Last week Beyoncé set the Internet abuzz when she released a surprise new album in what some have called a stroke of social marketing genius. A great example of a common mix-up between social media marketing and social marketing, Beyoncé’s album release isn’t social marketing as we think of it. However, we’ve been excited to see social marketing (i.e., the application of marketing principles and techniques to plan, implement and evaluate social change programs (1)) trending in 2013 as well.
The appeal of social marketing lies in its utility in producing behavior change through a consumer oriented approach. More and more, evidence suggests there’s more to behavior change than a rational, well-thought-out argument. This is an idea that seems second nature for marketers of products (do this because you want to), but it is often overlooked when marketing the “products” that stand to benefit most – any number of healthy lifestyle choices requiring sustained change (do this because you should).
Reflecting back on lessons learned in 2013, the tension between appealing to what people want and what they should want has been a common thread across projects, across clients, across conferences, across causes. A key question has been: what can communicators with a social cause learn/borrow from the success of consumer goods advertisers? We certainly aren’t the only ones asking this question. For example, efforts to promote healthier diets have been rallying around this question recently:
- “While limiting the marketing of unhealthy food is critical, it’s not enough. We also need companies to actually market healthy foods to kids – foods that have real nutritional value, foods that are fortified with real fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy.” – Michelle Obama
- “We must change the game. We can help solve the obesity crisis by stealing junk food’s playbook, by creating passion for produce, by becoming demand creators, not just growers and processors.” – Jeffrey Dunn, Bolthouse Farms
- “When I began talking to people in the advertising industry as well as growers and marketers of produce about what might be done to encourage Americans to eat better, the universal response was to stop sending the message that this is something dutiful you have to do for your health and start advertising more creatively.” – Michael Moss, New York Times
So, how can communicators with a social cause leverage the success of consumer goods advertising? The answer gaining increasing traction is social marketing. In fact, a proposed goal as part of Healthy People 2020 is for all state health departments to be using social marketing in health promotion and disease prevention programs. (2) The following metrics, used to gauge baseline social marketing practices in health departments, provide a digestible overview of what social marketing entails:
- When designing our programs, we focus on understanding our priority audiences’ lives and behavior as much as possible.
- We identify specific, measurable behaviors that the program is focused on influencing in our priority audiences.
- We refer to social and behavioral science theories to inform program design and implementation.
- We conduct audience research to understand what moves and motivates them, including ‘who’ and ‘what’ influence the targeted behavior.
- Our programs incorporate the costs and benefits our audience perceives in changing or giving up the targeted behavior.
- We identify and incorporate factors that compete for the time and attention of audiences whose behavior we seek to influence.
- We identify priority audience segments that have common characteristics and then tailor programs appropriately.
- We use all elements of the marketing mix – product, price, place and promotion – to influence the targeted behavior.
We’ve seen a similar trend in emphasis across our work in the federal government space. Over the past year, we’ve been asked to leverage theory to define program objectives and structure formative research, to provide audience segmentations based on demographic and psychographic characteristics, and to conduct formative research with priority groups as well as program monitoring/evaluation in support of a number of public health and social issues.
It’s exciting to see the social marketing process transitioning to measurable objectives, and we look forward to the progress 2014 will bring.