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IU Northwest professor publishes research targeting need for marketing of social service agencies

Research uncovers different expectations amongst ethnic groups

IU Northwest file photo
Subir Bandyopadhyay, Ph.D., Professor of Marketing

When successful companies are looking to launch a new product or service, they thoroughly research their consumers. They analyze their preferences, backgrounds, incomes, educations and more to deliver precisely the right product or service in precisely the right way. But creating such a detailed customer profile requires manpower and money, and businesses with the resources to tap into expensive market data are at the best advantage.

Social service agencies, especially smaller non-profit entities like the ones that pepper the Northwest Indiana area, have an equally important need to get to know their consumers, but they often can’t afford the coveted consumer research that larger, for-profit companies can.

In 2008, IU Northwest Professor of Marketing Subir Bandyopadhyay, Ph.D., began thinking about how small, non-profit providers of social services, though well-intentioned and sincere, are painfully uninformed about the markets they serve. When he mentioned this to Manoj Pardasani, Ph.D., then an IU Northwest Professor of Social Work, an idea for a research study was born. The pair theorized that in the absence of such data, services are delivered solely with a Caucasian consumer in mind. They suspected that local non-profits’ clients have some unique characteristics the organizations aren’t aware of, resulting in some disharmony in the client-provider relationship. 

Published online in December 2010 and going to print in March 2011 in the International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, the study, “Do Quality Perceptions of Health and Social Services Vary for Different Ethnic Groups? An Empirical Investigation,” examines this phenomenon.

To conduct their research, the professors created a survey of 39 questions intended to examine the perceptions of clients at 13 agencies throughout Northwest Indiana. The sample included 51 Caucasian, 42 African American and 31 Hispanic clients.

What Bandyopadhyay and his colleague determined was not so much that there were distinct differences in perceptions between Caucasian clients and minorities, as they suspected, but that significant differences existed between the ethnic groups themselves, suggesting a need to customize the delivery of services by ethnic group. The most significant factors, Bandyopadhyay says, showed up on topics related to family involvement and language barriers.

“Our research shows that African Americans and Hispanics have significantly different perceptions about the quality of social services than Whites,” Bandyopadhyay said. “More importantly, perceptions of African Americans and Hispanics also significantly differ in many dimensions. This is an interesting finding because a majority of multicultural research tends to club all minorities into one single category. Our research findings show that minority groups have distinct characteristics and should be treated differently.”

Bandyopadhyay hopes the research is a first step in filling a void that social service providers often grapple with – the absence of a consumer profile that can help them serve their clients in the best way possible. The research essentially provides them this -- a key marketing tool previously unavailable to them as well as a springboard for further study.

The research, Bandyopadhyay says, is not applicable to all Caucasian and minority populations, but can be generalized for other geographical areas that have a similar demographic.

Bandyopadhyay says that a similar study involving business models and how they apply differently to social work than for-profit businesses would be an intriguing follow-up to this research.

Bandyopadhyay received his Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati. An IU Northwest professor of marketing since 2001, he taught previously at universities in Canada. Pardasani now serves in the graduate school of social service at Fordham University in New York.


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Emily Banas
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