Marketing honours students help Wollies with digital marketing strategies: A tail of community engagement

Posted on October 06, 2023

Community engagement is a powerful learning tool that enriches the educational experience and thus forms a significant component of the Marketing Management honours degree programme offered at the University of Pretoria. In the Marketing in Practice Module, students are provided with opportunities to partake in real-life community engagement initiatives that are relevant to the field of marketing. One of the main objectives of marketers is to create awareness for an organisation’s products and services. This is also relevant for the non-profit sector, and marketers also have a responsibility towards creating awareness for organisations and causes that ultimately benefit society.
 
Wollies Animal Shelter is a non-profit organisation situated in the north of Pretoria, that provides care and shelter for abandoned, neglected and abused animals. The shelter is a safe haven for animals that have been found or given up, relying mostly on donations and volunteers to keep its doors open. Recently, there has been an increasing number of pet owners giving up their pets due to the inability to provide for them, as well as due to relocation. Financial constraints resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to move to smaller homes became one of the driving forces that has resulted in the shelter currently being over full and in far more need of support and awareness for their cause amongst various communities.
 
In today's technologically advanced world, digital platforms serve as powerful tools to connect with a wide and diverse audience. Importantly, digital marketing is a highly sought-after strategy employed by marketers today to generate awareness for products, services, non-profit organisations, and various philanthropic causes. The Marketing Management honours students were tasked with a digital marketing project for Wollies in March 2023, with the objectives of enhancing online awareness, increasing donations, and boosting adoption rates.

Favour Oluwamakinde and Anike van Vuuren with the cats in the cat sanctuary

The project was facilitated by Michelle du Plessis, a digital marketing industry expert and Marketing honours lecturer, together with Dr Bianca Frost, the module coordinator. The project, which formed part of their coursework, allowed the students to apply their theoretical knowledge and practical skills to a real-life scenario, with the aim of enhancing their digital marketing skills and developing more socially responsible marketing professionals.
 
Many of the students had not previously visited an animal shelter. To provide marketable solutions that will resonate with the target audience, the students visited the shelter in groups accompanied by the module coordinator, to obtain an understanding of the environment. The visit to the shelter proved to be a profoundly enlightening experience for the students. It provided them with a first-hand understanding of the challenges and realities faced by the shelter.
 
The immersive encounter with the shelter's operations and passionate staff stirred a range of emotions among the students. They realised the significance of creating potentially impactful digital marketing campaigns and strategies that could benefit the shelter. The visit ultimately enhanced the student’s perspectives and enriched their comprehension of the role that they play as individuals and marketers in society.
 
The above is evident from some of the comments from the students following the site visit provided below:
“It was great to actually see the facilities of Wollies and to experience the culture of the shelter and the employees there first-hand. It feels good to help a business where the employees are actively making a change.”
 
“It was quite shocking to see the stats in regards to adoption, and how many more animals are given up than adopted.”
 
“It definitely changed my way of thinking and I will definitely think more about adopting before buying a pet.”
 
“Cats are not that scary. I was initially unsettled about the number of cats at the shelter, because I always thought I had a fear of cats, but after interacting with them, I felt calmer around them. Yes, my whole perception of cats changed.”
 
“I felt very overwhelmed with the number of animals there were and especially sad for those who had owners previously.”
 
“After visiting Wollies, I said to myself that one day when I have a stable income, I will definitely give a monthly donation to an animal shelter. They really need any support they can get. I will also try to encourage others to do the same. Even if everyone contributes R10, it can go a long long way.”
 
Given this heightened understanding of the needs of the shelter, the students put in their best efforts and showcased their passion for making a difference, while also recognising the rewards of giving back to the community. On 23 May 2023, the students presented their digital marketing strategies and ideas for potential future campaigns.
 

Marketing Management honours students at Wollies Animal Shelter, from left: Dylan Fleetwood, Nicholas Mester, Tamaryn Haefele, Dané Barnard, Kyla Rouvoet, Frieda Moorehouse, Jenna Frazer, Neo Nkwana, Gareth Ruswa, Tristan Farrell, K'amohetsoe Molotsi, Munaka Muthambi, Christian Schoeman, Mohamed Ismail Javed and Bradleigh Benson

The students highlighted the benefits of social media to create awareness for the shelter, which can be implemented cost-effectively via daily postings. They created mock-ups of what these posts could look like and created examples of content calendars that could be utilised to ensure a consistent and continuous social media presence. The importance of acknowledging donors on their social media platforms was emphasised. A primary benefit for non-profit organisations related to Google networks is that a certain amount of search advertising is offered for free each month. With search networks, individuals will be actively searching to adopt a dog or cat and this will lead to higher conversion rates.
 
Some of the students went the extra mile and partnered with organisations to donate food and blankets, which are still very much needed. These Marketing Management honours students serve as examples of how academic knowledge and practical skills can be harnessed to make a meaningful difference in the lives of our community. For more information about the animal shelter or to contribute to their cause, please visit www.wollies.org.

 

- Author Department of Marketing Management

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