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.

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

  1. Amen. This should be packaged into a nice, easy-to-read “10-steps to Social Marketing” presentation and shown to every so-called “social marketer” out there.

  2. Thanks for finding the time to share your insight. I’m looking forward to your piece on face-to-face marketing; so needed in these tough times!

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