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Where is Your Marketing Budget in ICT4D Programs?

By Wayan Vota on March 25, 2016

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Recently, I was rural India with VSO International checking in on Samadhan, a citizen engagement software program that connects marginalized communities to the local government petitioning process. We visited the District Collector, who was excited about the potential of the program, yet had a major ask: he wanted to see the district blanketed in advertising for Samadhan.

His question to us was insightful: Why aren’t you marketing Samadhan at every bus stop?

Yes, we need marketing budgets in ICT4D

Taking that question to you, I ask: Why aren’t you spending as much on marketing as you spend on software, or program management? I would argue that every dollar spent on marketing is equally or even more important that money spent on version 2.x of an application.

In our target communities, who are already information poor, advertising can go a long way to drive user adoption, which is the key to scale and sustainability. District Collectors don’t last long in India – many only spend 2 years in each District – and a new Collector could delete the software on arrival, unless VSO has scale across the community.

If a critical mass of constituents are using the software, and will notice and care if its deleted, then the next Collector will have to keep the system going. They will also have greater incentive to invest in it over time, with credibility as much as cash. The only way to get that critical mass? Marketing.

Our issue with Samadhan isn’t unique. It’s the same challenge you have with your ICT4D programs, that we all have. So the next time you sit down to do an ICT4D intervention budget, add in or increase your marketing line item. It’s not frivolous. It’s not waste.

Marketing is core to your success.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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3 Comments to “Where is Your Marketing Budget in ICT4D Programs?”

  1. I fully Agree with you Wayan! Am facing this challenge with our new ICT4Ag project; have decided to add marketing component for future initiative.

  2. Ed Robinson says:

    Agree 100%, thanks for bringing it up. We’ve seen many great ICT efforts not gain traction because, in my opinion, the systems are not well marketed. This is especially true where input is predominantly crowdsourced. I’m quite convinced that Facebook was nowhere near the success it is today on paper in those early stages but once people become aware of it and began using it, FOMO took over. If the benefits are there, then targeted marketing is usually all that’s required to breathe life into your project and give it the momentum required to take off as users and word of mouth drive growth. Crowdsourcing can be a fickle business, but I you can offer what users want or need, there’s no reason for it not to take off if it’s well marketed in the early stages.

    Unfortunately, marketing success is not easy to measure and so it’s not easy to convince donors that the money will be well spent. For this reason it’s probably easier to include it as an element of a larger budget thank to justify a project that’s the majority a marketing campaign. Regardless, I agree that marketing services and offerings properly, with the right audience, is essential to long term success.