Ten commandments for social marketing…response to the Kicking Bad Habits Study conducted by the King’s Fund

Many years ago when I first got into the social marketing business it became obvious to me that in order to achieve attitude and behaviour change I needed to be strategic. Over many years of working at Health Canada we discovered many innovative ways to achieve success.

We did have some failures but we learned from our mistakes and made sure we did not duplicate them. Once I left Health Canada it became obvious to me that I can use my skills to help those new to the field. So for the past few years my colleagues and I at the  Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing have been assisting many clients with their social marketing initiatives as well as developing workbooks and training courses on how to run successful social marketing campaigns. Our experience as practioners in the field I believe has had some real impact in Canada  so I was interested in reading an article  that highlighted findings from a study, Kicking Bad Habits, conducted by the King’s Fund that calls for new ways of thinking when it comes for public health – specifically, social marketing. The King’s Fund found after a year-long investigation into the effectiveness of different programs to tackle smoking, alcohol misuse, poor diet and lack of exercise that although the Department of Health (UK) invests heavily in publicity campaigns to promote healthy lifestyles providing information on its own has little effect, the King’s Fund said. “Social marketing techniques and data analysis tools like geodemographics should be used to identify, target and communicate messages designed to motivate people to change how they live. And public health programs should not rely on just one approach – such as information campaigns or financial incentives – as the evidence shows the most effective interventions employ a variety of tactics.”

Dr Anna Dixon, Director of Policy at the King’s Fund, said that health services needs to be more innovative. “The methods used to promote public health need to be more modern, using the most advanced techniques and technologies.” She added that more evidence was needed on the interventions that worked so money was not wasted.

Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the Faculty of Public Health, said he wholeheartedly agreed with the report conclusions. “We need social marketing techniques to target messages and understand what will make changes worthwhile for people but also we need to make sure the healthy choices are the easy choices.

This made me think on what advice I would give these folks in the UK to improve their social marketing health campaign efforts. So here are 10 things which I believe can really strengthen a social marketing initiative.

1. If the person or persons running the campaigns are not trained in marketing and do not have a good grasp of marketing (not communication and education) then more than likely the campaign initiative will not succeed. For reasons which are a complete mystery to me most social marketing initiatives seem to be run by people who have no background in marketing. Can you imagine someone in the private sector being asked to lead a marketing initiative who has no formal training in marketing? Not likely but many of the people I have met who are responsible for social marketing come from fields like communications, public relations  health or education . I suspect that’s why many of the campaigns I have reviewed as a consultant are heavy on communication and education but lack innovative marketing techniques.

2. I know this is pretty basic and that even those who don’t have a marketing background know there are 4 p’s to marketing but check out the campaigns in the health area and see how many actually address the 4 p’s of marketing… very few. Most of the health campaigns I have seen are communications or advertising campaigns but few are really social marketing.

3. In my view segmentation is the key to effective social marketing and many campaigns are too general and focus on the “general public”. In a number of cases, the campaigns will focus on demographics and geographic but remember with social marketing you are dealing with behaviour change and the most important type of segmentation based on my 30 years of experience is psychographics but how many social marketers have used psychographic segmentation to develop and implement campaigns,… very few.

4. Another major failure of many campaigns is the lack of attention to look at the factors influencing the adoption of the behaviour i.e. perceived barriers/potential benefits for targeted behaviour as well as competing behaviours /forces.

To be effective in the field of social marketing and influence behaviour change, marketers must understand what their target audiences perceive to be the barriers to change. Marketers focus on removing barriers to an activity while simultaneously enhancing the benefits. There is a tendency for individuals to respond positively to actions that are highly beneficial and have few barriers. Social marketers conduct research to discover the key barriers and potential benefits and then develop strategies and tactics that addresses them. The safer, healthier etc. behaviour you promote is competing with many other choices your target audience can make, including the risky behaviour they may be performing now. To be effective, your strategy must make your proposed behaviour at least as attractive as the alternatives. People do things because they get benefits in return. Barriers make it harder for people to act. Your research must uncover which benefits the target audience wants more, and which barriers they struggle with most. Your strategy depends on this.

5. Pay attention to social norms which are people’s beliefs about the attitudes and behaviours that are normal, acceptable, or even expected in a particular social context. In many situations, people’s perception of these norms will greatly influence their behaviour.

Therefore, when people misperceive the norms of their group—that is, when they inaccurately think an attitude or behaviour is more (or less) common than is actually the case—they may choose to engage in behaviours that are in sync with those false norms.

The social norm process works by collecting data on the actual versus perceived behavioural norms. If there is an over-exaggeration of the norms, then social marketing messages and tactics are developed to communicate the true norms that exist. By continuing to communicate the true norms, the myth that everybody is doing it is slowly eroded away until the group realizes that the majority are doing what’s right for “the environment”. When this positive message is sustained for a year or two, the negative behaviours of the group begin to shift downward to reflect the majority behaviour.

6. Sometimes significant environmental barriers exist which makes it difficult for change to occur at the individual level. In these cases, it may be necessary to employ upstream efforts, which aim to change the political, social, legal, physical or public policy environment by giving messages to industry or government. The upstream concept involves influencing decisions makers and facilitating changes in environments so change (individual or systemic) can take place.  Think of social change as a stream. Typically organizations do a lot of work downstream – working one-on-one on individual behaviour change.  And this is good. But until norms are shifted and the behaviour is seen as acceptable and desirable, the change can be isolated and short-lived. By moving further upstream and also involving community influential’s or organizations whose actions are needed to bring about change, you have more of a chance to create widespread and sustained change.

7. Make darn sure that your objectives are measurable (i.e. SMART). Also set objectives for the following 3 types of objectives

· Behaviour objectives are simple clear and doable actions.

· Knowledge objectives are based on statistics or facts that could motivate the target audience. In particular, the target audience should know the benefits of the proposed behaviour and what tools they can access to help them with behaviour change.

· Belief objectives are tied to attitudes, opinions, feelings or values held by the target audience. For instance the individual may need to believe that their current behaviour is putting themselves, their families or society at risk, that they are capable of performing the desired behaviour and that the behaviour will produce the desired results.

8. Positioning is a key element to social marketing. In social marketing, products are hard to promote because of their high “price.” Products like behaviours and attitudes require long ­ term commitments and do not sell as easily as a bar of soap or a car. The cost of a social marketing product often includes a person’s time and effort, giving up things he likes, embarrassment or inconvenience, or social disapproval. To counteract factors working against adoption of the product, we need to acknowledge these potential problems and address them.

Your product positioning determines how the people in your target audience think about your product as compared to the competition. Product positioning is usually based on either the benefits of the product or removal of barriers. By talking about your product with the target audience, you can learn the benefits they value most and the barriers they foresee.

Decisions regarding product will determine positioning. In social marketing it includes the perceptions, impressions and feelings that consumers have for the product. It is important to make choices that are based on a clear understanding of your competition. Know the needs, wants and preferences that your target market associates with their current behaviour (i.e. your competitor). Make choices that ensure that your target audience will see your product as offering more and greater benefits than the one they associate with their current behaviour. The product’s positioning should be thought of as the way the product is defined by consumers on important attributes-the place the product occupies in the consumers’ minds relative to competing products.  (Source: Nedra Kline Weinreich, Weinreich Communications Spare Change Blog http://www.social-marketing.com/blog/)

9. The methods used to deliver a message are important. Strategies should use a combination of social marketing targeted tactics directed to key target groups. It is more effective to reach target audiences with messages that are relevant and will resonate with them. What tends to happen we hire advertising or web experts and guess what your tactics are focused on …advertising and web.

There is no secret to ensuring you are using the right tactics and messages but in my experience if you have done your home work and have a full social marketing plan and I emphasize a social marketing plan… not a communications or public relations or public education or outreach plan but a social marketing plan. (If you don’t know how to do a plan get a copy of our planning guide ) you are much more likely to make the right decisions on selecting tactics.

Two tactics that are not used often enough are:

· “Face to face marketing see previous blog (I plan to do another blog on this topic in the near future.)

· Strategic Alliances.  When developing your tactical plans it is a good idea to consider how you can expand the reach of your messages through strategic alliances. You may wish to identify specific organizations or simply the types of organizations with whom you will develop alliances. Partnerships between external organizations for the purpose of delivering information to citizens are becoming increasingly popular. Strategic alliances are gaining recognition by all sectors whether they are public, private or non-profit as a legitimate and effective way of reaching and influencing individuals. Partnerships need to be considered as an integral tool for delivering cost effective messages to audiences identified for the campaign. It is believed that both the tangible (e.g. marketing and distribution networks) and intangible (e.g. credibility, associative) value of partnerships could be substantial and these partnerships should be leveraged to deliver psychologically-targeted, positive and sustained messages to target audiences. An expanded marketing network composed of government, as well as corporate sector, non-profits, interest groups, coalitions, professional associations, academia and opinion leaders will improve credibility tremendously, over a single-source marketing campaign. They will also help effectively saturate the media while spreading the cost across all sectors. Strategic Alliances require common and compatible objectives and they should be used to assist an organization do something it cannot do on its own. Finally strategic alliances can be risky and developing them can be time consuming so only enter into a strategic alliance when the benefit to your organization is clear.

10. Evaluate evaluate evaluate. If you have measureable objectives, as mentioned earlier, evaluation should not be difficult. The one approach that I personally like is benchmarking /tracking approach. Benchmark surveys are conducted before a campaign to determine knowledge, behaviours, beliefs and attitudes of the target audience. After the campaign the same questions are asked in a tracking survey. The results of both studies are compared to determine whether the campaign has had an effect on the target audience(s).However there are a number of other methodologies but most important make sure to measure knowledge, beliefs/attitudes/behaviours.

Oh yes once the evaluation is completed make sure to take appropriate measures to enhance and improve the campaign. Don’t be disappointed if at first your evaluation shows that your campaign has not been successful. Learn by thoroughly analyzing the results of the evaluation and make the necessary changes .

Oh and one more thing make sure you have staff and or contractors who know how to implement a social marketing campaign and have lots of experience in campaign management including budgeting, coordination of all the key players etc.  I can’t tell you how many times I have seen great plans fail because of terrible execution. Execution of the plan is where “rubber hits the road” so make sure you have experienced people who know how to manage the implementation of a social marketing campaign.

That’s it for now. I would love feedback and comments.


How not to do marketing … brought to you by the geniuses who run the big 3 American automakers.

So we are going to bail out the 3 big American automakers… eh. Maybe I have been in the marketing business too long but the big 3 are in my view the worst marketers extant.  As a part time professor of marketing I have had the opportunity to study many companies but these 3 corporate welfare bums are a sorry lot.

Lemon-Aid new and used car/truck guides by Phil Edmonston are unlike any other auto books on the market. Their main objective is  to inform and protect consumers in an industry known for its dishonesty and exaggerated claims  Every year for close to 20 years you can read about the horror stories of the big 3 . Yes there are stories about the European and Asian cars but the vast majority of the horrors are about the clunkers from Detroit. (I do like their basketball and hockey teams and there were times I liked their baseball teams ( love Motown music)  but their cars resemble their poor excuse of a football team … the worst of the worst.)

For close to 30 years Consumer Reports have reporting that the Americans who are great at many things can’t seem to produce a descent car. The Japanese and even the Koreans and yes the Europeans have made the American’s look like amateurs. Are the Chinese next.

Why can’t one of the greatest countries in the world produce a decent car. Why do they continue to produce gas guzzlers ( OK Ford has tried to produce a few fuel efficient vehicles). Why have the Japanese figured out that it is important to produce hybrids and other fuel efficient vehicles but the duds at the big 3 produce SUV’s, Vans and Trucks. Did they really think cheap oil was going to last forever (yes gas prices are down now but just wait they will be back up soon)

Denis Desrosiers expert on the car industry states that

“the Detroit three’s problems are not because they are lousy companies, produce shoddy product or the wrong product for the market, have dumb executives or a failed business model. That may have been the case many years ago but these companies have been aggressively addressing these issues for quite a long time with some success. The seriousness of this cyclical downturn cut this restructuring off at its knees. Yes, they continue to lose market share but this is more because there are now eight very capable vehicle company groups in North America instead of three. No matter how good a company you are, if you have eight near equal competitors in the market instead of three, then the original three lose a lot of market share. That is simple math. The Detroit three have made a lot of mistakes but these mistakes simply got them to a lower market faster. They were destined to lose much of their market even if they had made no mistakes.”

Yes Denis they would have lost market share with all these new companies coming into the market but surely these guys are not great business minds,.

For example a few years the geniuses at Queens park … our brilliant provincial government subsidized GM to open a new plant in Ontario. So what did the brilliant ones  from GM come up with …  a new electric car… no! or maybe a new hybrid model… no! or how about a new fuel efficient vehicle … no! These brilliant marketing minds came up with … are you ready for it … the “muscle car” of the 70’s THE CAMARO. Yes the Camaro . I am not making this up. This is what the taxpayer paid for ladies and gentlemen.  Who in their right mind would think that the Camaro would make a come back. Only someone who is smoking crack.

Also one of the things you keep hearing from the big 3 and their apologists is the reason that they keep producing their Hummers is that what Americans and too a lesser degree Canadians want . NO that’s not necessarily so. What the big 3 has been doing for the past 20 years is putting most of their marketing efforts on suvs,  trucks and vans and convincing the masses  that’s what they need. Then they tell us “well we are only selling products that consumers demand.” Give me a break… Pleasssssse.

Our Centre in conjunction with Pollution Probe and the University of Regina are working on a major study of why consumers buy the vehicles they do and what are the barriers to buying fuel efficient vehicles. The studies will be completed in March /April  2009 and we will have much more to say about  this topic.

Many years ago I remember reading a book by a UBC professor about screw ups in the private sector. The author was trying to make the point that it wasn’t only governments who make blunders but when the public sector does make blunders the world knows about it for years and years while the private sector keeps most of their blunders secret. He went on to describe many blunders but his favourite “whipping boys were the American car companies . I believe he referred to them as ” the gang who could not shoot straight”.

So the big question of the times is should government bail out these losers who have to go down in recent history as the worst marketers . (They aren’t too strong on PR . Imagining flying down in their corporate jets to Washington to ask the government for money. Have they ever heard of the term optics???).

I suspect government has to provide some assistance, providing the big 3 develop a strategic business plan that makes sense. So far their business plans has been abysmal. They clearly need to change strategies and listen to their customers instead of talking down to them and more important “get with the green program” It’s time folks its time. GM, Ford, Chrysler get your act together. If you don’t know what to do spend some time in Tokyo or Seoul.

I am delighted to announce that we just opened up offices in Regina and Calgary. Watch our site for the  announcement



Obama’s campaign on Tuesday will go down in history as the biggest day ever in the history of marketing

Canadian Prime Minister Steven  Harper in today’s Globe and Mail  calls the win by Barack Obama “a remarkable campaign.”In particular, Mr. Harper spoke of “his admiration for Mr. Obama’s primary race victories and said his people would be studying the win”. He stated that Mr. Obama, in a sense, “came from out of nowhere to beat established political machines.”

Perhaps I can save Mr. Harper and his staff a lot of time . He can simply read this blog to find out how a relatively unknown man younger than all of his opponents. Black. With a bad-sounding name could become president of the USA. The simple answer to Obama’s success can be found in most  marketing books. Maybe the Prime Minister should hire some marketing advisers or better still read some marketing books.

According to Al Ries in the latest edition of Advertising Age , It didn’t matter who Obama’s competition was. Barack Obama had a better marketing strategy than either Clinton or McCain “Change.”

As he points out.” If you tell the truth often enough and keep repeating it, the truth gets bigger and bigger, creating an aura of legitimacy and authenticity. ” Ries asks: What word did Hillary Clinton own? First she tried “experience.” When she saw the progress Mr. Obama was making, she shifted to “Countdown to change.” Then when the critics pointed out her me-too approach, she shifted to “Solutions for America.”
What word is associated with Ms. Clinton today? I don’t know, do you?

Then there’s John McCain.  An Oct. 26 cover story in The New York Times Magazine was titled “The Making (and Remaking and Remaking) of the Candidate.” The visual listed some of the labels the candidate was associated with: “Conservative. Maverick. Hero. Straight talker. Commander. Bipartisan conciliator. Experienced leader. Patriot.” Subhead: “When a Campaign Can’t Settle on a Central Narrative, Does It Imperil Its Protagonist?”
Actually, Mr. McCain did settle on a slogan, “Country first,” but it was way too late in the campaign and it was a slogan that had little relevance to the average voter.
Tactically, both Ms. Clinton and Mr. McCain focused their messages on “I can do change better than my opponent can do change.”
“Better” never works in marketing. The only thing that works in marketing is “different.” When you’re different, you can pre-empt the concept in consumers’ minds so your competitors can never take it away from you.

Now how often do I as a marketing educator and consultant talk about consistency and the importance of crafting a strong message and sticking with it through “thick and thin” but what happens in most cases, organizations  keep changing the message and worst they develop messages and tactics with out a strategy. A recipe for disaster. Communications people in particular  are notorious for being all about tactics and not being strategic . Marketing requires you to be disciplined and to STAY ON STRATEGY (EVEN WHEN IT RAINS OR THEIR ARE BIG STORMS ON THE HORIZON)

Ries states that “about 70% of the population thinks the country is going in the wrong direction, hence Obama’s focus on the word “change.” Why didn’t talented politicians like Ms. Clinton consider using this concept? Based on my experience, in the boardrooms of corporate America “change” is an idea that is too simple to sell. Corporate executives are looking for advertising concepts that are “clever.” For all the money being spent, corporate executives want something they couldn’t have thought of themselves. Hopefully, something exceedingly clever.

Yes Simplicity Sells i.e. the KISS principle (KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID)

Early in my career I had the opportunity to work in the marketing operation of a very large retail operation and one of my assignments  was to meet with the VP of Marketing every Wednesday to go over the weekly/monthly advertising campaigns. His golden rule was consistency and stay on strategy and anytime I was off- strategy or our campaigns were not consistent with the overall branding I would get the proverbial “arrow in the heart” . After yanking out a few arrows out of my chest, I learned quickly to be consistent and on-strategy.

What did Obama do?

Reis points out that

“What’s wrong with 90% of all advertising? Organizations  try to “communicate” when they should be trying to “position.”
Mr. Obama’s objective was not to communicate the fact that he was an agent of change. In today’s environment, every politician running for the country’s highest office was presenting him or herself as an agent of change. What Mr. Obama actually did was to repeat the “change” message over and over again, so that potential voters identified Mr. Obama with the concept. In other words, he owns the “change” idea in voters’ minds.”

What have we learned over the past few decades in marketing and positioning, here are just a few concepts : Make sure you target a corner of the prospect´s mind that´s still virgin;- think outward (I.e. from the customer´s viewpoint), always look for a niche to occupy before the competition, and give the customer what (s)he wants to listen about your organization; the message you convey should be your actual strategy; keep your message as long as possible to achieve your strategic goals: don´t change your mind or the customer will change his/hers as well.

This stuff is almost 30 years old but I guess Obama’s people read the marketing books on positioning.

Here is Ries again.
In today’s overcommunicated society, it takes endless repetition to achieve your marketing goals. For a typical consumer brand, that might mean years and years of advertising and hundreds of millions of dollars.
Most companies don’t have the money, don’t have the patience and don’t have the vision to achieve what Mr. Obama did. They jerk from one message to another, hoping for a magic bullet that will energize their brands. That doesn’t work today. That is especially ineffective for a politician because it creates an aura of vacillation and indecisiveness, fatal qualities for someone looking to move up the political ladder.

“If you’re losing the battle, shift the battlefield” is an old military axiom that applies equally as well to marketing. By his relentless focus on change, Mr. Obama shifted the political battlefield. He forced his opponents to devote much of their campaign time discussing changes they proposed for the country. And how their changes would differ from the changes that he proposed.
All the talk about “change” distracted both Ms. Clinton and Mr. McCain from talking about their strengths: their track records, their experience and their relationships with world leaders.

Mr. Obama was selected as Advertising Age’s Marketer of the Year by the executives attending the Association of National Advertisers’ annual conference in Orlando last month.

Note that  I did not include in this blog  the way Obama used social media and the Internet for fundraising and getting his message out, or his strategies for getting workers out in the community to encourage people to vote for him , or his coolness and approach to giving speeches , yes he is a great orator but a great speaker is only as good as the message he gives. So I have not discussed his tactics , which may be another blog . My message here is marketing is about strategy especially positioning and Obama had a great strategy and his opponents did not and that is why he won.