How to Sell Behavior Change with Social Marketing

Where Change Is the Product

Ad to persuade people to stop drinking sugary soda.
An example of a social ad. NYC Health Department

For many nonprofit managers, marketing equals fundraising.

But your organization exists for more than just bringing in donations. With social marketing methods that help change behavior change, you can fulfill your mission.

Although social and commercial marketing uses the same tools, they do not have the same goals. Social marketing sells behavior change while commercial marketing sells things.

Many people confuse social marketing with social media marketing, peer-to-peer communications,  or consumer-generated content.

But social marketing has been around for decades.  It's been used to address issues like family planning, HIV/AIDS,  and breast cancer screening.

When social marketers create a marketing strategy, they use the same marketing mix as commercial marketers.

But, they adjust the social marketing mix for their unique products and environments.

So what does the social marketing mix look like? And how is it different from the Four Ps that commercial marketers use?

1. Product

Social marketing products are not usually physical items although some are, such as condoms.

Social marketers sell a particular behavior. And while that behavior might be life-saving, people might not want to do it. Eating more fiber, conserving water, exercising, or getting a colonoscopy may not seem pleasurable.

So how do you help people want to do these things? You must use the same tools as commercial marketers. Promote the product's benefits based on the target audience's core values.

Show them how using the product helps them become the person they want to be.

2. Price

People don't mind paying to change behavior as much as they dislike the social and emotional costs.

These include:

  • the hassle factor of performing the behavior,
  • time,
  • embarrassment,
  • deprivation of something they enjoy,
  • fear of finding a medical problem,
  • or social disapproval. 

How can you to reduce the "price" as much as possible and make it easy to perform the behavior?

3. Place

How will you make the product available? How and where can people carry out the action? Where can they get the product?

The idea of a camera's aperture is relevant here.  

A camera's lens opens and shuts in a snap to let in light when you take a picture. There is also a small window of opportunity to communicate your message to a target audience. And at a time and place when they can act on it.

Your potential participants will not go out of their way to look for your messages. Go to them and help them learn about the product and perform the behavior. 

4. Promotion

How you promote social marketing does not differ much from commercial marketers.

One key difference may lie in the types of target audiences addressed. Many of the people that you try to reach are not the consumers that a business would even consider going after.

They may be low income, non-English speakers, hard to find, and not interested in change.

Only the most creative social marketers can promote their products to these hard-to-reach populations.

Because social marketing programs are so hard, we have to add four more Ps to the social marketing mix

5. Publics

To plan and manage a social marketing campaign we must consider all the people involved. We must address the target audience, groups that influence them, policymakers, and the media.

There are also the people within your organization that you must convince or inform.

For instance, board members and management staff must approve the plans. Even the receptionist needs to know what to do when someone calls in response to your campaign.

6. Partnership

Many social marketing issues are so significant that one organization cannot address them. That's when you need partners to pull off a particular campaign.

Partners, such as other nonprofits, government agencies, and businesses, should have one or more of these attributes:

  • similar goals to yours,
  • access to the target audience,
  • credibility with the target audience,
  • interest in sponsoring your program,
  • or resources that fill gaps in your organization's capabilities.

7. Policy

Government or organizational policies can promote social change on a large scale.

When policies support a particular behavior, people are more likely to make the change and stay with it.

For example, nonsmoking workplace policies make it easier for smokers to quit by removing social cues to smoking.

8. Purse strings

Most nonprofit organizations cannot set aside a percentage of their revenue for marketing activities.

Nonprofit social marketers fund their campaigns from corporate partnersfoundations, donations, and government agencies.

Use the social marketing mix to go beyond fundraising. Use marketing to make an impact on the lives of the people your organization exists to serve.