‘Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid’ meets ‘Buzz Marketing’

Now this is something that I had tried last year, while working with the team at the Social Org ‘Shades of Happiness‘. It was just some time before the monsoon, and the team at SoH had come up with the idea to conduct a Wellness Camp in the slums nearing St. Columba’s School, Ashoka Place.

With the dates decided, we set out looking for Corporate to partner with, and as to how we could plan and execute the Wellness camp idea in the best possible manner.

A couple of mails down the line, we had the good fortune of having a leading Global brand partner us for the camp. The next step being to get the actual beneficiaries to come forward and get the best out of the free check-ups, seemed easy enough.

This was until I asked Ashish, one of the Founding members of SoH, as to how many families we could expect at the Wellness camp.

Ashish told me that from his past experience, in an area of 200 plus families, we could expect some “30 odd families” to turn up for the camp! Now if you do the math, this was like a success rate (or whatever) of just over 10%, ‘far too less’ from what was actually out there, and which could be tapped.

He further added that most of them would rather stay in their rooms and watch TV, or sleep in the afternoon, in fact anything but attend something as boring and mundane such as a Wellness Camp.

For once, I did wish we had a pout-enhanced celebrity to endorse our now unglamorous venture! Nonetheless, this set me thinking as to how we could get more people to get out of their houses and actually make them come for the camp.

Around the same time,  I was reading this book on Buzz Marketing (‘The Anatomy of Buzz‘ by Emanuel Rosen) and getting wowed by the entire word-of-mouth marketing thingy. Now its one thing to read about all that cool jazz as to how word-of-mouth marketing works, and it’s a totally different thing altogether to think of applying what you ‘think’ you have picked up, and also hope to get it right the very first time… !

‘(Kill) Joy factor’: We had planned for the Wellness Camp within a couple of weeks.

The Idea

I realized that just going to the slums and announcing that we were planning to have a Wellness Camp coming Sunday would not exactly get us the results in return for our efforts. Most folks, as rightly pointed out by Ashish, would actually love to spend their time sleeping, watching a movie etc on a lazy Sunday afternoon (You and me being no different!).

I also realized that when we give something away for free, the object does not really have any value to it… that is… till you attach a virtual price tag to it.

For e.g. You buy a local Webcam and you get a pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones free with it. (This, my friends, is what you would call a ‘Hypothetical’ situation); O.K. … let’s make it more real, say, you buy a local Webcam and you get a pair of local headphones free with the deal.

Now, I know you really don’t care for those free headphones… unless:

(a) It’s a quality branded one -> branded in the sense you are assured of its quality, and you feel great about getting something like that free.

(b) The headphone is ‘expensive enough’ (moneywise), and you feel great about not having to pay for one.

And of course, with us Indians, it’s always been ‘Mehenga hain toh Accha hoga’* mentality, at least most of the times.. ( *Translates to “If it’s expensive, it must be good”)

Armed with this knowledge about our innate love for freebies, we now had the task of marketing the Wellness Camp to the beneficiaries.

The Execution:

Well, it wasn’t such a big thing as it might sound (E..X..E..C..U..T..I..O..N..)!

We had some 6/7 volunteers (including myself), who had to spread the word about the Wellness Camp to be held the week after. Armed with information powered by Google, and having roted a few symptoms of the illnesses which are common during the monsoons, our team headed out to the slum areas.

The entire exercise took roughly an hour; wherein we split up and went knocking on the doors. The plan was simple: We were to just tell them that we would be having this Wellness Camp in their locality, wherein doctors would be doing a free check-up, plus they would be given tips to prevent from falling ill to the various diseases common to the monsoons. Plus, at the end of the discussion, I just merely put in a word that normally a general check-up costs around 70-80 bucks PER PERSON, but this would be free for them and their families, plus they could also invite more people for the same. * I observed many instances where their ears perked up on hearing this… *

We also got in touch with nodes such as the Youth over there plus a Slum Representative, to ensure that the news got circulated around.

The next week, we did come back for the Wellness Camp, armed with free Hygiene soaps, plus a few volunteers who were gracious enough to take time out of their weekend. We also engaged the kids attending our NGO to spread the word that we had arrived for the Wellness camp, and that there were also free soaps to be given away.

At the end of the day, when we tallied as to how many families had turned up for the Camp (we were maintaining a list while giving out the free soap, so that minimum pillaging would occur); the numbers were as follows:

210+ families had turned up for the 2 hour Wellness Camp… !!


Now, assuming that some 30 families managed to plug themselves as someone else (for the soap), we were still left with a figure of 180+ families… not bad when we initially had set out expecting some 30 odd families… !!

Now if you were to do the math again, this is 6X-7X times the original expectation in terms of reaching out, and close to almost 75 – 90% coverage of the area (I don’t remember the exact number, but I think it was a cluster of some 225-240 houses). So much for trying things the first time around… !


Having said all the above, let me be up front and tell you that despite the efforts put in by our team, the Wellness Camp was not as successful as it ought to have been.

We had originally planned to conduct the camp on 11th July 2010. We were, however, not able to rope in Medical professionals for the same during that week. That week, we went around the slums spreading awareness (what I shared above) for the Wellness Camp which we postponed to the 18th; this hoping that we would be able to mobilize at least some Medical professionals in a week’s time. Didn’t happen for a few reasons that involved our unwillingness to pay the medical officials to ‘volunteer’ for the event (we were willing to give them Certificates and the publicity due to them, through Social Media like FaceBook, Twitter, Website etc).

Shades of Happiness plans to bring forward many more initiatives this year, and I request you that if this interests you, please volunteer with us (we work more by leveraging our network of volunteers) more so, if you happen to be from a particular profession and want to lead a unique initiative which will help bring about change.

Easiest way to hear from SoH is to like SoH on FaceBook; so that you keep receiving feeds from them about the latest happenings and initiatives, that you can be a part of… !

Food for thought for the Corporate: ‘Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid’

I had barely completed  2 weeks into my new job when I read about Dr. CK Prahlad‘s demise (April 2010). I had heard of his ‘Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid‘ principle (I am yet to go through his work though) and somehow the principle was at the back of my mind while I was involved with the Wellness Camp.

I have always believed that thanks to the deep pockets, intelligence and the huge workforce that a regular Corporate enjoys; Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is one tool that can leverage things faster and more efficiently when it comes to solving Social issues.

I have also realized that CSR need not just be a one-sided ‘G.I.V.E.’ relationship, as is perceived by most people. CSR, if used correctly, can not only help bring about positive change but can also work in terms of improving the organization’s bottom line.

For CSR, the Corporate can either partner with the local NGOs (the thrust being on local because development can usually be seen happening in pockets where concentrated efforts are put in); or work with its internal members towards a cause which it ‘believes in’ (buy-in by the team being very important here).

Come to think of it, The Corporate stand to gain a lot more than just good will by such measures:

1. By distributing your products for free to the underprivileged, you can indirectly market your product as one that’s effective – Think from the perspective of an FMCG company and you might be able to see where I am heading.

Word of caution: Might not exactly work if you happen to be a Luis Vuitton or Chanel! (Thinking about it, I realize I have ideas for this too, but I guess that’s for another day altogether).

2. If you have understood Point 1, then you would have also by now realized that the people residing in these slums could be your next customers/ employees/ good will ambassadors/ add to the list.

Imagine being an Organization that is driven by a cause such as Education; now you could set up scholarships,  grants, study centres etc; so that the deserving candidates are groomed, and going further down if they meet certain criteria, they can even be given an opportunity to work with the Organization – Now this way, we can help break the cycle of poverty ‘one individual at a time’, as well as get quality people… and that, my friend, is in-your-face change!

3. Such initiatives can help engage your workforce in a positive manner.

Having worked in teams, I understand that as much as working to the best of one’s ability and supporting each other augurs well for an Organization; how the Organization manages to engage its ‘S.T.A.R.S.’ apart from work will have a bearing on how it can retain them. (uhhh… please do make it a point to pay them too!)

A year back, I remember being at IIT-Kharagpur for their event ‘Saamanjasya‘ (a new initiative of its kind to connect the Corporate with the Social Sector), sitting in the audience for a Round Table discussion wherein the distinguished professors from the Institution and some Industry leaders were discussing as to how to go about it.

By the end of the discussion, I had already figured out a few things, and  pounced on the mike when the Q&A session came up. The solution seemed simple enough: The Institutions could mobilize the students for a 2-3 week project wherein they would be using their technical and management skills to help bring about change in the neighbouring areas (This being different from volunteering to teach, donating money etc). 

For the corporate, it was not easy to simply dictate the terms to its employees; what could be done though was that they could figure in a minimum number of hours for CSR  in the appraisal, then they could let the guys who got in touch with the initiative and who were enthused by it, take it forward – there are always going to be a few people who go the ‘extra mile’ for things that excite them.

4. CSR as a Branding tool.

Do I really need to get into this one? Think of any company you are in awe of… and you will realize that it is because it commands respect in one/ more areas.

Note: Not only did the Global Corporate, whom we partnered with for the Wellness Camp, help us out with the 500+ hygiene soaps (worth more than INR 10,000), but also they never came forward to promote themselves or to use this event in the media per se.

Now I have always had this thing about giving credit where it’s due, and thus take this opportunity to thank them for the fab generous Partners they were.

* (Note: Having worked with SoH on the weekends for almost a year, I am currently on a Sabbatical. Nonetheless, I would be engaged in terms of ideas and execution should anything interesting come up).