Will the development community ever decide to take marketing seriously? Melinda Gates surprised me last week when she used her worldwide podium at a terrific TEDx on the MDGs and Maternal Health to talk about the power of marketing, its overall neglect by development practitioners and its central importance in increasing the impact of essential programs addressing human need. It was a call to action. But will it be heard?
Gates cited three aspects of Coca Cola's vaunted global marketing as worthy of emulation -- use of real time data to improve operations as they are happening, priority for local entrepreneurs' talent and networks as vital to grassroots outreach in the most remote locations; and real investment in marketing programs to make messages, products and programs truly global in scope. She zeroed in on the need for development types to use more aspirational marketing, focused on the question of what makes people happy, rather than the instructive, top-down we-think-you-ought-to-do-this approach so pervasive in development. "We think if people need something, they don't need to want it," she said.
Interesting that the Gates Foundation co-chair chose this topic. I hope more people will take a moment to think about what she is seeing -- and not seeing -- in the field that led to this. Perhaps her MBA and business background give her a perspective that many development economists and policymakers lack, matched by a willingness to put money on it that development programs also lack. Except in health, marketing is the last element to get much investment.
Speaking of marketing and outreach, pretty impressive that this TEDx was viewed in 30 countries at 82 events. The TEDx franchise continues to grow....