Social marketing continues to inspire me when I witness how a few simple questions and acts can help people focus on important strategic issues and work together to improve people's lives. When we first published Strategic Questions for Consumer-Based Health Communications (don't let the title fool you, all three authors are bona fide social marketers), I would tell my staff that it contained 6 questions they should use in every program planning meeting. Those questions and a few simple acts prove, time and again, to be world-changing for participants in these meetings. Here they are:
1. Who will be the target consumers and what are they like? To answer this question one must do empirical research on consumers to describe those who are possible targets and then select the consumer segment likely to achieve the greatest gains toward the public health objective. Target selection is based on several factors: the size of the consumer segment (the number of people the program is trying to reach); the extent to which the consumer segment needs or would benefit from the behavior change (for example, incidence of morbidity and mortality); how reachable they are with available resources (accessibility); and the extent to which they are likely to respond to communications (responsiveness).I
2. I also encourage you to think more broadly and more deeply about audience segmentation and priority-setting by asking the question: Who is critical to the success of
the program? Social marketers usually rely on other people or groups to implement various parts of the program (peer influentials, intermediary organizations, media representatives). At other times, policy makers or senior managers may be key determinants for the long term sustainability of a social marketing effort. Yet, rarely do I see program designers explicitly focus a marketing strategy on these types of audiences despite their often critical role in accomplishing the goals of the program.
3. What action should the target person take as a direct result of the communication? This question aims at choosing the consumer’s action after the communication. This action may differ from the public health objective, the recommended behavior that is based on clinical and epidemiologic research. The “science” may say people should stop smoking or get a mammogram or eat five or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables. But just telling people to do something ignores where they are coming from or how they can get to the recommended behavior. Effective communication requires an understanding of the target’s behavior process, a “map” of the steps along the way to or from the healthy behavior.
reward should the message promise the consumer? This question focuses the team
on which rewards the target consumer might find most appealing and motivating.
A consumer reward is a future gain resulting from the action. It is not limited
to scientific facts or other objective realities, but it exists in the mind of
the consumer, and often, the consumer dispenses the reward to himself or
5. How can the promise be made credible? It is one task to promise the consumer a competitive reward; it is another to make the promise credible. Support can come from relevant information about the behavior and from how the message is presented - its execution. Scientific facts about the recommended behavior change can supply the informational support if the facts are important, understandable, and believable to the consumer, as well as unique to the behavior compared with its competitors. A thoroughly research-based description of the consumer will prove its value again by providing information on the relevance and believability of such facts.
6. What communication openings and vehicles should
be used? Consumers’ minds are closed to the message by selective inattention
and selective perception. Yet in the right frame of mind, they are more apt to
notice, attend to, and act favorably on messages that meet their needs. So,
consumer-based health communication seeks the openings in the person’s life and
the vehicles that best fit through those openings. The openings are the times,
places, and circumstances in which the consumer is most receptive to the
7. What image should distinguish the action? All but the newest behaviors already have an image - a set of expectations and associated feelings among consumers. The image of the action may be positive, neutral, or negative, it may be more or less crystallized, and it may be simple or complicated. The action’s image is like a personality: its elements or traits are mutually consistent, it endures over time, it is unique, it heightens perceptions that are consistent with it, and it encourages people to ignore or discount perceptions that are inconsistent with it. Today I usually talk about this in terms of a brand for the behavior – but if people are more comfortable with image, go with it! The issues and outcomes are the same.
8. Always be the audience advocate in the room. Don’t let the professionals or do-gooders get away with ideology, scientific facts, ‘gut feelings’ and past practices as the reason for program strategy and tactics. What makes behavior change work or not is how well the proposed behaviors (adopting new ones, not adopting or quitting others) fit the reality of the audience. If the people formerly known as the audience are not in the room representing themselves and co-creating the program (a practice I strongly endorse), then the social marketer needs to represent their point-of-view as best they can (and if you can’t, do your research!).
9. Assume a role in the group that confronts the devil’s advocate(s) in the group at every turn. I particularly like The Anthropologist and The Experimenter from Tom Kelley’s The Ten Faces of Innovation (now you know why it sits in the Recommended Reading list). Tom calls the Anthropologist role ‘the single biggest source of innovation at IDEO.’ And if you haven’t seen or heard IDEO in action, see my notes from the last Innovations in Social Marketing conference. The Experimenter focuses on the prototype building – or the ‘test it and see’ approach rather than giving into ideological and intellectual bull shitake. The Anthropologist goes into the field for answers and to experience what is really happening (rather than visiting the zoo or relying on the filtered views of others).
10. Focus on “Getting Together” rather than “Getting to Yes.” Behavior change starts with the planning group – the first priority audience that is key to success. What you believe are the important steps and processes to get to an effective program is not going to be shared with many others – at least at the beginning. You can try to be the persuasive, dictatorial, dominating, highhanded or authoritative manager of the group. However, you will find more long-term success by being the negotiator between factions (though the short-term consequences may have you thinking twice). Another book that should be on every social marketer’s reading table and a set of tools for every social marketer’s toolbox.
And here are some other suggestion for improving your social marketing program.