10 Tips for Changing People’s Behaviours through Social Marketing


10tips-300x300Do not assume that presenting important and compelling facts or information will change people’s attitudes and/or behaviours

The field of social marketing has demonstrated that people are not always logical, rational, or driven by coherent internal motivations. A host of factors influence people’s actions, and knowledge of facts is just one of those factors.

Do not go for big changes initially start small and build

Social Marketers need to break down big changes into bite-sized chunks for people. Start with small steps i.e. specific actions and behaviours that people can sustain over a period of time. Early successes lead to long-term successes.

Seeking to make a change forever, instead of a defined period of time.

A fixed period of time works better than “forever” when it comes to building new behaviours. Because if it sounds doable and achievable, your audience might just give it a try.

Good Communication is not always the key to any behaviour change program

Good communication is certainly important but there is more to social marketing than communications. The most successful behavior change initiatives focus on removing barriers to desired behaviors. This takes more than a good communications campaign. It may involve re-thinking how you interact with your audience, advocating for changes in regulations, or your audience’s environment. Barriers are all those things that stop people from adopting a new behaviour. They take many forms but most are either structural or personal. When doing your marketing research ask your target group what’s stopping them from changing their behaviour?

Most important focus less on aggressive promotion/communications and focus more on aggressive listening as communications is a 2-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.

One thing we have learned from social marketing is the importance of listening to the people whose behaviour you want to change. This is the single most important thing, because whatever people do – even when it’s something that seems crazy to you – they have their reasons. The reasons may not be rational. People may not even know what their reasons are. Rarely, however, are they waiting for you – or any other social marketer – to tell them what to do. Even then, if you can get their attention long enough to tell them either the risks they face or the wonderful benefits of something they still may not change their behaviour.

Create an Effective Message Strategy

The average person is exposed to thousands of marketing messages every day. You have very little time to catch someone’s attention. Here are a few tips for effective messages:


  • Specify the desired objective.
  • Specify the desired action required (call to action).
  • Focus on personal relevance of issue to each member of the audience.
  • Adapt creative style to specific audience.
  • Communicate benefits and focus on immediate, high-probability consequences of positive behaviour.
  • Portray people with which members of target group can identify.
  • The messenger in many cases can be much more important than the message.
  • Celebrities and popular spokespersons can be effective to change social norms.
  • Positive reinforcement can be effective.
  • More emphasis is needed in creating a climate conducive to social change.
  • “Blame the victim” approach hurts credibility of social marketing.
  • Upstream approaches and strategies help credibility of social marketing
  • Communicate benefits, rather than features … and most important
  • Keep It Simple


  • Play on emotions.
  • Do not be moralistic. Guilt messages work less well, however can be effective in certain circumstances.
  • Pity and altruistic appeals do not work well.
  • Humour can be difficult. Use it with caution.

             Demonstrate the desired behaviour:

  • Showing the desirable behaviour serves as a guide to appropriate behaviour.
  • Promote alternative behaviours as substitutes for undesirable present behaviours.
  • Examples: designated driver in DWI, physically active (use stairs, not elevator).

             Multi-year consistency in theme

  • Consistency is required to move target audiences through the various “stages of change”.
  • Variety in creative approach from one period to the other and one group to the other is required to keep the attention-grabbing power of the campaign (however messages have to be consistent).

Pay 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.

Know exactly who your audience is and look at everything from their point of view

Marketers are consumer-focused. It is crucial that you clearly identify your target audience and that you look at the world from their point of view. Why does a marketer think this way? To motivate people to take an action, you have to understand the world from your target audience’s perspective – what do they want, struggle with, care about, dislike? The people you are talking to will not listen if they sense that you do not understand them.

Need to understand what makes people do what they do

People do not change their behaviours because it is “the right thing to do”. Education alone does not change behaviours. Also, people tend to fib about their behaviours. People do change their behaviours when the benefit to them outweighs the barrier they face.  Finally, do not forget your audience is always asking themselves when told to do something what is in it for me? my family? my community? my city? my region? or my country?

Get influencers involved

Every audience has influencers: people that they look to for direction.  One of the great successes of effective social marketing initiatives is getting a wide range of influencers on board.  When celebrities, business leaders, community leaders, and your most influential and connected friends are participating, it’s hard to resist joining the fray.

Do not assume that behaviour change is difficult

Difficulty is a qualitative judgment of effort required based on task/behaviour requirements versus our capabilities. No matter what’s being asked of people, if it’s rational, desirable, and people are motivated, with a clear and sensible process, behavioural change is possible.



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

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

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!






Reflections on MARCOM 2014


Another great year for MARCOM 2014… “Canada’s premiere educational forum for public and not-for-profit sector marketers and communicators”. Great speakers and trade show; great venue at the Ottawa Convention Centre and this year’s food was the best ever. No question that my colleague Claire Mills and the advisory committee, volunteers and sponsors did a great job in organizing and running the event.

The forum Keynote, Mitch Joel, President of Twist Image, was terrific as usual. This year he discussed five new movements that have changed the way we do business forever. The next five years he suggests will be about the convergence of these five major movements that will require organizations to adapt like never before. For more information check out his book; CTRL ALT Delete: Reboot Your Organization…Your Future Depends on it.

I really enjoyed doing my pre -MARCOM social marketing workshop this year; we had a great group of attendees.

The peer – to – peer round tables were a hit again this year and really pleased with doing a round table with my colleague Kathleen Connelly, on Integrated Communications and Stakeholder Engagement. We had a great turnout for this year’s round table. There is no question that public sector and not-for-profit organizations today are looking for approaches that motivate various audiences to get engaged and take action.Here is the link to our roundtable handout.

I enjoyed doing the opening panel on day 2  with my colleague Bernie Colterman and Stephen Faul (Imagine) for the Not-for-Profit and Association Sectors. It’s no secret that both sectors are facing serious challenges. Increased competition for mind-share and dollars, changing demographics and new technologies are just some of the dynamics that are forcing them to take a fresh new look at their business models.

I discussed how the traditional not-for-profit culture needs to change to adapt to today’s environment and how they need to embrace marketing as a means of making this cultural shift. For more information on my thinking on developing a marketing culture, check out How to Create and Sustain a Marketing Culture in a Public Sector or Non-Profit Organization

Also congratulations to my colleagues at Intersol for the Intersol Advice Café: Fresh Ideas for Smarter Marketing which ended the MARCOM forum. Very useful exercise and I hope we continue doing this event in future. The concept of the  marketing community of practice  sharing information, experience, best practices and advice is a splendid idea.

Finally, I would like to share something that happened on day 2. There was a presentation on Blueprint 2020: A Case Study on Engagement through Social Media. For those who are not familiar with Blueprint 2020 launched by the Clerk of the Privy Council in June 2013, it is an unprecedented engagement exercise that offers federal public servants across the country to take part in a dialogue about the future of the public service.

The session discussed the use of social media and collaborative tools, as well as more traditional methods, to participate in a dialogue on the future of the public service.

There is no question that any effort to help shape the public service of tomorrow and find fresh ways to uphold the tradition of excellence that is the hallmark of Canada’s Public Service is a darn good idea. In a rapidly changing world shaped by technology, globalization and an inundation of information and data, clearly the Canadian public service needs fresh ideas.

After the presentation was completed, an interesting  question came from one of the MARCOM delegates. The questioner wanted to know if part of the process for Blueprint 2020 included consulting with clients/customers of the government.

Can you imagine any business organization who was trying to respond to questions like; Where do we need to be in five to ten years, How do we have to change to get there, What best practices should we adopt to help us do our job better  not consulting with their clients/customers?

No question that there needs to be an internal component but talking to yourselves without reaching out to those you serve is not good strategy. And no credible marketer would ever dream of such an approach. (keep in mind that the question was asked at a marketing forum)

The questioner also pointed out that public servants are continually criticized by the public and wouldn’t it be a good idea to dialogue with Canadians.

This is a pivotal time for Canada’s public service. As events evolve rapidly in an increasingly complex world, public servants must continue to ask themselves how and what they do for Canadians is relevant to the needs of the people they serve. A good start would be talking to Canadians as part of Blueprint 2020.

I hope you’ll join us next year at the Ottawa Convention Centre June 10-11, 2015 (Workshops June 9).

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For those of you who want to continue learning about marketing check out the Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing

There is a rising need for highly-skilled marketing professionals in the public and non-profit sectors to effectively bring their organization’s products, services and messages to the marketplace. The Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing is uniquely designed to equip participants with the information, tools and solutions necessary to skillfully and mindfully navigate their way through the fascinating and complex world of marketing. This program engages participants in a rich learning environment that reinforces theory with practical, real-life examples based upon the extensive experience of the instructors.

  • Learn what you really need to know about marketing in the public and non-profit sectors in 1 week;
  • Gain the skills and expertise to assume more senior positions and responsibilities;
  • Share experiences with marketers and communicators in your sector and expand your network.

​Check out our Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing.

Register Now 




Branding and Stakeholder Engagement – the Missing Links in Government Strategic Communications and Marketing

This blog was written by:

Jim Mintz, CEPSM and Kathleen Connelly, Intersol Group Ltd.


The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

George Bernard Shaw 


The major challenge facing public sector organizations today is that they have great difficulty getting their message out. More important, many can’t seem to get their messages to resonate with their diverse target audiences, including internal and external audiences, stakeholders etc. Most communication and marketing approaches generate some awareness but not much else.  Public sector organizations today are looking for approaches that generate something more substantial like motivating people to get engaged and take action.

This is a common problem with most organizations we work with at the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing and Intersol Group Ltd. Many organizations are very focused on tactics, but very few have strategic communications plans to guide all of their activities. They tend to be reactive rather than proactive. Even in cases where they do have a strategic communications plan there tend to be some critical missing links.

The success of any communications effort is dependent on a strong underlying strategy and two main factors: getting the audiences right and telling them a story that matters to them.   Get that right, and everything else falls into place. And this means understanding the internal and external stakeholder landscape and identifying the right opportunities to bring meaning to the messages.

Strategies to increase awareness, support and understanding both internally and externally must include a holistic view of strategic planning, business and operational goals, marketing, communications, creative strategy combined with the granular details required for implementation in areas such as web, social media channels, media relations, inbound content-based communications, outbound marketing, and analytics.

From our experience there are two missing links in many public sector communications plans. Without a branding framework to guide the communications and a full understanding of the stakeholder landscape to encourage true engagement, the best communications or marketing strategy will “fall flat on its face”.

Missing Link #1:  Branding is much more than a visual identity or a tagline for an organization; it’s a core business tool, a strategic platform for both communicating and building value among its audiences.  A brand contains within it the complete value that an organization delivers, a relevant promise that matters to its audiences and is aligned with the organization’s strategic and operational goals.


Branding is a strategic investment. It leads to an improved ability to internalize and communicate organizational vision and mission. A well-conceived brand provides clear and easy to understand principles that guide your communications and marketing efforts. The internalization and integration of a brand leads to the brand promise being lived by everyone who works for the organization, at all points of contact. “Living the brand” means more efficiency, and more return on investment for your communications and marketing dollar. A brand stands for the relationship that an organization has with its employees and partners, as much as it represents the relationship that it has with the people it serves.

Missing Link #2:  Stakeholder Engagement when done well increases the credibility of the organization.  Involving stakeholders and attending to their concerns establishes the organization as fair, ethical, and transparent, and makes it more likely that they will want to work with the organization. For the above reasons, identification of stakeholders and their specific concerns makes it far more likely that the organization’s communications efforts will garner both the support they need and the appropriate focus to be effective.


To be successful, organizations have to rally support for what they are trying to achieve while building and maintaining good relationships with key stakeholders that are integral to future work. The objective is to work with stakeholders in a way that strikes a balance between meeting their expectations while reaching the organization’s communications and marketing goals.

Finally, a number of principles must always underpin and guide stakeholder engagement approaches. They include open and effective communication, a focus on seeking mutually beneficial outcomes, inclusiveness to ensure a variety of voices are heard and engaging in a way that builds mutual trust and respect.


Kathleen Connelly, Senior Consultant at Intersol Group, and Jim Mintz, Managing Partner at the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing, have many years of experience working with senior levels of government and bring fresh perspectives on communicating in a public sector environment.  

For more information about our services, please contact:

Jim Mintz | jimmintz@cepsm.ca or Kathleen Connelly | kconnelly@intersol.ca


Marketing Workshops Spring 2017

Marketing 101 (for Marketers and Non-Marketers)

March 29, 2017

343 Preston Street, Ottawa, ON,

This workshop will provide participants with an overview of public sector and non-profit marketing. The workshop will teach participants how to develop a marketing  strategy and plan as well as how to transform a government/nonprofit organizations from using the traditional communications approach to an integrated, strategic marketing approach.

The workshop will focus on:

  • An overview of marketing;
  • Systematic processes and strategic elements for developing and implementing an action-oriented strategic marketing plan;
  • How to set realistic, practical marketing objectives and goals;
  • How to evaluate marketing efforts with practical ideas on how to improve execution;
  • How to develop a client-based mindset in a public sector or non-profit organization;
  • How to use market research to support a decision-making framework;
  • How to develop a system for measuring progress and monitoring performance.



Intro to Social Marketing Planning for Attitude and Behaviour Change

March 9, 2017


343 Preston Street, Ottawa, ON,

Awareness.  Are you getting tired of hearing that word? If you want to move your marketing and communications efforts beyond merely public education and awareness campaigns and into the realm of action-oriented attitude and behaviour change then this workshop is for you


The workshop will focus on:

  • How to use a step-by-step structured approach to prepare a social marketing plan that is actionable, has maximum impact, and leads to successful implementation;
  • How to present and “sell” your social marketing strategy to management;
  • How to implement a social marketing program on a very tight budget;
  • How to monitor and evaluate your inputs/outputs, outcomes and impacts;
  • How social marketing gives you a single approach: for mobilizing communities; influencing the media; activating key stakeholders; and building strategic alliances with business.