I found myself building my sustainable business using the business model I was taught in school. Well that didn't work for me! That was good news although I didnt know it at the time.

At the time, I was frustrated with the application of a typical marketing strategy. It told me that if I knew my target customers by demographic and target as many of them as possible using all available channels, I would be successful. Nope , I wasn't.

Luckily, I was willing to raze everything down and start from scratch. Or should I say, painfully. There were definately a lot of tears. I found a mentor who basically took everything I had created in 1.5 year and put it to the side. Then she asked me" why do you do what you do?"


This started me on a journey of " start with why". In case you haven't read Simon Sinek's book , you should. I found a vision that I wanted to articulate and implement. Besides, it provided me with the first rule of engagement. I would only work, employ and engage with people who got the vision (believe what I believe).

Now that may sound hard but considering the cost of learning this lesson was 1.5 years of toil,I won't deviate from it. Especially, when I have found out that it works. As Simon Sinek says" People don't buy what (product) you do, they buy why you do it.


You would expect that a normal business marketing strategy should work with most social enterprises. But that's not the case. For most social entreprises to succeed there has to be social change. Social change does not follow the model of a normal marketing strategy. It follows the model of a movement.

Sustainability is a social, economic and political imperative. However, many business cases do not stack up as they are based on the normal way of doing business. Although sustainability is in vogue right now, it wasn't 10 years ago. What happened is that the really passionate people infected the non passionate people and that's how this reached its tipping point.

So who is my target market and how do I start a movement?

Because I am a small business, I do not have the time nor resources to sell to the mass market or everyone. Just because Boots and Pepsi can sell to everyone doesn't mean that I should try to. That's the trap, I fell into. My instincts told me that if I targeted as many people as possible, I would make money. Soooo.... that didn't happen.

Realistically, I drew a normal distribution curve. I had to be very specific about who my solar water pumps were for in both markets.

Any innovation follows this adoption curve.

the 16%

The really passionate people who believe what I believe are the innovators and early adopters. Instead of demographics ( e.g 20 year old women), I went for psychographics (what do they believe in, fears, desires ,dreams, world views). This is something inherent to them. My target becomes those people who know they have a problem they want to solve, the means to do it and I am able to keep my promise. As Seth Godin says" when these things are true, marketing is easy".

If this was all theory, I wouldn't write about it. But I have had the privilege of implementing this in real life. I have given lectures in universities and spoken to alot of people. I know those who get the vision and those who don't. I have also learnt to be okay with the fact that I can explain the vision to someone for 2 years and they would still not get it. I have learnt to say, those are not my target market. Those who do get it have the following psychographics: They see a problem they want to solve, they are change makers, they are passionate about several causes and they want to leave the world better than they found it. This is a belief system that's already in them. When we find each other, we have found our tribe.

the 64%

It is also important to know who the 64% (early and late majority) are. This is the mass market. But marketing is not about market share ( at least for me it isn't). It is about building trust and engaging with humans. In my case the 64 are every other water charity that is still pushing handpumps that will break down. Price is definitely important to them but if free exists , it will definately be their first choice despite having information about the unsustainability of handpumps. I used to think they are my ideal target market because they are trying to solve the water crisis. What they lack is the same belief system ( do they want to solve it sustainably: NO). Quick wins are the order of the day. Hence the choice of handpumps. Are they willing to change from the well troden path? NO.

You may wonder how can you create change without the mass market? The answer is an emphatic no we cannot. The passionate 16 always have to infect the unpassionate 64 to create change. My job at the moment is to target those who give to these charities and ask them to challenge/ hold accountable those they donate to. We do this by being transparent about negative impacts of broken pumps on the ground as well as offering a sustainable water solution.

we can change minds if we dont give up

Such is the story of my friend Carole who stopped giving because she wants to actually see change. She is holding the organization accountable. To be clear, I am not saying that their intentions are not good just that their methods are creating more damage than they are willing to admit. Its time to up the level of transparency in the water crisis sector. That requires changing minds in boardrooms and outside it. That's social change


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Ingenuity Lab, Ingenuity Centre
University of Nottingham, Nottingham, NG7 2TU