Mistakes to Avoid in Social Marketing (Behaviour Change)

I was recently asked to give a presentation in Toronto to the Canadian Partnership for Responsible Gambling’s (CPRG) symposium, “Social Marketing for Responsible Gambling: Leading the Way to Behavioural Change”. The two-day symposium was organized by member organizations of the Canadian Partnership for Responsible Gambling .

My presentation at the conference was on mistakes I see organizations make when trying to develop and/or implement a social marketing strategy. As a managing partner and senior consultant at the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing  I keep seeing organizations make the same mistakes over and over again and hopefully this post will help those who are developing and implementing social marketing behaviour change campaigns.



  1. Campaigns being run by people who have no skills or training in social marketing

Most social marketing initiatives we see at our Centre seem to be run by individuals that have no background or training in either marketing or social marketing. Can you imagine someone in the private sector being asked to lead a marketing initiative with no formal training in marketing? Not likely, but frequently management /staff and or outside consultants responsible for managing social marketing campaigns have no basic training in the field of social marketing. Many come from the field of communications, public relations or in some cases advertising which may explain why many campaigns are heavy on communications but lack basic marketing principles (e.g. 4p’s) and techniques. Many of the campaigns we see tend to be social communications, public education/public awareness or advertising campaigns but few are really social marketing.

  1. Absence of a social marketing strategy.

This one is hard to believe, but we see clients spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, not to mention a significant amount of human resources, with out a social marketing strategy. Sometimes they will mistake a communications or advertising strategy for a social marketing strategy but in many cases there actually is no strategy just a bunch a promotional tactics weaved together and called a strategy. In addition, in many cases they have little or no marketing research so marketing decisions are not based on evidence.

  1. Failing to examine the factors that influence the adoption of a behaviour

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. Good communication is certainly a key to being effective in social marketing but more often than not, simply improving communications doesn’t move the needle much. The most successful behavior change initiatives focus relentlessly on removing barriers to — and facilitating — desired behaviors.

This takes more than a clever communications or an advertising campaign. Barriers are all those things that stop people from adopting a new behaviour. They take many forms but most are either structural or personal. Personal barriers are often psychological and include things like habits, fears and beliefs. Because personal barriers are just that – personal, it’s important not to assume you know what they are.

It is a good idea to ask your target group what’s stopping them from changing their behaviour by using research methods like focus groups, surveys or phone/online interviews.

Most importantly, listen.  Communication is a two-way process. Many campaigns fail because too much time is spent telling people what they should think or do, rather than asking how they can be helped to do it. Structural barriers can also seem obvious, but even the simplest ones can be missed. Most people want to do the right thing so it’s important to remove the barriers that might prevent them from doing so.

It is also not a good idea to assume people will change behavior when presented with compelling facts. Education and Awareness alone does not lead to behavior change; People do not always change their behaviors because it is “the right thing to do”; People tend to change their behaviors when the benefit to them outweighs the barrier.

  1. Underestimating the power of environment to shape behavior.

Failure to consider upstream social marketing, which aims to change the political, social, legal, and physical or public policy environment by giving messages to industry or government. Traditionally social marketing, as a voluntary change mechanism, has targeted individuals and conceptualized social change as being the sum of individual changes, in recent years the targets of social marketing are aimed at legislative and structural changes to force behaviour change

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 influencers or organizations whose actions are needed to bring about change, you have more of a chance to create widespread and sustained change.

“No matter how good you are at awareness programs; you cannot reduce problem gambling simply by changing the patterns of behaviour of the gambler. You have to look at how gambling is provided.”

  1. Not paying attention to social norms

Social norms 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 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. 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. For example, if university or college students overestimate how much their peers drink or gamble, this misperception of the norm may drive greater alcohol consumption or gambling by students.

  1. Lack of attention to strategic market segmentation

Segmentation is the key to effective social marketing but many campaigns are not targeted and focused. Very few campaigns know how to use social marketing methods for developing segmentation strategies like TARPARE, MASH analysis or know how to apply the stages of change approach to behaviour change.

Most campaigns use demographics and geographic segmentation but with social marketing you are dealing with behaviour change and very few campaigns use psychographic segmentation to develop campaigns.

You choose and prioritize target audiences by brainstorming all audiences; categorizing them as primary, influencer, or gatekeeper; identifying influencers to inspire people to change their behavior—for instance, children in households can influence parents; and finding out who the gatekeepers are—those who can prevent access to your primary audience.

Every audience has influencers: people that they look to for direction. When celebrities, business leaders, community leaders, and the audience’s most influential and connected role models are participating in the behaviour change, it’s hard to resist joining the fray.

Also most campaigns are too broad It seems obvious that it is important to target a specific audience, but there is always the temptation to broaden and broaden the scope of the campaign to reach more people. For example, in gambling it may make sense to segment the gambling population into even better defined groups—or even to tailor messages to individual gamblers based on how and where they gamble.

  1. Lack of marketing research

One of our major frustrations at our Centre is that many organizations running social marketing campaigns do not do audience research, and when it is done, it is not done well. I cannot tell you how many times we are told by organizations that they cannot afford to do proper research but meanwhile spend tens of thousands on implementing tactics.

Social Marketers conduct research to determine current behaviors, identify target audiences, identify barriers and motivations, test concepts and messages, and set baselines for evaluation.

Marketers don’t assume they know how their audience thinks and feels. They do not simply follow their instincts or let their own ideas about what the audience wants drive their programs. Social marketing requires an investment of both financial and human resources. Organizations cannot afford to try out different marketing options blindly; If their campaigns head in the wrong direction, they will have wasted their money

Also social marketers continue to monitor their campaigns while they are running to see if they are working as you may be running a campaign that is not having the desired effect so doing an evaluation after the campaign is completed is important but ongoing monitoring is as important. Because you may be wasting your money

Finally, in many cases organizations do not ask the right questions and then complain about the research.  That is why we created a marketing research template on how to conduct marketing research which is part of our social marketing workbook.

  1. Going first for big change instead of starting with small, easy successes.

You need to break down big changes into bite-sized chunks for people. Start with baby steps: specific actions that people can sustain over time. Early successes lay a foundation for long-term successes.

It’s really hard to simply stop a negative habit, so replace it with a positive one instead. It’s far more effective than trying to go “cold turkey.” Willpower is a finite resource: sooner or later it will be depleted. Everyone’s motivation ebbs and flows; what people need more than willpower is easier behaviors.

The problem with an abstract goal or objective is that there is no specific call to action. It’s important to translate goals into simple, actionable steps. It’s been shown that people are more likely to try something new if it’s similar to what they’re already doing. The use of nicotine gum as a substitute for cigarettes is an obvious example.

When seeking to discourage a specific behaviour think about what can be offered in its place. This step looks at the potential impact of the behavior change. Our advice for encouraging behavior change is to work on one behavior at a time then add others on and go with behavior change suggestions with the highest probability of change.

Also look for the lowest hanging fruit e.g. for those who use the stages of change approach it makes more sense to start with contemplators (individuals who are willing to consider the possibility that they have a problem, and the possibility offers hope for change.) than precontemplators (who are not even thinking about changing their behavior and may not see it as a problem, or they think that others who point out the problem are exaggerating.)

  1. Failure to develop monitoring and evaluation strategies upfront

Marketers start with what they want to accomplish and how they will measure it. Goals are long-term and broad while objectives are measurable ways to reach goals. Be as specific as possible with your objectives, but the process is not rigid. You may need to revise your objectives as you move through the steps.

Use research to determine current behaviors, identify your target audience, identify barriers and motivations as well as baselines for evaluation.

Create a plan before starting implementation of the campaign. You should start thinking about this at step one. i.e. at the beginning of the process. The ideal here is to measure actual behavior change. Decide how you will measure against each objective, set both monitoring and evaluation timelines, and set SMART objectives to measure impact on knowledge, beliefs/attitudes and behaviour.

If you have measureable objectives, evaluation should not be difficult. The one approach that works well for social marketers is the tracking approach. Benchmark surveys are conducted before a campaign to determine knowledge, behaviours, beliefs and attitudes of the target audience. At various junctures, the same questions are asked to the same target audience in a tracking survey. The results of these studies are compared to determine whether the campaign is having effect on the target audience(s).

At our Centre we use a logic model that organizes program evaluative measures into categories that can be measured and reported on using a “logical” flow, beginning with program inputs and outputs, moving on to program effects in terms of outcomes and impact, and ending with (ideally) reporting on returns on investment.

  1. Failure to identify and enlist partners

When developing your tactical plans, it is a good idea to consider how you can expand the reach of your campaign through strategic alliances and partnerships. You may wish to identify specific organizations or simply the types of organizations with whom you will develop alliances.

Clearly, partnerships need to be considered as an integral tool for delivering cost-effective messages to the audience(s) identified for a social marketing campaign.

Look for partners with complementary goals, audience overlap, and a history of collaboration and community involvement. Partners bring new communications channels, money and in-kind resources or incentives, data and/or data analysis, and credibility with your target audience.

When looking for partners, consider those in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors and make sure you have something to offer them. Also look for media partners.

Look for partners with:

  • Complementary mission/goals
  • Audience overlap
  • History of collaboration/community involvement
  • Things that partners can bring to the table
  • Communications channels to the target audience
  • Money/in-kind resources/incentives
  • Data and/or data analysis
  • Credibility with target audience
  1. Seeking approval by committee.

If you can’t agree with your family on what you want to watch on TV this evening, how can you expect a roomful of managers to agree on something as subjective as social marketing? Everyone’s views on entertainment is unique, and the fewer people involved in the creative approval chain, the better. If you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one. In a perfect world (which we do not live in) the best source of approval is the target audience you are trying to influence.

So that’s it, I hope you found the information in this article useful.

 Welcome to the Social Marketing Association of North America

Over the past year, social marketers from Canada and the U.S. have been organizing the Social Marketing Association of North America (SMANA). Yes, THE TIME HAS COME for a membership organization serving the professional needs of social marketers in Canada, the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean/Central America! Get involved and join now!



Two workbooks ideal for marketers and communicators working for government departments/agencies, non-profit/volunteer organizations, associations and social enterprises who are responsible for:

  • Marketing programs, products, programs and/or services
  • Social marketing, community outreach and public education programs

1. Social Marketing Planning to Change Attitudes and Behaviours Workbook

This workbook provides users with an end-to-end planning tool that lays the groundwork for a successful social marketing program to change attitudes and behaviours. The content is the result of more than 30 years of direct experience in the social marketing arena.  It will assist public sector, non-profit organizations and associations involved in marketing, communications, public awareness/education and outreach.

To purchase workbook, go to https://cepsm.ca/product/social_marketing_workbook/

Order Now and You’ll receive a PDF download immediately!

Alternatively, you can register on our MARCOM Conference site to attend an upcoming Introduction to Social Marketing Planning for Behaviour Change Workshop where we offer the workbook as part of 1-day interactive workshop

2.  Marketing 101 for Marketers and Non-Marketers Workbook

This workbook provides users with an end-to-end planning tool that lays the groundwork for developing a successful public sector or non-profit marketing program.

It also will provide you with an overview of public sector and non-profit marketing and highlight the importance of market research to support a decision-making framework.

To purchase workbook, go to https://cepsm.ca/product/marketing-101-for-marketers-and-non-marketers-workbook/

Order Now and you will receive a PDF download immediately!


B C Health Adapts CEPSM Social Marketing Workbook for British Columbia

In September 2014, I had the opportunity to work with the British Columbia Ministry of Health’s Population and Public Health Division to co-host social marketing sessions in Vancouver and Victoria to explore shared strategic approaches for social marketing and engagement across health promotion and disease/injury prevention partners in British Columbia.

We also conducted train the trainer one day workshops with social marketers across BC using our CEPSM Social Marketing Planning Workbook

I wrote a blog last year after I completed the first phase of my work with the British Columbia (BC) Ministry of Health’s  Population and Public health Division

We are very pleased to announce that an adapted version of our CEPSM Social Marketing Planning Workbook is now the official workbook of the Healthy Families BC program . The work book which is titled Public Health Social Marketing in BC has been adapted for the province of BC and includes changes to some of the examples from our workbook to refer to some campaigns that have been conducted in BC.

In addition, one of our recommendations was to develop a broader, collaborative community of practice to engage all health promotion/disease prevention marketing partners throughout BC – government, health authority and non-government.

As a result in 2015 BC Health formed the Social Marketing Working Group (SMWG) with each of the health authority health promotion reps which has been great for sharing resources and collaborating on health promotion projects.

The newly adapted workbook will be made available to members of the Social Marketing Working Group . The working group comprises of the following groups

  • Health promotion marketing leads for each of the five regional health authorities in BC,
  • First Nations Health Authority
  • Provincial Health Services Authority (including BC Centre for Disease Control).
  • HealthLinkBC and
  • BC Government Communications and Public Engagement group (the Province’s central communications unit).

The workbook will be used by SMWG members to develop social marketing strategies for their specific initiatives as well as social marketing training within their agencies.

The Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (CEPSM) is delighted to make this contribution to social marketing in British Columbia and hope that other provinces, territories, municipalities , non profit organizations and other countries will work with CEPSM to develop their version of our social marketing workbook.

If you are interested in talking to us about our adapting our work book for your jurisdiction or organization please contact me : jimmintz@cepsm.ca or call me at 613 230 6424 ext 223

We also give public workshops and private tailored workshops in social marketing (in-house or at our facilities), and private coaching and mentoring services.



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Why the TOWS Matrix is important to Public Sector Marketers

As someone who teaches marketing I am always surprised that most of the participants at my courses and seminars are very familiar with a SWOT analysis (which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.) For those who are not familiar with the SWOT analysis – it helps organizations  identify strengths and weaknesses predominantly based on internal factors. Opportunities and threats usually arise from an external environment.

However, very rarely do I find participants who are familiar with SWOT employ  the SWOT/TOWS Matrix or as it is better known the TOWS matrix which is SWOT spelled backwards. Though there is a difference between the two, together they perform a marvelous dance.

Now think about it… what did you do the last time you completed a SWOT analysis for your organization? Did you address any of the weaknesses the threats? Probably not.

A TOWS analysis involves the same basic process of listing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as a SWOT analysis, but with a TOWS analysis, threats and opportunities are examined first and weaknesses and strengths are examined last. After creating a list of threats, opportunities, weaknesses and strengths, managers examine ways the organization can take advantage of opportunities and minimize threats by exploiting strengths and overcoming weaknesses.

The TOWS analysis helps you get a better understanding of the strategic choices that you face. (Remember that “strategy” is the art of determining how you’ll “win” in your marketing endeavours) It helps you ask, and answer, the following questions:

How do you:

  • Make the most of your strengths?
  • Circumvent your weaknesses?
  • Capitalize on your opportunities?
  • Manage your threats?

A next step of analysis, usually associated with the externally-focused TOWS Matrix, helps you think about the options that you could pursue. To do this you match external opportunities and threats with your internal strengths and weaknesses. This helps you identify strategic alternatives that address the following additional questions:

  • Strengths and Opportunities (SO) – How can you use your strengths to take advantage of the opportunities?
  • Strengths and Threats (ST) – How can you take advantage of your strengths to avoid real and potential threats?
  • Weaknesses and Opportunities (WO) – How can you use your opportunities to overcome the weaknesses you are experiencing?
  • Weaknesses and Threats (WT) – How can you minimize your weaknesses and avoid threats?

The TOWS Matrix is a relatively simple tool for generating strategic options. By using it, you can look intelligently at how you can best take advantage of the opportunities open to you, at the same time that you minimize the impact of weaknesses and protect yourself against threats.

SWOT and TOWS analysis involve the same basic steps and likely produce similar results. The order in which managers think about strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities may, however, have an impact on the direction of the analysis. Michael Watkins of the “Harvard Business Review” says that focusing on threats and opportunities first helps lead to productive discussions about what is going on in the external environment rather than getting bogged down in abstract discussions about what an organization is good at or bad at.

Once you have completed a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), the TOWS matrix puts the results of SWOT analysis into an action plan. SWOT systematically sorts out information and sets priorities. TOWS rearranges this information, provides a framework to identify possible strategic options to pursue, and creates inputs for strategic planning.

Used after detailed analysis of your threats, opportunities, strengths and weaknesses, it helps you consider how to use the external environment to your strategic advantage, and to identify some of the strategic options available to you.



When you have many factors to consider, it may be helpful to construct a matrix to match individual strengths and weaknesses to the individual opportunities and threats you’ve identified.

So next time you develop a marketing strategy give some thought to working with the SWOT/TOWS Matrix. SWOT analysis helps to sort out the important information systematically and to set out priorities. Strengths and weaknesses tell us where we are now, whereas opportunities and threats tell us where we want or do not want to be. Then the question, ‘What should we do to get there?’ arises and the TOWS analysis helps to find out the answer.



Back by popular demand , The Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (CEPSM) returns with an exclusive one day workshop in Ottawa: Social Marketing Planning for Attitude and Behaviour Change

Date: February 26th, 2019

Location: 343 Preston Street, Ottawa, ON, Canada

Seminar Leader: Jim Mintz Managing Partner and Senior Consultant at the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing  Read full bio

Register: http://bit.ly/2AgWGZx

Private Tailored Workshops

CEPSM’s private, tailored workshop option is well-suited for organizations with groups working on joint initiatives, issues and/or programs. This option allows for the provision of a customized training approach uniquely adapted to your organization’s needs. CEPSM can deliver the training at your location or at one of our facilities.

To learn more about our customized in-house training and private tailored workshops contact jimmintz@cepsm.ca or go to Easy Affordable Marketing Training for Public Sector & Non-Profit Organizations