Social Marketing: Why definitions matter

By | July 23, 2009

From How-do via @chiefmaven….

The NHS North West’s drive to improve the health of the region’s population through a sustained social marketing campaign is seemingly coming under attack from numerous London-based newspapers – newspapers that seem to have misinterpreted what social marketing actually means.

Two things leap out of the How-do article. First, it’s great to see that site (and the  article) understand what social marketing means, even if the first few commentators completely miss the point. Social media marketing is not social marketing.  This is where the NHS and the National Social Marketing Centre need to put some time, people and money into bringing the journalists, editors and sub editors into the loop as to what we do (offer behaviour options), how we do it (marketing techniques) and why we’re doing it (free choice, democratic principles, cost-benefit,  ROI).

Social marketing is a new technique to the world of government, newspapers, journalists and the general public.  As one of society’s teams of change agents, we’ve got a responsibility to explain ourselves to our critics, and to do it without making them feel stupid for not understanding in the first place.  This is a role that I see the Global Social Marketing Network being able to perform in many different circumstances – particularly if we adopt a common front of engaging the critics in public debate and private 1 to 1 meetings where we give them the chance to ask questions, get answers, and we take the opportunity to hear out their criticisms, concerns and fears. We need to talk with our critics, understand them, and see if there’s a common ground, a fair point, or a misunderstanding that’s dividing where we stand (pro-social marketing) and where they stand (anti-social marketing).

I’d also like to draw attention to Comment#5 on the article.

….The one thing more annoying than being pounded with advertising telling me what to think (and tries to ‘change my behavioural patterns – a stunningly Orwellian phrase if ever I heard one) is being pounded with adverts from health fascists that I’m paying for.

FWIW, I agree with Comment #5 – I can’t stand the health fascists either.  Hello, I’m caffeine addicted, obese  (thanks for the constant reminder WiiSports) male with a propensity for fast food (Thanks Nandos).  Can’t stand the people who want to ban their way to social compliance rather than work with the audience for social change (Just say no to people who cheat to win by bringing in laws when they can’t win clean in the marketplace).

Because I don’t like the health fascist model, I’m an advocate for social marketing, and for doing social marketing properly.

When done properly without cheating, social marketing provides a free market approach to social change.  Simply put, we’re going to outbid the (negative) behaviour by putting a better offer on the table, nightstand, drive through window or bar.  That’s how we do it in marketing – market research, product development, and blindsiding the competitor with a better offer at a better price in a more convenient format.  Just like Coke, Pepsi, Microsoft or any of the other commercial marketing players.

We’ll see your best offer  in the marketplace, and we’ll make a counter offer to beat that so you’ll prefer our option over the other choice.  Safe sex is a question of confidence the morning after, feeling good about feeling safe, and feeling certainty rather than lingering doubt.  Health food needs to be able to sell on the flavour (raw and the cooked), effectiveness (snack pack without the waste), efficiency (easy to eat, ready to access) to make a decent counter offer to the drive through McDonalds burger.   Until there’s a drive through F&V window, and McDonald’s production values of fast, cheap and accessible, healthy isn’t making an offer than equals or betters the competition.

Social marketing and social marketers have to win clean in the marketplace, play straight up against our rivals, and take the social momentum from them with better options, better products, more choice and better outcomes.  After all, that’s how we do it, capitalism style to create the problem, and that’s how we need to do it, capitalism style, to solve the problem.

Of course, this only works when you want change rather than compliance.  That’s another story though.