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Do Marketers Matter for Entrepreneurs? Evidence from a Field Experiment in Uganda

Do Marketers Matter for Entrepreneurs? Evidence from a Field Experiment in Uganda

Stephen J. Anderson, Pradeep Chintagunta, Frank Germann and Naufel Vilcassim

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A critical yet largely unaddressed research question motivates our study: Can marketers help improve the world? We propose marketers can help entrepreneurs in emerging markets grow their businesses. And flourishing entrepreneurs in these markets can improve lives, sustain livelihoods, enhance overall living standards, and strengthen societies.

To test marketers’ unique effect on emerging market entrepreneurs, we conduct a randomized controlled field experiment with 930 Ugandan businesses. The experiment allows us to examine the impact of a business support intervention in which international professionals from varying functional backgrounds (e.g., marketing, consulting) volunteered time to help small-scale entrepreneurs. Our results show volunteer marketers are effective in helping entrepreneurs grow sales, profits, assets, and employees. The volunteers specifically help emerging market entrepreneurs differentiate their businesses and offer premium products, an outcome difficult for many firms to achieve.

Causally identifying the impact of a “marketer” on firm growth adds to the burgeoning work on marketing’s overall influence in firms. While it may seem obvious that marketing professionals focus on differentiation and premium products, the approach may be counterintuitive in emerging markets, where disposable income is low. Moreover, through additional insights on the role of market knowledge and resource availability, our study adds to the sparse marketing-entrepreneurship literature, particularly as it pertains to firm growth in an emerging market. The paper speaks to several non-academic audiences. Given the positive and direct impact marketers can have on growth outcomes, we hope the study will motivate marketing practitioners to work with entrepreneurs and early-stage ventures in emerging markets. Governmental and non-governmental organizations actively serving emerging markets should also benefit from our findings when designing and implementing future business support services. Entrepreneurs should also take note of our findings and solicit marketers’ help by hiring them or contracting for their services.

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Related Marketing Courses: ​
Marketing Strategy; Principles of Marketing, Core Marketing, Intro to Marketing Management​​​​

Full Citation: ​
Anderson, Stephen J., Pradeep Chintagunta, Frank Germann, and Naufel Vilcassim. “Do Marketers Matter for Entrepreneurs? Evidence from a Field Experiment in Uganda.” Journal of Marketing, (March 2021).

Article Abstract
Promoting growth by differentiating products is a core tenet of marketing. However, establishing and quantifying marketing’s causal impact on firm growth, while critical, can be difficult. This paper examines the effects of a business support intervention in which international professionals from different functional backgrounds (e.g., marketing, consulting) volunteered time to help Ugandan entrepreneurs improve growth. Findings from a multi-year field experiment show entrepreneurs randomly matched with volunteer marketers significantly increased firm growth. Compared to control firms, the entrepreneurs in the Marketer treatment group grew monthly sales by 51.7% on average, while their monthly profits improved by 35.8%, total assets increased by 31.0%, and paid employees rose by 23.8%. A linguistic analysis of interactions between volunteers and entrepreneurs indicates the marketers spent more time on product-related topics than other volunteers. Further mechanism analyses indicate the marketers helped the entrepreneurs focus on premium products to differentiate in the marketplace. In line with the study’s process evidence, firms with greater market knowledge or resource availability benefitted significantly more than their peers when matched with volunteer marketers. As small-scale businesses form the commercial backbone of most emerging markets, their performance and development are critically important. And marketers’ positive impact on the businesses highlights the need for the field’s increased presence in emerging markets.

Special thanks to Demi Oba and Holly Howe, Ph.D. candidates at Duke University, for their support in working with authors on submissions to this program.

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Stephen J. Anderson is Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Texas at Austin, USA.

Pradeep Chintagunta is Joseph T. and Bernice S. Lewis Distinguished Service Professor of Marketing, University of Chicago, USA.

Frank Germann is Associate Professor of Marketing, University of Notre Dame, USA.

Naufel Vilcassim is Head of Department, LSE Vice Dean TRIUM Executive MBA Program, and Professor of Marketing, London School of Economics, UK.