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Positive Spin on Change – Social Marketing

This post is a verbatim-transcript of an article written by Maureen Eppen and published in The West Australian newspaper on 18th November, 2017.


Social marketing is emerging as a way for marketing professionals to use their skills and experience for the greater good.

Marketing for Change Managing Director Luke van der Beeke said work in this field provided opportunities to apply traditional marketing concepts and other approaches to deliver positive outcomes for society as a whole.  Social marketing was not to be confused with social media marketing.

“Commercial marketing is used to influence people’s purchasing decisions to make a profit – it exists to make money for a select few and build shareholder value,” Mr van der Beeke said.

Social marketing is different. It also seeks to build value – but social value, not shareholder value.

“Its main purpose is to deliver positive outcomes for individuals and society. We use the same tools and techniques, but the end-game is completely different.

“For social marketers, there’s nothing wrong with making a profit, but not when it comes at the cost of an individual’s or community’s health or wellbeing.”

Mr van der Beeke said this form of marketing was still relatively new in Australia, but there was a growing network of people “marketing for good”.

Social marketers used “behaviour change programs” to help achieve positive change.

“Behaviour change programs are used to address all sorts of issues, including public health, environment and social challenges,” he said.

“At their core, most problems facing the world today are predicated on people’s attitudes and behaviours.

“For example, violence against women is a behaviour carried out by men, and an area I’m doing quite a bit of work in at the moment.”

Driving, physical inactivity, recycling, human trafficking, crime, substance abuse, retirement savings, handwashing and climate change were all examples of areas in which social marketing and behaviour change programs could benefit society.

“Social marketing isn’t a silver bullet, but it can be a highly effective means of tackling the many social, health, economic and cultural challenges we currently face,” he said.

“Over the past 10 years there’s been a marked shift towards small government and the need for people to take more personal responsibility.

“In my view, if we want people to take more responsibility for their health, financial security and so on, we need to equip and empower them to do so – telling them they need to do something isn’t enough.

“We’ve also seen disciplines like behavioural economics come to the fore, as governments seek to nudge people towards better choices.

“While it’s making a significant contribution to the social good, it needs to be counterbalanced by policy and programs that are informed by the needs and wants of citizens.

“There’s quite a bit of evidence that policies and programs that fail to do so can be ineffective and may even result in unintended consequences.”

Here in Perth, Marketing for Change had advised local government on how to use behaviour insights to increase timely payment of rates, increase bush fire preparedness, pet registration and micro-chipping.

“I’m also currently working with Koolkuna, a women’s shelter in Midland, on a Department of Social Services funded family violence prevention project,” he said.


Luke’s advice for people considering a career in social marketing
  • Join the Australian Association of Social Marketing and plug in to its Australian and international networks of social marketing academics, practitioners, resources and webinars.
  • Find a social marketer and meet with them over coffee. AASM is a good place to start and social marketers are generally very open to support those new to the field.
  • Read widely. Social marketing draws on many disciplines.
  • Marketing would be the most relevant degree, but communications, behavioural science or economics, or psychology would also be good options.
  • Don’t consider social marketing if your intent is to make lots of money. Social marketers are a bit like non-profit marketers – we do the job because we’re passionate about it.
His top tips for embracing the principles of social marketing
  • Listen to what others are saying and seek to understand what sits behind their words.
  • Have empathy. We’re too quick to blame and label others for what we perceive to be poor choices.
  • Seek out people doing things more innovatively or better than you, and learn from them.
  • Avoid labels, stereotypes and assumptions.
  • Don’t assume you know why people think and behave as they do. Everyone’s lived experience is different.
Social Marketing

The article as it appeared in the Weekend West.

Encouraging Voluntary Behaviours

Last week I came across this fundraising box at Subway.

The sign promised that in exchange for helping I would feel good.  My inner philanthropist thought why not!  So I donated the coin contents of my purse and instantly received a good, warm fuzzy feeling.  Given that before making my way to the counter I had no intention of making a donation anytime soon, this campaign demonstrates the power of an appropriate value proposition to encourage voluntary behaviour.

Exchange in social marketing is often non-monetary and typically involves something else the target audience wants for performing the behaviour; where the benefit is most often personal and psychological in nature, such as a good feeling, social recognition or praise.  People always want to know what’s in it for them.  Therefore appealing to an individual’s self-interest, through a direct and timely exchange, is in every social marketer’s best interest – particularly when encouraging voluntary behaviour change.

So how can you appeal to an individual’s self-interest?  One way is by increasing the perceived value of what they receive in return.  Social marketing programs should attempt to manage social issues by ensuring the benefits (or perceived benefits) outweigh the costs associated with the advocated change – increasing the likelihood of voluntary adoption.

Whilst the concept that giving to others can make you feel good about yourself is not revolutionary, it is often overlooked or forgotten; replaced with classic campaigns involving images of in-need individuals designed to elicit sadness and guilt.  The ACT for Kids’ feel-good campaign is a perfect example of where a direct and timely benefit is offered in exchange for a voluntary behaviour, in this case a donation.

Another great example of an effective self-interest value proposition is from Kotler and Lee’s text ‘Social Marketing: Influencing Behaviours for Good’ (3rd edition).  An environmental social marketing campaign, aimed at reducing pollution affecting an estuary famous for harvesting blue crabs, reframed the issue as a culinary, not an environmental, problem.  The appeal to the target audiences’ stomachs (self-interest) rather than their environmental consciousness (societal benefit), provided a direct and timely exchange for changing pollutant garden care behaviours to more environmentally friendly behaviours and, consequently, was more effective than previous initiatives to change behaviour.

Whist the underlying objective is distinguishable between social and commercial sector marketing, an understanding of exchange principles is fundamental to both.  Recycling may decrease pollution, reducing energy consumption may help the environment and giving up your leisure time to volunteer may help those in need.  But ultimately, everyone’s focus is on themselves, so providing a good answer to the question of ‘What’s in it for me?’ is extremely important to behaviour change campaign success.