Now that Healthy People 2020 calls for more education and training of public health professionals in social marketing, what is it that we need? More people who can design messages, brochures and PSAs? Staff that can use social media tools and create online communities for change? People who use the 4Ps for program planning?
I could make an argument for any or all three of the above. But I believe that too many people in public health and nonprofit organizations get caught up in the 'magic' and excitement of designing interventions (and materials). They lose sight, if they ever had it, that this magic and excitement should come from what we know about our priority group - the people we intend to serve. We should train, they say, more people to do the 'cool' things.
There are another group of people who argue that what we need in social marketing is more research and people who are really adept at conducting focus groups and outcome evaluations. I can agree with them too - at times. We need more consumer information on which to base our interventions and more empirical evidence that the social marketing approach works - including comparative effectiveness research. Yet many of these people don't recognize that research and evaluation should be about the people we serve and directly inform the planning and delivery of programs for them - not just be served up as research reports and white papers to senior managers and policy-makers.
When I look around the social marketing world I see two camps that have existed for decades: the implementors and the researchers. And they are much like the two hemispheres of the brain with no corpus callosum (a structure connecting them and allowing communication between them. And the 'right' and 'left' analogies should not be overlooked either). I have fought, loudly at times, against the boundaries and walls that funding agencies place between research and practice. Too many times I have seen where the formative research was conducted by one agency and then handed over to another one to 'inform' program planning. There were no meetings between them to decide what questions should be posed, how data should be analyzed or interpreted, and only the most generic of recommendations were made from the research ("A campaign to raise awareness/change behaviors of the XXXX demographic group should be developed"). That is a complete waste of time and money! In some of my marketing projects we were able to successfully lobby to at least submit questions for what we really needed to know 'to be considered' by the researchers - a poor compromise. The obvious solution should come about when the planners are in the field with the people; yet then we find that these planners have no research skills or abilities whatsoever. Another waste of time and money! Geoffrey Rose was one of the few people who made sense of this by saying that the best intervention people had "Clean minds and dirty hands." Yet we continue to keep these functions separate, making some quasi-scientific argument for the sanctity of the process - that contamination of the research and evaluation process by 'interested' implementors is to be avoided at all costs.
Researchers often say to me, "Our job is to collect and analyze the data.We don't make recommendations because we don't understand what you need." Implementors say "We may have had a statistics course once, but we've completely forgotten it - and numbers were really never our friend. We can go on without the research." Why do we allow this to continue other than to succcumb to the status quo?
What we need in social marketing and public health are gapminders, or bridgers. What I have started calling "public health market planners." The idea is based on one I came across years ago in the advertising world - the account planner (see Jon Steele's Truth, Lies and Advertising for the best book on account planning by one. And two posts of mine on audience insights from a few years ago - Part 1 and Part 2). In a nutshell, "Account planners combine research and strategic thinking. If the account manager is closest to the client, the account planner is closest to the consumer…Rather than offering research insights to others at a single point in time, they use research to continue to provide insights within the campaign process." - Wikipedia
Three ideas are salient to me in this description:
1. Planners know research and can apply it by creating program strategies and writing creative briefs - not leave it to people, or committees, who don't understand the data, marketplace or people.
2. Planners are my 'audience advocates' - the person in every meeting who speaks for them when they can't speak for themselves. Another reason to also promote more co-creation of campaigns - bring the people into the room.
3. Planners are involved throughout the program planning and delivery. They don't disappear after a formative research 'project' or handing in a pretesting report. They continue to provide insights into the campaign especially after it has started.
The roles of the account planner start crossing boundaries that often exist on program research and planning teams - becoming that bridge. Research starts talking to implementation through the medium of the planner. Some of the tasks for a planner are:
- Organizing information about the consumer and the marketplace from every possible source, including the client and agency data and secondary research.
- Preparing the creative brief. The creative brief is the tool that the project and creative team uses to conceptualize the program. Another main purpose of the brief is to define the proper positioning of a brand.
- Representing the consumer during creative conceptualization (audience advocate). They may also interact with the creative team through the sharing of initial consumer responses to ad ideas or advertising approaches (concept testing).
- Presenting the work to the client. The planner informs the client of "how and why a consumer will react to [specific] tactics.
- Tracking the program’s performance and providing additional information to managers and program staff.
The key job of the public health market planner is to understand the research and distill the evidence into the critical piece of the puzzle for change: actionable insight into the people we serve. Not to fill-in-the-blanks of the theortical model we cherish, or map the social ecological brain dump of everything that 'could' be important, or notate pages of tables and figures from countless surveys asking every conceivable question. But rather, develop the nugget that comes from what some call 'design research' - the type of research that may involve focus groups or in-depth interviews, ethnographic research using photovoice, journey and experience mapping, creating personas, and other techniques designed to lead to inspiration, not replication or regurgitation. Inspiration based on people's dreams, passions, desires - a new idea and source of data for public health?
What do I mean by insight? Insight is contained in the world-changing sentences that tell you what the program must aim to be, it's soul or strategy. Consider these three real-life examples of audience insight as offered by the program planners:
truth® taps into the natural rebel in most teens and alerts them to the misleading marketing tactics of the tobacco industry, encouraging teens to be wary consumers that resist this deadly product.
Messages for tweens should focus on helping tweens discover their passion. Tweens are engaged by messages of self-discovery and seeking out their identity. Both involved and uninvolved youth are attracted to self-discovery messages and, more importantly, want to feel good about themselves. Involvement in activities must be positioned as a vehicle for self-discovery and self-esteem enhancement. Additionally, the idea that everyone is good as something will be an important motivational message for uninvolved youth with lower self-esteem.
Lack of top-of-mind awareness, physical invisibility, and perceived amount of effort and time posed obstacles to the target’s very positive intentions and preferences for fruits and vegetables over faster, less nutritious foods. The target audience was very much driven by a perceived scarcity of time. The team set the following action: Add two servings of fruits and vegetables 'the easy way instead of the hard way.
Which one inspires you to try and figure out 'How did they come up with that?' Or "I could really see a big program coming out of that!' That's your researcher and implementor sides coming out. And you likely favored one of the paragraphs over the other two - ask yourself why? And what about all those programs out there that are based on no (identifiable) insight at all? How much of the work we do is another version of 'painting by the numbers' or following 'the recipe' rather than engaging with people through empathy and insight into their reality to adopt healthier behaviors and change their world?
The insight is what links marketplace and consumer reality with what could be - how can we get from where we are to where we, and the people we serve, want to be? And what is that shared design of the future - and how do we develop it? The public health market planner is the person we need to have to start consistently addressing these questions. And the planners in social marketing and public health are the ones who can pull together research and practice into a coherent strategy that results in more people-focused programs. I hope that when faculty consider, and students demand, what types of social marketers they want to train or be, they won't settle for just half of one.
Image "Stuck in the Middle with You" by Josh Harper