Reflections on my workshop “Beyond Awareness: Creating Social Marketing Campaigns that Change Attitudes and Behaviour.”

The Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (CEPSM) recently had the opportunity to partner with Stephen Thomas Ltd to host an exclusive one-day workshop in Toronto titled ”Beyond Awareness: Creating Social Marketing Campaigns that Change Attitudes and Behaviour” .

The focus of the workshop was to convince non-profits to move their “awareness focussed” public education campaigns to a results-oriented “social marketing approach”. A social marketing approach allows a non-profit to take a page from private sector marketers and run campaigns that are results-driven and have as the ultimate result … attitude and behaviour change. The workshop attracted a wide variety of non-profit organizations. The participants really appreciated the step-by-step, structured approach to preparing a social marketing strategy and plan. In particular, participants were very pleased to learn:

  • how to develop a strategic segmentation plan using tools like TARPARE
  •  how to implement a social marketing program on a very tight budget, and
  •  how to monitor and evaluate a social marketing strategy.

In addition, our colleagues from Stephen Thomas presented an excellent social marketing case study on the Canadian Diabetes Association which was well received. In addition an opening session video produced by Stephen Thomas on some excellent social marketing cases was also appreciated by participants.

This workshop demonstrated (as do most of our social marketing workshops) that the people who attend are very keen to learn about social marketing but that their major challenges tend to be internal.

Non-profit staff have a difficult time convincing their CEOs or executive directors that marketing is more than communications and publications. There seems to be reluctance by many non-profit leaders to embrace more of a business-like approach. Business is not a dirty word, and the non-profit marketers “get” that. Yet, the boards and senior management teams don’t always see the value or benefit that marketing brings to the table.

I recently read an article by David Williamson at the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership at Georgetown University where he states that Marketing gets no respect in the non-profit world. According to Williamson’s program people tend to hold the most senior positions in non-profits and accordingly have the most status. Several factors account for the suspicion or disdain with which many non-profit managers view the marketing function. Mostly, it’s a matter of ignorance. Usually trained in other disciplines, non-profit leaders often fail to understand what marketing can and can’t do for their organizations. Consequently, they hold some strange assumptions (e.g. “Our good work will sell itself”) and arbitrary funding theories (e.g. when fundraising is down, cut the communications budget).

Compounding the challenge, few non-profit managers recognize their lack of expertise in these areas. The same people who would never contradict a financial expert or ignore a scientist don’t think twice about overruling marketing professionals on audiences, messages, tactics — the very essence of marketing strategy. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, but in the mainstream, the basic lack of respect accorded marketing comes as no surprise to anyone who tried to apply marketing to a non-profit mission or build a non-profit brand.

As I pointed out in previous blogs, non-profits tend to use the terms marketing and communications interchangeably. There are substantive differences between the two, none more significant than their very different points of departure. Effective marketing generally starts from the point of the view of the audience, or client, and seeks to anticipate and address their needs. Communications tends to be declarative, laying out a statement of opinion, a detailed factual case, or an institutional position, and then try to connect those to the audience’s interests.

I have noted in the past few years at our social marketing workshops that many non-profits receive pro-bono contributions from ad agencies and other marketing companies to do their marketing campaigns. It is an accepted adage that you can’t get something for nothing. But with more businesses gaining a social conscience and even wider CSR strategies, free charitable projects are increasing.

Arguably the marketing industry is well positioned to make the most of this trend, which can benefit both the non-profit receiving the support and the company offering the free work. To some it might seem counter intuitive that marketing agencies would be willing to donate their services for free, but you only have to take a look through the marketing press and you’ll see a whole host of marketing agencies working with non-profits.

There are some marketing companies who do great work for non-profits but pro bono work has its down sides as well. From our experience a great deal of the pro bono work usually consists of an ad for the non-profit which may run a few times in the broadcast or print media (many times they are offered as public service announcements and may never run in any media). In some cases, ad agencies use these non-profit ads to enhance their creative portfolio.

Very little work is done to develop a strategic marketing plan and a comprehensive tactical approach. The non-profits think they are very fortunate in getting this pro bono contribution, and in many instances don’t see the need to invest time and money in developing and implementing a strategic social marketing strategy and plan. To be successful in marketing especially social marketing non-profits need to invest in developing and implementing long-term campaigns with comprehensive strategies and tactics rather than running “one off” ads which may be brilliant but are rarely successful in changing attitudes and behaviours.

On a personal note, I want to thank our partners from Stephen Thomas Ltd whose senior management team spent the day with us at our social marketing workshop. It was great to have them at the workshop. I also want to thank Melissa Blair who worked very hard to make the event successful.

CEPSM anticipates that our first Beyond Awareness workshop is just the beginning of a great partnership and we hope to run this workshop again in the future.


Come join us for our next social marketing workshops


Social Marketing Planning: Implementing an Effective Campaign

DATE: November 14, 2012

TIME: 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

LOCATION: RA Centre, Outaouais Room, 2451 Riverside Drive, Ottawa, ON  K1H 7X7



Social Marketing Strategies and Behaviour Change

DATE: February 06, 2013

TIME: 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Location: Delta Barrington Halifax




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