Branding … an important function of social marketing for behaviour change

Branding a business organization is pervasive and fairly easy to understand and recognize. However, branding in social marketing is not as common but becoming more popular as it is very effective in creating visibility and ensures memorability.

“Nonprofits and government agencies are generally several steps behind the commercial sector in applying marketing concepts. Branding is a word that is thrown around a lot by marketers of all stripes without a complete understanding of what it actually means. We know we want to have a strong brand, but to some that just mean crafting a logo and tagline. A brand is much more than just the product itself or the visuals you use to promote it”. (Nedra Kline Weinreich)

The brand is the marketer’s most advanced emotional tool. It combines and reinforces the functional and emotional benefits of the offering and so adds value, encouraging consumption and loyalty. A good brand facilitates recognition, makes a promise, and, provided the full marketing back-up is in place, delivers satisfaction. Brands can provide very practical benefits. For example for young people, quick and clear brand identification can make both the buying and smoking of forbidden products such as cigarettes much less risky. Over time, brands become a fast powerful way of confirming the synergy between marketer and customer. (Social Marketing: Influencing Behaviors for Good by Philip Kotler, Nancy R. Lee)

Brands can provide very practical benefits. Over time, brands become a fast powerful way of confirming the synergy between marketer and customer.



There is also evidence that branding may be a particularly effective way to reach people in hard to reach communities. Experts in branding have concluded that the symbolic appeal of brands is particularly effective in targeting those individuals who do not have the time, skills and motivation to evaluate the objective attributes and benefits of a particular campaign. A review conducted on behalf of the UK’s National Centre for Health and Clinical Excellence also suggests that brands can be an effective way of reaching information –deprived communities. Branding with these communities seems to hold considerable promise. (Gerald Hastings in Social Marketing … Why should the devil have all the best tunes? Pg.: 100)

In social marketing, your brand is how your audience thinks about your program and connects with it emotionally. It’s the combination of how you market your programs and how the audience experiences it. It’s the feeling that by adopting certain behaviour someone becomes part of a group, and membership in that group reflects the image of who that person aspires to be.

In the case of social marketing, the product is the behaviour you are promoting — if the audience tries doing what you want them to do but has an awful experience the brand image suffers. Or the brand may be your organization, with various programs, products and services that you offer falling within that brand. So branding involves strategically crafting all the elements of your audience’s interactions with your campaign and its components so that they support the right image and evoke the right emotions.

In a social marketing context, the issue then becomes what labels and meaning to connect to desired, or perhaps even undesired, behaviours as well as to the personal or social costs and benefits that result from these behaviours. Creating brand equity for a set of positive behaviours may involve defining the desired behaviour in terms of carefully selected words or phrases and then making sure that individuals can “feel good” about doing the “right thing” by understanding and appreciating the benefits they accrue. Thus, one challenge for branding in social marketing programs is how to ensure that individuals properly value the immediate benefits of desirable behaviours.

Applying branding to social marketing programs and public health issues, however, poses several unique challenges. Social marketing, as any marketing, involves exchange. Individuals are asked to engage in certain personally and/or socially desirable behaviours. The benefits they receive in return for these actions, though, may be fairly intangible and seemingly removed, especially with respect to the more immediate benefits they might receive in exchange for engaging in undesirable behaviours.

Branding may provide an important function in social marketing programs by helping individuals to communicate and signal to themselves as well as others that they are engaging in desirable behaviours so that are better able to realize more immediate benefits and receive positive reinforcement. For example, by displaying visible symbols or by describing themselves with a categorical label that, in either case, contained specific meaning with respect to a public health issue, individuals may be able to achieve greater immediate satisfaction if they feel that they have been “credited” or acknowledged as having avoided undesirable behaviors or having embraced desirable behaviors.

Branding personally and/or socially desirable behaviors could help individuals receive more immediate rewards from the public approval and recognition of others as well as from the benefits of self-expression and personal approval and recognition. In this way, branding would play the role of making the benefits of socially desirable behaviour more immediate and more tangible to an individual on a continually repeated basis over time.

The successful development of a relationship and affinity between a brand and its target audience makes it a valuable asset that can be adapted locally or regionally, or be taken up by partner organisations.

In line with social marketing’s customer orientation criteria, brands should be based on detailed ‘insight’ into the benefits to individuals over those of competing behaviours. For a brand to succeed in building strong relationships branding should elicit a value proposition where benefits must be perceived as credible, believable and desirable to the target audience.

The degree to which the consumer feels bonded to the brand depends on how closely they feel it fits their perceived self-image. Brand images that reflect and enhance the self-image may more effectively challenge competing behaviours than functional benefits.

Brands are designed to build relationships between consumers and the products, services, or organizations they represent by providing added value to their objects. Branding is an important strategy for social marketing for example in the area of public health it can address multiple behaviours simultaneously, and most health risks stem from multiple behaviours and complex lifestyle choices. (Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, 1998, Pages 299-302- “Branding Perspectives On Social Marketing”, Kevin Lane Keller, Duke University)

Brand equity is an important addition to social marketing campaigns. When the audience becomes familiar with a brand and forms positive associations they are more likely to engage in the desired health behavior.

Key characteristics of a brand are that it should be memorable, recognizable, distinctive, and most important to convey the products benefits and appeal. The brand identity is particularly important to visually draw attention to it and portray an appropriate image as it is often the most frequent type of contact people will have with the brand. However, branding is more than just a logo or identity it is developing brand attributes that are expressed in all of the 4 p’s i.e brand personality…the set of human characteristics associated with the brand. (Social Marketing- an international perspective – Donavan & Henley)

In some cases a campaign may have an overall brand name and various sub brands for different products. For example road safety campaigns may develop different brands for driving while impaired, speeding, distracted driving, fatigue, seat belts, baby seats etc. In a health promotion campaign , there may be an overall brand e.g. HealthyFamiliesBC but a number of specific sub brands dealing with campaigns such as healthy eating, physical activity, tobacco, healthy childhood development , promoting positive mental health , alcohol moderation, and injury prevention.

The following list includes a few well-known brands. In these cases names that have been used to identify programs and products and are applied consistently in an integrated way that is very important for social marketers.

·         “ParticipACTION”… Encouraging physical activity (Canada)

·         “VERB” … Encouraging physical activity (USA)

·         “Break Free”… Anti-smoking (Canada)

·         “Truth” … Anti-smoking (USA)

·         “McGruff the Crime Dog”… Crime prevention

·         “Operation Red Nose/Nez Rouge”… Drinking and driving   (Canada)

·         “Road Crew” … Drinking and driving (USA)

·         “Don’t mess with Texas”… Litter prevention (USA)

·         “Rock the vote”… Voting

·         “Back to Sleep”… Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

·         “Energy Star “… Energy conservation

·         “Smokey the Bear”… Wildfire prevention

·         “5 A Day”… Nutrition

·         “Fight” … “fight fear,” “fight distress” and “fight chaos” – Military recruiting campaign (Canada)

·         “Be all you can be”… Military recruiting campaign (USA)

·         “Yes You Can”…International Competitiveness (Canada)

·         “Believe in Yourself”… Student Loan (Canada)

·         “Act Against AIDS”… AIDS/HIV prevention USA

·         “Break the Silence” Domestic violence

·         “SunSmart” (“Slip! Slop! Slap!”) Skin cancer prevention

·         “3 R’s Reduce Reuse Recycle” Environment

·         “Buckle-up” Seat belts safety


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