only markets that could be served at a profit are worthy. For marketers in developing countries, Africa and in Nigeria where 50 percent of our population are socially excluded, we need to responsibly find innovative ways to solve our large social and commercial exclusion, unlock the potentials of these excluded markets with innovative service and business models that could make them profitable. By doing so, we will double the size of our addressable markets, become more socially relevant while creating inclusive prosperity for all.

It was the late Clayton Christensen, Professor of Strategy, from outside Marketing that solved and taught us how to solve the problem of the potential social irrelevance of marketing in developing countries through the concept of excluded markets (a paradox) and the theory of disruptive innovation. There is no time to discuss Christensen’s theories extensively tonight. Suffice it to say that Christensen’s theory has a lot of relevance to making marketing more socially relevant in developing countries. I enjoin you in case you have not, to get a copy of Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma, and read it with reflections. It is a nice relevant complement to traditional marketing knowledge today.

In conclusion, brothers, sisters and professional marketers, congratulations again to the nominees and awardees on this occasion tonight and to those of us who have come to celebrate with them. As you receive your awards tonight, ask and reflect on how your products and services could be more relevant to perhaps 50 percent of Nigerians that you are probably not serving. That is the responsible thing to do, to make our marketing and businesses more relevant to the people of Nigeria, to practice more inclusive marketing.

Let us evolve new socially responsible lingo. In financial services, we talk of financial inclusion. Let us also have milk inclusion for those of us in the milk business, let us have detergent inclusion for those of us in detergent business and health inclusion for those of us in the health services business. Lets measure these metrics periodically, their growth or stagnation to prick our conscience about how much we still need to do to make our businesses impact on the lives of our people. So that when the history of our generation is written, it shall be said of us, that we as business leaders rose to the occasion and to the challenge of our time in history and made the responsible difference.

Akanmu gave this keynote speech at the Advertisers Association of Nigeria’s Africa Marketing Awards in November, 2022