July 18, 2017

Using social marketing for health promotion part 1

Using social marketing for health promotion part 1

Image from VicHealth’s H30 challenge

Health promotion campaigns are used to raise awareness about alcohol and other drug (AOD) harms with the aim of improving health outcomes and community wellbeing. But knowing where to start and how to tailor these campaigns can be tricky.

One way to tackle the challenge is the adoption of ‘social marketing’ techniques. In short, the application of the concepts and tools of commercial marketing to achieve socially desirable goals.1

It’s important to note that we’re not talking here about ‘social media’ platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Rather we’re talking about an approach to health promotion that incorporates basic concepts found in commercial marketing including:

  • Segmenting and targeting audiences;
  • Advertising and promotions;
  • Research to ensure the content is appropriate for the product; and
  • Advertising messages that are relevant and motivating.

Social marketing vs traditional marketing – similarities and differences

An exchange process between the “buyer” and the “seller” underlies these concepts of commercial marketing. Health promotion through social marketing relies heavily on these traditional marketing concepts.

The key difference between the two however is that social marketing is not about commercial profit through the sale of goods or services, but rather a transfer of ideas leading to “positive” behaviour change.

“What’s in it for me?”

A necessary condition for a successful exchange (or campaign) is that social marketers offer people something they value in exchange for them adopting a recommended behaviour.

This requires social marketers to really interrogate and understand the question: “What’s in it for me?”. Being able to get inside this question, to understand what drives a particular target individual or group is key – because this is what they will be asking themselves when evaluating your campaign’s content and messaging.

Sitting alongside this is the need to supply the principles and tools that the target audience can effectively use.

A well planned social marketing campaign “stimulates people to respond, removes barriers to responding, provides them with opportunity to respond, and, where possible, the skills and means to respond.”2

More differences

Social marketing differs from traditional marketing in four other key ways:

  1. Firstly, the target behaviours are far more complex (i.e. reducing drug misuse is far more complex than getting someone to switch toothpaste brands);
  2. The number and types of intermediaries, including the level of negotiation to get cooperation, are also far more complex (e.g. the purchasing of supermarket shelf space is much simpler than negotiating with government on youth workers’ training for instance);
  3. The number of stakeholders can be extensive (e.g. illicit drug campaigns can involve a tremendous variety of professionals: from professionals dealing with sexual health and homelessness through to entertainment venue operators); and
  4. The range of AOD competitors is almost overwhelming (and therefore changing behaviour across this diverse set of ‘products’ with one, clear, simple message can be very difficult).

Next steps

So what’s next? Once you’ve come to understand the fundamentals of social marketing it’s time to consider a framework and understand the effectiveness of social marketing, issues which will be discussed in the next article.

Further resources

The changing face of social marketing – VicHealth

  1. Kotler, P. & Zaltman G. (1971). Social marketing: an approach to planned social change, Journal of Marketing, 35(3), 3-12
  2. Donovan, D.J. (2011) The role for marketing in public health change programs, Australian Review of Public Affairs, 10(1), 23-40