Promotions are what come to mind when we think of marketing — the printed flier under the door, the newspaper advertisement, the salesperson demonstrating a product in the marketplace.  The purpose of promotion is to stimulate demand. It is particularly useful for turning ‘ability to pay’ into ‘willingness to pay’.

Promotion Involves


awareness in the market about your product


customers about the benefits of using your product


customers about the quality and characteristics of the product


customers how to use the product


customers to buy your product as opposed to that of your competitors

Two components for a successful promotions roll-out:

  • Creating a compelling and relevant MESSAGE that resonates with your target audience
  • Determining the appropriate MEDIUM and timeline for different tactics

A promotions strategy must continually be assessed to determine if it is effective, and how it can be made more effective. The effectiveness of promotions may be assessed by surveying customers or tracking the number of sales during pilot promotions.

Entrepreneurs selling social goods to low-income customers face a unique set of challenges when promoting their products. In many cases, customers need to “touch and feel” the product to understand the tangible value and how it can be incorporated into their existing lifestyle. Introducing new concepts, such as solar lighting to a region that has primarily relied on candles and kerosene lanterns, will often require substantial investment in human resources for one-on-one education and training.

Case Studies

We can learn a lot from the stories of others. Check out a few case studies that highlight effective promotional marketing tactics.


To determine the optimal promotional mix, it is important to understand the market size and concentration of the target segment – are they located in urban or rural areas? What are the numbers in each of the areas? What communication methods are most effective in reaching them?  The maturity of the market and the customer information needs will also dictate what type of tools will be most appropriate.  If the market is relatively nascent, then direct sales agents armed with detailed information and printed marketing collateral will be most effective.  If the market is mature and most consumers understand the product category and its benefits, then promotional tools like brand advertising and sales promotions, such as discounts or new product announcements, may be more effective.

The most effective promotions strategies are those that select tools carefully, based on precise assessments of the customers they seek to reach.  A good framework for approaching communication tools is thinking about where they fall along a spectrum from mass media to one-on-one selling.  There are no clear boundaries delineating these categories, and no hard-set rules on the “best” methods for reaching your customer segment.

Mass media

Mass Media is the best approach when trying to reach large groups of people.  It is often less time-intensive than other methods, but requires considerable financial resources and it can be difficult to quantify the result in terms of additional sales of your product. Within mass media, there are four main channels: advertising, publicity, public signage, and sales promotions.




Sales Promotions

Advertisements are a paid form of non-personal communication and can run on a variety of media: television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and mobile phones.

Photo Credit: EnterpriseWorks/VITA

Newspaper advertisement for the Gyapa stove in Ghana. “Gyapa” means good fire and the slogan “Aben da da” translates to already cooked. Gyapa is an EnterpriseWorks/VITA project.

Publicity is free visibility for your campaign, generally as non-paid, positive mentions in the media.

Examples of this are news and special programming on radio and television, and stories, articles, and editorial comments in newspapers and magazines.  Consumers tend to perceive publicity stores as more authentic and credible than advertisements.

A few tools to help generate publicity include:

  • Creating press releases
  • Holding news conferences
  • Writing letters to the editor
  • Building strong personal relationships with key reporters and editors

Outdoor signage and billboards are effective methods for launching and sustaining product and brand awareness.  These mediums are particularly effective as they can be viewed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  As well, billboards tend to be less expensive than print ads and reach a wider demographic. A few tips on designing an effective billboard:

  • Deliver your message with pictures and words
  • Make sure your brand name is visible from a distance
  • Pick strong, pure, contrasting colors that can be viewed at different times of the day
  • Use short phrases instead of complete sentences
  • Remember that the background should complement the message, not compete with it

Roumdé posters in Ouagadougou, November 2006 (Photo: Edifice)Roumdé posters in Ouagadougou, November 2006 (Photo: Edifice)

Roumdé posters in Ouagadougou, November 2006. Photo Credit: Edifice

Billboard Mirt promotion, Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Verena Brinkmann, GTZ

Sales promotions are short-term incentives to encourage the purchase of a product or service.

Sales promotions can be targeted at any party along the value chain. For example, some are targeted to consumers in the form of coupons, others at dealers through discount price lists. Sales promotions are good at stimulating immediate sales, but excessive use of promotional discounting will train consumers to delay purchases until the next promotion. A few common sales promotion tools:

  • Free trials

    are particularly effective tools for promoting social goods to new customers.  The challenge is in converting these trials into repeat business.  Think about how companies get you to regularly re-purchase their product — like Gillette who often gives the razors away for free, but then charges for the blade refills.

  • Discounts

    are an easy way to induce sales with little additional cost of administration. However, there is evidence to suggest that when a product is bought at a promotional price, it depresses future willingness-to-pay. In addition, frequent price discounts educate customers to wait to buy the product on sale, rather than at the regular price.

  • Coupons, vouchers, and rebates

    limit the availability of promotional discounts and can be targeted to prospective buyers.  In Ethiopia, coupons were introduced for Mirt Stoves for a limited number of stoves within a limited time period. The followingGTZ case study explains how the coupon was disseminated and highlights the results of the promotion.

  • Contests

    are a fun, low-cost way to raise awareness.  Everyone enjoys winning something for free, even if the prize is fairly small.  In Kenya, PATH successfully used a nationwide, mobile phone-based contest to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS among young people.  Contestants received questions about HIV and AIDS on their mobile phones, looked for the answers in a special newspaper column, and then sent in their answers by text message. Contestants who submitted correct answers had the opportunity to win hundreds of prizes, including airtime, t-shirts, mobile phones, computers, DVD players, and a home theater system. Over 120,000 people throughout Kenya participated in the national contest.

  • Free giveaways

    in the form of small, non-financial incentives, can increase sales and improve the uptake of socially beneficial behavior.  For households where men control the purchasing decision, free giveaways directed at the men can incentivize the purchase of items primarily used by women. T-shirts are often a popular giveaway item, as the wearer will be freely advertising your product as he or she wears the shirt around town.  A J-PAL study in India also found that when small gifts (1 kg of lentils and a set of metal plates once a child has received all their immunizations) increased usage of vaccine services by 6.19x as compared to control villages.

Selective Media

Selective media channels are used in situations where target markets can be reached more cost effectively through targeted media channels and when they need to know more than is available in mass media formats. Selective media is effective for raising awareness and educating communities about new products and services, though it works best when bundled with personal selling.

Direct mail & Fliers


Flip Books

Events & Demonstrations

Printed material such as direct mail, fliers, and brochures provide opportunities to present more detailed product information to potential customers.

One inexpensive way to distribute direct mail fliers is to create quarter-sheet fliers, give them to the newspaper boy with a small amount for payment, and have him insert the fliers before delivering the papers around town.  Another effective strategy when using printed fliers is to send sales agents door-to-door to give out fliers, and then have the agents return several days later with the product in-hand to answer questions and start taking orders.

Remember to include your address, telephone number, and details of where and when customers can buy your product (i.e. retail location and business opening hours) on all printed material.

Ugastove flier in Uganda. Photo Credit: Ugastove

HELPS marketing brochure, Guatemala. Photo Credit: HELPS

Posters are smaller versions of mass media signage and billboards. They are often used at point-of-purchase retail environments and provide detailed information about the product features and benefits.

Photo Credit: Envirofit

Photo Credit: Envirofit

Envirofit uses colorful, visual signage to promote their cookstoves, India. (Photo: Envirofit).

A flip book is a book that allows a salesperson to give a presentation using a series of pictures rather than words to tell a story or promote an idea. Flip books are useful for live events and trade shows, where the spokesperson can describe how the product works, highlight its features, and articulate the benefits of using the product. Flip books provide organizational structure at live events, and provide additional talking points for the sales people less familiar with the product.
To watch a flip book demonstration in action, fast forward to 1:15 on the following video.


Events can also generate visibility for your effort and offer ample opportunities for interaction with your target audience.  They can be part of a larger public gathering, or they may be ones that have been organized solely for your campaigns. For example, a cookstove manufacturer could sponsor the cookstove equipment for a large festival or holiday to gain visibility in the community. Kickstart holds competitive events like “pumping contests,” where crowd participants compete to see who can pump a certain amount of water the fastest.  In rural areas, the pumping contests generate a lot of excitement and can take on a festival feel.

Kickstart pump contest, Kenya. Photo credit: Kickstart

Photo Credit: Kickstart

Events are also an excellent forum for demonstrating the product to a large audience. When trying to create a marketing and awareness campaign focused on the health effects of water, WaterHealth India hosted large-scale community events attracting hundreds of people. Regaling the audience with music, comedy, a magic show, and other entertainment, WHI also gave a live demonstration comparing local water with WHI’s purified water through magnified images projected on a screen.

WaterHealth India community events, India. Photo credit: Ripple Effect

Similarly, PATH puts on interactive street theater performances across Kenya to educate the population on HIV/AIDS. There is a short case study on PATH’s magnet theater (so called because it pulls you in) available here or watch the short film below.

IDE, the maker of a treadle pump, takes a slightly different tact in India.  IDE commissions full-length Bollywood films with famous actors and directors.  Each film tells a story with a happy ending brought about by the introduction of a treadle pump or drip irrigation.  Films are screened from the back of vans to large crowds in the villages where IDE dealers operate.  IDE makes sure that treadle pump dealers are available during the films’ intermission to answer any questions from prospective buyers.  Click here to watch a song about a poor girl from a small village in India who finds prosperity and happiness from her treadle pump, KB Drip.

Personal Media

Personal channels are most effective when some form of personal intervention and interaction is required to deliver detailed information, address barriers and concerns, build trust, and gain commitment. Personal selling uses a sales force to develop personal relationships with potential buyers in the hopes that direct information exchange will facilitate “closing the sale” with a purchase. The advantages of direct sales channels are that customers obtain a high degree of personal attention and the sales message can be customized to meet the needs of that specific customer.

In person Meeting

Pilot Kitchens

Face-to-face sales meetings give the sales force a chance to demonstrate the product in real-time and to respond directly and promptly to a customer’s questions and concerns.

While this two-way messaging is helpful for both parties, the main disadvantage to in-person meetings is the cost of employing a sales force (ideally one that is properly incentivized) and the challenges of scaling efforts (because a sales agent can only call on one customer at a time).  Nonetheless, in-person meetings are incredibly effective at getting across large amounts of technical or complex product information.

In-person meetings are the most effective when supported by collateral such as flip books, brochures, and other vivid pieces of information.

Pilot kitchens are excellent introductions for social goods that require behavior change, such as cookstoves and water filters.

Find “healthy kitchen” promoters in the community who are willing to pilot the product and demonstrate it to their neighbors.  It is important to train the promoters about proper usage of the product, as they will be the primary information source for other villagers.  The opinion of pilot kitchen promoters tends to be trusted over other promotional tactics because it uses community members and facilitates viral word-of-mouth among the resident social network.

Monitoring and Evaluation

A promotion strategy combines some or all elements of this array. The combination will depend on the audience, the message you are trying to convey and, of course, the available budget. Use communication methods wisely, and present clear and consistent messages.
Monitoring and evaluating your promotional activities is important in re-evaluating the appropriate promotional strategy for your product. Experiment by trying promotional strategies in specific areas, during specific time periods. Analyze the impact of these promotions on sales. Conduct surveys to understand the level of customer awareness of your product.

  • How do your customers find out about your product? What does this tell you about different communication channels?
  • Do people remember your promotional efforts?
  • What type of promotion was successful and what was ineffective?

You should continue to revisit these questions every few months and adapt your strategy accordingly.

End Notes

Kotler, Philip and Nancy Lee. Social Marketing: Influencing Behaviors for Good, 3rd edition. SAGE Publications.

Rouse, Jonathan, Silke Rothenberger, and Chris Zurbrugg. Marketing Compost:  Guide for Compost Producers in Low and Middle-Income Countries. Eawag, 2008.