What is social marketing? In a nutshell, it is the process of making positive changes in a population through the marketing strategies usually used by commercial companies. The positive changes may be anything from reduced smoking rates to conserving ecological resources.
In a world where even third world children recognize Ronald McDonald, it’s easy to see how populations could be made healthier, smarter, and better citizens through commercial influence. A good example of social marketing can be seen in the “public service” announcements now seen on television. Between reality shows and cereal commercials, Americans are beseeched to vote on election day or to eat more vegetables. The hope is that the public can be convinced to make socially conscious choices the same way they are influenced to buy certain brands of food and clothing.
But how new is social marketing? Although it is often touted as a new concept, it has actually been around for centuries. The difference is that when we don’t endorse the cause being socially marketed, we call it ‘propaganda’. Take, for instance, the posters tacked to every flat surface during both World Wars asking healthy young men to join the military. Consider Adolph Hitler’s use of the radio and written media to market his beliefs to the wartime Germans. Both examples qualify as classic social marketing, although most people no longer approve of the subject matter.
The basic steps of a successful social marketing are the same as those for traditional, consumer marketing.
1. Choose a tangible goal. For a corporation, the goal would likely be increased sales of a determined amount. In social marketing, the goal might be, for example, to encourage a higher percentage of the local population to have their children vaccinated.
2. Analyze the market. In our immunization scenario, the ‘market’ would be the population that is not inoculating their children. The marketing campaign would be most successful if the social marketers know basic demographic information about these families such as race, income, geographic location, and education level.
3. Research and test the marketing materials on the desired demographic. This could be done through focus groups, informal surveys of the population, or larger scale studies. The product may have to be modified several times to produce a more effective package of marketing materials.
4. Determine the venue of marketing. If you were marketing to a highly literate population, newspapers, pamphlets, and magazines would be good venues for marketing. In the immunization example, the target population would be parents of young children, and thus good venues might be commercial spots during children television shows or brochures left in local pediatricians’ waiting rooms.
5. Place and promote the product. In this step, the tested marketing materials are placed in the appropriate marketing venues. Although this is the step most people picture when they think of marketing, it is only a small part of the overall process.
6. After a set amount of time, analyze the results. In our vaccination example, public health officials could analyze the change in immunization rates following the marketing campaign. An increase would make the campaign a success, while stagnant or decreasing rates would indicate failure.
7. If necessary, the campaign would be modified, reconfigured, and re-marketed. However, because the goal is to get the target population to accept certain behavior, a truly successful social marketing campaign would mean that no more marketing of the issue is needed. If the parents in our immunization example had dramatically improved their immunization rates and truly embraced the idea of vaccination, they would not need further convincing.
It’s important to consider in social marketing that there is a reason the behavior has not already been embraced. The reasons may include a lack of knowledge, lack of finances, lack of time, or perceived negative effects. In the immunization example, the cause could be side effects of immunization or a lack of education about the role they play in disease control. It is crucial that all objections to the socially desired behavior be addressed to the audience’s satisfaction.
The classic “4 P’s” of marketing can clearly be seen in the above example: Product, Price, Placement, and Promotion. The product is immunization, the price is perceived side effects, the placement is the venue, and the promotion is the ads and brochures themselves. Social marketing mimics commercial marketing because in our advertisement laden world, social causes truly are just one more product being sold. The most important goal of social marketers, and the one made most difficult by traditional marketing practices, is setting causes above and apart from the constant bombardment of marketing. This truly will be the social marketing challenge of the new millennium.