What is Social Marketing?

Taking the principles from commercial marketing, and using them to inspire behaviour change.

Social marketing uses principles from commercial marketing and the social sciences to change people’s behaviour for the social good – to benefit both individuals and wider society.

Think about some of the biggest challenges that face the world today.  For example, health issues like obesity, or environmental problems like climate change. Such issues are often caused by human behaviour, and as a result, they can only be tackled if people change their lifestyles and poor habits. 

To give an idea of what is involved, here are eight features of social marketing, which our friends at the NSMC developed:

1.   Behaviour

Social marketing involves trying to change people’s actual behaviour – not just their attitudes or awareness.

2.   Customer orientation

As social marketers, we must stand in the shoes of the people whose behaviour we are trying to change: to understand their lives and their behaviours from their perspective, not what we might think or experience. 

3.   Theory

We use behavioural theories to help us understand behaviour and to inform the interventions that we develop.

4.   Insight

Conducting research into the behaviours of the people we are interested in, to develop actionable insights that inform the development of interventions to change their behaviour.

5.   Exchange

Changing behaviour usually involves people giving something up (costs) to gain something else (benefits).  We need to understand how people perceive rewards, benefits, costs and barriers associated with both desired and problem behaviours.  We can then consider what might be done to incentivise the desired behaviour and disincentivise the problem behaviour.

6.   Competition

In designing behaviour change interventions, we need to consider what else competes for our audience’s time, attention, and their tendency to behave in a certain way.

7.   Segmentation

Not everyone is the same, so a ‘one size fits all’ approach is rarely best.  Good customer insight allows us to identify audience segments, grouping together people with common characteristics, and to tailor interventions accordingly.

8.   Methods mix

Social marketing – like commercial marketing - involves using all of the Marketing Mix i.e. the ‘7Ps’: Product, Price, Place, Promotion, Process, Physical Evidence and People.  It’s about much more than just raising awareness.   

From experience, we know that changing behaviour is challenging. We choose from a range of tools and frameworks to help the process, – dependent on each brief. For example, we find MINDSPACE, The Behaviour Change Wheel, and Behavioural Insight Team’s ‘EAST’ Framework all useful when thinking about encouraging behaviour change.

What social marketing is not

Social marketing is not commercial marketing, although it draws on marketing principles and techniques. The American Marketing Association’s definition of marketing is:

“The activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

  • Commercial marketeers create consumer value for profit.
  • Social marketeers create consumer value in behaviours that are good for people.

Social marketing does not neccesarily mean social media marketing

Social marketing should not be confused with social media marketing, for example using Facebook and Twitter, but it often is. Social media is often a promotional tool or channel used to help to deliver social marketing campaigns and interventions.

Social Marketing Gateway

Find out more about SMG, and how we could help your organisation to deliver an impactful social marketing project.