'The change you give can change lives'
 
Think about restaurants for a moment- customers are already giving something extra to the establishment by way of tips, usually via a rounding off process. For instance, a customer can round off a bill of P234 to P250 or may even decide to give a fixed amount like P50 to make it P284. Restaurants execute this easily by creating a tip code in their electronic cash register. Then the restaurants give this to their employees at regular intervals.
 
What can other industries learn from this? In more progressive cafes in the West, more and more have started a 'suspended account' trend. This means a customer gets one coffee but pays for more than one, the difference is given to a poor person who asks for them. The administration is simple via honesty system, one coffee at a time.
 
Why would customers be generous? Here is an insight - many people are busy and even if they want to spend time doing good, they can't readily find the chance, so they resort to using their money to help small causes for the moment. Collectively, their small donations can be significant. Customers are human beings too and they want to feel good by being involved but they need organizations to conceive and execute good projects. They will be ready to support a company doing good and at the same time involve them in the equation.
 
Let's apply this 'customers as donors' blue ocean-concept to a large drugstore, say it's Mercury Drugstore, the Goliath in the drug retailing industry in the Philippines with some P100 billion in annual sales. How can Mercury involve customers in an advocacy process that can help the poor but sick patients needing free medicines for their hypertension, diabetes, etc.?
 
How can Mercury execute an advocacy project in a sustainable way that is on a daily basis, instead of doing an annual one day medical outreach event during their company anniversary?
 
There is a need to reframe the issue since Mercury Drug has the bargaining power, at least at this point, to simply ask suppliers for sponsorship of free medicines for their one-day annual medical outreach event and thus may not be motivated to be innovative in their traditional practices. Reframing involves changing existing paradigms and asking different questions.
 
Here's yet another insight - many people from low-income households don't take medicines not just because they don't have the money but also because they don't want their family members to be indebted knowing they will eventually die anyway.
 
So what can Mercury Drugstore do? Like a restaurant, they can launch a branded program asking their customers permission to keep the change (cash buyers), to round off (credit card buyers) or to donate their points (loyal buyers) program. This would create both a differentiated and low cost program, using existing manpower and facilities, targeting a big unserved market - the bottom of the pyramid who do not have the money to buy medicines.
 
Of course, the value proposition can be compelling but execution needs to be planned well. No major innovation can be done without top management support, whose vision will drive innovation to happen, removing barriers in order to continue to be relevant and different.
 
With thousands of competing generic pharmacies surrounding Mercury Drugstore now, it is a question of time that their share of voice, share of heart and share of habits will narrow the gap versus Mercury. Who knows, instead of Mercury Drugstore initiating a program like this, it may be TGP (The Generics Pharmacy) who may take interest to reinforce their rising share of mind. After all, their Christian owner has innovation as the center of his strategy.
 
Why can't many big companies be different? Because they are already better, and have other strengths to rely on in the meantime. This is the most common reason why banks missed the opportunity to open thousands of Bayad Centers for a large underserved market. They unrealistically expected low income consumers in sando and shorts to pay their bills in their existing branches, with gun-toting guards staring at them and stopping them to ask questions in the bank entrance.
 
(JOSIAH GO is the chair of marketing training and advocacy firm Mansmith and Fielders Inc. Follow www.josiahgo.comfor his weekly Q&A with various thought leaders.