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What is Social Marketing? #1

by Louis on September 6, 2007

I attended a seminar at the UD21 Conference (Universal Design in the 21st Century) in Providence in 2000 lead by a university professor from Singapore. He had years of experience running programs to help students grow their awareness of life with disabilities. I was surprised when he said he was frustrated with his work.

For a long time he enjoyed his work. The students who finished his program appreciated what they learned. Then he looked around and saw that in conjunction with all the raised awareness no buildings, curbs or walks had been changed, even on campus. There was no physical result of his work. He was re-evaluating his career.

I was not expecting any session to effect me so. I started to understand that raising awareness is not enough. We need to focus our efforts on change, impact, outcomes. This is social marketing. Social marketing is influencing people to change their behavior using marketing techniques. Changed behavior is the way you measure success. One famous example is the tobacco free kids campaign.

If you think marketing is about getting people who don’t want something to buy it, this discussion may beg the question. Competent, professional marketing is about thoughtful, organized and measurable communication and influence. Most marketing is about influencing purchase behavior. Social marketing uses the same techniques to influence behavior change for social good.

So we have context or ‘bookends’ for social marketing. One is raising awareness. That is too often the intent of those who work in social fields and volunteers, thinking they are doing good. It is not enough, you can raise awareness forever without any net effect. The other end is commercial marketing with the goal of increasing sales. Nothing wrong with that. Social marketing is in the middle combining the intentions of the first and the techniques of the second, affecting behavior to reach important goals.

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