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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.

The Role of Marketing in Change Programs

This post comprises an excerpt from an article I wrote called, The Role of Marketing in Public Health Change Programs, first published in the Australian Review of Public Affairs in 2011.
 
It is the “goal of societal wellbeing that distinguishes social marketing from all other marketing applications and defines what is and what is not social marketing.
 
This excerpt presents my overview of marketing prior to my developing a framework for social marketing in public health.

Marketing is characterised by features such as a consumer orientation, segmentation and targeting, competitor analyses, extensive research with customers and potential customers to ensure that offerings are believable, relevant and motivating, and marketing plans for the ‘4Ps’ of the marketing mix: Product; Place (distribution); Promotion; and Price. Research and negotiations are also undertaken with intermediaries such as retailers, and with stakeholders such as unions and government, to ensure that making the product attractive, available and affordable will be facilitated by distributors and not hampered by structural and regulatory restrictions.

In all these areas, the notion of an exchange process between the ‘buyer’ (target) and the ‘seller’ (marketer) forms a platform of operation. A necessary (but not sufficient) condition for a successful exchange is that marketers offer people something they value in exchange for them purchasing, stocking or recommending the product or adopting the desired behaviour, whether they be end consumers, intermediaries or legislators. ‘What’s in it for me?’ is a key driver in determining appropriate incentives for the various target groups in campaigns.

Social marketing is just one ‘branch’ of marketing, where the branches reflect the area of application, for example sports marketing, business to business or industrial marketing, not-for-profit marketing, religious marketing, political marketing, and so on. However, the key point of difference to all other branches of marketing, is that the social marketer’s goal relates to the wellbeing of the community, whereas for all others, the marketer’s goal relates to the wellbeing of the marketer (that is, sales and profits; members and donations; political representation; etcetera). If the wellbeing of the community is not the goal, then it isn’t social marketing.

Marketing draws on a number of disciplines for developing, planning and implementing marketing activities, but primarily psychology (for example, consumer decision making; attitudes, values); communication (especially for persuasion); economics (for example, utilities, price elasticity); and sociology (for example, behaviour of groups and organisations; diffusion).

Social marketing extends marketing’s borrowings from psychology (for example, mental health and happiness), sociology (for example, war and conflict, social movements) and economics (for example, globalisation effects), and further draws on disciplines and concepts that are related to community wellbeing, such as public health and health promotion, criminology, social policy and social welfare, and environmental sustainability.

However, regardless of these elaborations, and regardless of whether we are targeting individual consumers or those in power to make regulatory changes, the primary paradigm is that of marketing.

Just like any marketing campaign, a social marketing campaign works when it’s based on good research, good planning, relevant attitudinal and behavioural models of change, when all elements of the marketing mix are integrated, and when the sociocultural, legislative and structural environments facilitate (or at least don’t inhibit) target audience members from responding to the campaign. A well-planned social marketing campaign stimulates people’s motivations to respond, removes barriers to responding, provides them with the opportunity to respond, and, where relevant, the skills and means to respond.

Where social marketing campaigns have failed, it is not because the marketing paradigm has been inappropriate, but rather, the application has been inadequate or incomplete. Some critics of social marketing campaigns have claimed that marketing’s focus on the individual largely ignores the social, economic and environmental factors that influence individual health behaviours. While some social marketing campaigns deserve this criticism, this is not an inherent characteristic of marketing.  One of the fundamental aspects of marketing—and hence social marketing—is an awareness of the total environment in which the organisation operates and how this environment influences or can itself be influenced to enhance the marketing activities of the company or health agency (Andreasen 2006; Buchanan, Reddy & Hossain 1994; Hastings & Haywood 1994).

Social marketing campaigns have been developed and implemented across a broad variety of areas, beginning largely in developing countries and dealing with issues such as rat control and other hygiene/sanitation areas, vaccination, family planning, agricultural methods and attitudes towards women (Manoff 1985). Applications in developed countries include a variety of areas although the majority and most visible have been and continue to be in lifestyle factors related to health and injury prevention (that is, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, nutrition and road safety), with lesser applications in other areas impacting on health and wellbeing such as ‘problem’ gambling, racism, child abuse and intimate partner violence, and growing interest in applications to energy conservation, recycling and climate control issues (Donovan & Henley 2010).

The paper then develops a social marketing framework based on the principles of marketing, the public health approach and the Ottawa Charter for health promotion.

References:

  • Andreasen, A.R. 2006, Social Marketing in the 21st Century, Sage, California.
  • Buchanan, D.R., Reddy, S. & Hossain, Z. 1994, ‘Social marketing: A critical appraisal’, Health Promotion International, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 49–57.
  • Donovan, R.J. & Henley, N. 2010, Social Marketing: An International Perspective, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Gordon, R., McDermott, L., Stead, M. & Angus, K. 2006, ‘The effectiveness of social marketing interventions for health improvement: What’s the evidence?’ Public Health, vol. 120, no. 12, pp. 1133–1139.
  • Hastings G. & Haywood, A. 1994, ‘Social marketing: A critical response’, Health Promotion International , vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 59–63.
  • Manoff, R.K. 1985, Social Marketing, Praeger, New York.