What Is Social Marketing? Social Marketing In A Nutshell

The term was first coined in 1971 by researchers Philip Kotler and Gerald Zaltman, who defined it as “the design, implementation, and monitoring of programs designed to influence the acceptability of social ideas and that embeds planning, pricing, communication, distribution, and marketing research considerations.” Social marketing uses commercial marketing fundamentals to improve the welfare of citizens and the economic, social, and physical environments in which they exist.

Understanding social marketing

Social marketing is a broad and diverse field that applies commercial marketing principles to the creation, communication, and delivery of value to benefit individuals and society as a whole. 

Social marketing is typically described in the context of the 4 Ps of marketing:

  • Product – in social marketing, the product is a shift in attitude or a behavior change. 
  • Price – in other words, what is the cost of implementing those changes? Since it is hard to place a dollar value on the cost of a social initiative, social marketing endeavors to reframe a change in behavior or attitude as more beneficial than maintaining the status quo.
  • Place – or the location where a target audience can be reached and the product distributed. Social marketing makes this process as effortless as possible to maximize the uptake of a change.
  • Promotion – to be widely successful, social initiatives must be promoted across the community and reinforced via multiple channels.

The five components of social marketing

Social marketing campaigns comprise the following five components:

1 – Instituting behavioral change 

In a traditional marketing situation, teams understand that awareness of a product or service in isolation does not guarantee the consumer will purchase. Similarly, changes in knowledge or attitude do not guarantee that a behavioral change has been made in a social marketing effort.

To that end, social marketers want to see the target audience perform one of four actions:

  1. Accept a new behavior. For example, start a recycling habit.
  2. Reject a potential behavior. For example, the avoidance of smoking or speeding.
  3. Modify a current behavior, such as working out for two hours instead of one.
  4. Abandon an old behavior, such as using a smartphone while driving. 

2 – Change is usually voluntary

Voluntary change is at the core of social marketing. Campaigns focus on showing a level of understanding and empathy for the audience that helps them discover the personal benefits of changing a behavior on their own.

3 – Marketing principles and techniques

Social marketing campaigns must also appeal to the motivations of the individual to prevent injury, protect the environment, increase public health, or make positive contributions to communities. 

To achieve this, research into what the individual currently knows, does, and believes is critical.

4 – Identify a target audience

As in a traditional marketing campaign, customer segments in social marketing must also be targeted based on specific characteristics. Each individual has a unique combination of needs, wants, aspirations, and values that must be considered.

5 – Individuals, groups, and societies are beneficiaries 

Social marketing seeks to institute change on the individual level by increasing quality of life. Society as a whole then benefits from a healthier population that is also more productive.

Social marketing examples

Below is a brief look at a few real-world social marketing campaigns:

Animal cruelty

To educate consumers about harmful practices against geese, animal protection organization Gaia marketed a product called Faux Gras as a vegetarian and more humane alternative to foie gras. 

Wildfire prevention

In the United States, Smokey The Bear is a mascot that educates individuals about fire safety and wildfire prevention. Smokey’s friendly and approachable persona is used to mobilize American citizens toward a collective effort to save their environment.

Lung disease prevention

To reduce the prevalence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), British health authorities created segments of high-risk individuals according to their age, social and environmental factors, job status, motivation to change, and social group. The result of the campaign was a quick reference risk model that helped health planners and key personnel understand that a one-size-fits-all approach to reducing COPD was ineffective.

Key takeaways:

  • Social marketing uses commercial marketing fundamentals to improve the welfare of citizens and the economic, social, and physical environments in which they exist.
  • Social marketing is based on the 4 Ps of a marketing mix: product, price, promotion, and place. The approach also understands that changes in knowledge or attitude among the target audience do not guarantee that a behavioral change has taken place.
  • Social marketing is used in a range of social initiatives, including animal cruelty protection, wildfire prevention, and reducing the prevalence of lung disease.

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Connected Business Concepts

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