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:


In social marketing, the product is a shift in attitude or a behavior change. 


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.


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.


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.

What are the 4 Ps of social marketing?

The 4 Ps of social marketing comprise:

What are the five components of social marketing?

How is social marketing used?

Social marketing leverages aspects beyond knowledge or attitude among the target audience, including social aspects. Social marketing is used in various social initiatives, including animal cruelty protection, wildfire prevention, and reducing the prevalence of lung disease.

Main Free Guides:

Marketing Glossary

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing describes the process whereby an affiliate earns a commission for selling the products of another person or company. Here, the affiliate is simply an individual who is motivated to promote a particular product through incentivization. The business whose product is being promoted will gain in terms of sales and marketing from affiliates.

Ambush Marketing

As the name suggests, ambush marketing raises awareness for brands at events in a covert and unexpected fashion. Ambush marketing takes many forms, one common element, the brand advertising their products or services has not paid for the right to do so. Thus, the business doing the ambushing attempts to capitalize on the efforts made by the business sponsoring the event.

Brand Building

Brand building is the set of activities that help companies to build an identity that can be recognized by its audience. Thus, it works as a mechanism of identification through core values that signal trust and that help build long-term relationships between the brand and its key stakeholders.

Brand Equity

The brand equity is the premium that a customer is willing to pay for a product that has all the objective characteristics of existing alternatives, thus, making it different in terms of perception. The premium on seemingly equal products and quality is attributable to its brand equity.

Brand Positioning

Brand positioning is about creating a mental real estate in the mind of the target market. If successful, brand positioning allows a business to gain a competitive advantage. And it also works as a switching cost in favor of the brand. Consumers recognizing a brand might be less prone to switch to another brand.

Business Storytelling

Business storytelling is a critical part of developing a business model. Indeed, the way you frame the story of your organization will influence its brand in the long-term. That’s because your brand story is tied to your brand identity, and it enables people to identify with a company.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is one of the most powerful commercial activities which focuses on leveraging content production (text, audio, video, or other formats) to attract a targeted audience. Content marketing focuses on building a strong brand, but also to convert part of that targeted audience into potential customers.

Digital Marketing

A digital channel is a marketing channel, part of a distribution strategy, helping an organization to reach its potential customers via electronic means. There are several digital marketing channels, usually divided into organic and paid channels. Some organic channels are SEO, SMO, email marketing. And some paid channels comprise SEM, SMM, and display advertising.

Growth Marketing

Growth marketing is a process of rapid experimentation, which in a way has to be “scientific” by keeping in mind that it is used by startups to grow, quickly. Thus, the “scientific” here is not meant in the academic sense. Growth marketing is expected to unlock growth, quickly and with an often limited budget.

Guerrilla Marketing

Guerrilla marketing is an advertising strategy that seeks to utilize low-cost and sometimes unconventional tactics that are high impact. First coined by Jay Conrad Levinson in his 1984 book of the same title, guerrilla marketing works best on existing customers who are familiar with a brand or product and its particular characteristics.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing is a marketing strategy designed to attract customers to a brand with content and experiences that they derive value from. Inbound marketing utilizes blogs, events, SEO, and social media to create brand awareness and attract targeted consumers. By attracting or “drawing in” a targeted audience, inbound marketing differs from outbound marketing which actively pushes a brand onto consumers who may have no interest in what is being offered.

Integrated Marketing

Integrated marketing describes the process of delivering consistent and relevant content to a target audience across all marketing channels. It is a cohesive, unified, and immersive marketing strategy that is cost-effective and relies on brand identity and storytelling to amplify the brand to a wider and wider audience.

Marketing Mix

The marketing mix is a term to describe the multi-faceted approach to a complete and effective marketing plan. Traditionally, this plan included the four Ps of marketing: price, product, promotion, and place. But the exact makeup of a marketing mix has undergone various changes in response to new technologies and ways of thinking. Additions to the four Ps include physical evidence, people, process, and even politics.

Marketing Personas

Marketing personas give businesses a general overview of key segments of their target audience and how these segments interact with their brand. Marketing personas are based on the data of an ideal, fictional customer whose characteristics, needs, and motivations are representative of a broader market segment.

Multi-Channel Marketing

Multichannel marketing executes a marketing strategy across multiple platforms to reach as many consumers as possible. Here, a platform may refer to product packaging, word-of-mouth advertising, mobile apps, email, websites, or promotional events, and all the other channels that can help amplify the brand to reach as many consumers as possible.

Multi-Level Marketing

Multi-level marketing (MLM), otherwise known as network or referral marketing, is a strategy in which businesses sell their products through person-to-person sales. When consumers join MLM programs, they act as distributors. Distributors make money by selling the product directly to other consumers. They earn a small percentage of sales from those that they recruit to do the same – often referred to as their “downline”.

Niche Marketing

A microniche is a subset of potential customers within a niche. In the era of dominating digital super-platforms, identifying a microniche can kick off the strategy of digital businesses to prevent competition against large platforms. As the microniche becomes a niche, then a market, scale becomes an option.

Relationship Marketing

Relationship marketing involves businesses and their brands forming long-term relationships with customers. The focus of relationship marketing is to increase customer loyalty and engagement through high-quality products and services. It differs from short-term processes focused solely on customer acquisition and individual sales.

Sustainable Marketing

Sustainable marketing describes how a business will invest in social and environmental initiatives as part of its marketing strategy. Also known as green marketing, it is often used to counteract public criticism around wastage, misleading advertising, and poor quality or unsafe products.
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