This resource presents an overview of key social marketing principles.
Fifty years ago, the word "marketing" belonged only to the world of cigarettes, junk food, sneakers, and cereals—not to the world of nonprofit social service agencies or substance abuse prevention. Today, as the science of marketing has evolved, social marketing has come to play an important role in health and social service efforts. Social marketing can offer tools and techniques that prevention practitioners can use to help improve prevention activities in their communities. If it’s clearly understood, adapted with care, and carried out professionally with research to back it up, social marketing can be a very useful tool for prevention practitioners.
Launching a full-scale marketing campaign can play a vital role in creating community change. But that is not the only reason, or even the main reason, to have a working knowledge of social marketing. This technique can be used in other ways, for example:
Over the past 20 years, many health and social causes have used social marketing to raise awareness and produce behavior change within different audiences around the world. Social marketing techniques have also been used effectively in the fields of alcohol and other drug prevention, family planning, heart disease prevention, and energy conservation.
Definitions from experts usually emphasize various aspects of social marketing. Alan R. Andreasen, for instance, a major architect of social marketing, describes it as the application of commercial marketing principles and techniques to the "selling" of ideas, attitudes, and behaviors that benefit the audience and society as a whole. Philip Kotler, another social marketing expert, defines it as "applying marketing principles and techniques to advance a social cause, idea, or behavior."
Social marketing draws on techniques developed by marketing experts, particularly as they started to base their techniques on theories about what motivates human behavior. The foundation of social marketing is conducting research to understand what the consumer or target audience wants or needs. Social marketers can then "package" the product or behavior they want to "sell" so that it resonates with these wants and needs.
Marketing strategies accommodate consumer focus by addressing the "Four P's": product, price, place, and promotion:
Many of the techniques used in social marketing efforts are the same as in commercial marketing:
There are two principles that differentiate social marketing from general marketing practices: audience focus and the exchange principle.
Success of social marketing depends, in large part, on understanding the target audience. The first step in developing this understanding is to define an audience. Once it’s determined who to reach, and why, the messages can be tailored accordingly.
"General public" is not a helpful phrase when it comes to marketing. It assumes the existence of a vast, undifferentiated crowd of people with uniform needs and similar interests. Yet, everyday experience shows this is clearly not the case: Turn on the television to one of more than 100 channels, and chances are, you will hear someone make a comment with which you disagree.
Fortunately for social marketers, the general public comprises many smaller audiences, or segments, that do share interests, cultures, and backgrounds. Through a process called "audience segmentation," these groups can be characterized and differentiated according to specific traits, such as age, gender, ethnicity, role in the community, skills, or experiences. Knowledge of these traits helps social marketers develop and deliver appropriate messages.
Another essential feature of social marketing is a concept known as the exchange principle. In order for people to try something new (like using condoms) or give something up (like stopping smoking), they need to benefit in some way. Furthermore, the reward or benefit of adopting the behavior needs to be greater than the "cost." Finally, the new behavior must be worth the cost in the individual's mind.
Consider this example: A person is trying to lose weight and has decided to go to the gym three nights a week to do so. But what sacrifice will he/she be willing to make to get to the gym? If the benefit of losing weight is great enough, then it may be worth it to leave the comfort of home and head off into the night. However, if the goal seems unattainable, or the gym is too far away, too expensive, or there's a great TV show on, then the likelihood of making it to the gym decreases on a given evening.
When thinking about the target audience and the exchange process, keep in mind that people don't make choices in a vacuum. Research shows people are more likely to adopt a new behavior if friends, family, and/or their social group approve of it or practice it themselves. Advertisers often use this knowledge to sell products. For example, one popular Coke commercial depicts a group of young teenagers holding a car wash. Music is pumping and the kids are having fun. The exchange: "If you drink Coke, you'll have fun. If you drink Coke, you'll have friends." Framed in this way, why would any teenager not want to drink Coke?
"Peer pressure" on adults may not be as great as on youth but can still affect behavior. Consider, for example, how much easier it is to take an early morning walk if you have a friend to walk with you. Or how much more comfortable it is for a new mother to breastfeed her infant it the behavior is supported by the other adults in her life.
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Developed under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies contract (Reference #HHSS277200800004C).