The 2008 version of my social marketing class is ready to begin. Among the changes is adapting Phil Kotler and Nancy Lee's 3rd edition of Social Marketing - subtitled now as influencing behaviors for good. In it, they list 15 principles for success. Here they are with some commentary.
Take advantage of prior and existing successful campaigns. They are referring to an environmental scan of campaigns,and applying lessons from them to your own. Unfortunately, few accessible descriptions of successful campaigns tell the real story about how they got to that point; that's usually where the lessons are. When you are doing this, focus on campaigns that are focused on your priority audiences, NOT the health issue. That's when you learn and possibly get some audience insights.
Start with target markets most ready for action. Almost every behavior change approach will echo this sentiment, and it is a correct one. Yet you also need to focus on the audience critical to the success of your program. And please stop referring them to targets. If you respect their dignity and ability to make choices they might be less inclined to try and dodge your messages.
Promote single, simple, doable behaviors - one at a time. Again, a basic principle of any effort to change the behavior of an individual. But what model do you use when you are trying to change the behavior or hundreds, thousands or millions of people [pdf file]? And be sure to avoid preaching the public healthy behavior and focus on what's relevant to them [pdf file].
Identify and remove barriers to behavior change. This approach to social marketing may have it's time and place, but it less frequent than advice like this should lead you to practice. I'll quote myself here: Addressing deficits and moaning about barriers seems to be in the DNA of too many public health programs; practice some positive deviancy and test whether building on aspirations and assets doesn’t suggest different strategies and approaches. If nothing else, you’ll have a more diverse collection of concepts to test with your audiences and partners.
Bring real benefits into the present. Another well-known principle of behavior change dating back to at least B.F. Skinner and operant conditioning - though the authors prefer to attribute it to economic theory. Also realize that the benefits don't have to be shouted out for the audience to understand and respond to them.
Highlight costs of competing behaviors. See also operant conditioning where the size of the consequence (or vicarious exposure to, or expectations of, positive consequences if you want to flip to social cognitive theory) is a major determinant of whether a behavior is acquired. I wonder how many people practicing social marketing really understand the essentials of behavior change rather than making it so complicated? My impression is that they get too wrapped up in cognitive activities (intentions, beliefs, attitudes) and economists' guesses (and Freakonomics may not explain things that well either) when the basics might be easier. And some behaviors may be more determined by social factors than they first appear.
Promote a tangible good or service to help target audiences perform the behavior. For international readers, this might seem to flip social marketing as generally understood on its head. For the social marketers in the developed world, a reminder that products are not just the 4Ps of pamphlets, posters, PSAs and publicity. Strive for products and services that help people change and not merely be channels to inform or expose them to messages.
Consider nonmonetary incentives in the form of recognition and appreciation. I completely agree that monetary incentives are too often a default position for many change agents. Learning a little more about what motivates people is worth looking into.
Make access easy. For services and products, I agree. But social marketers also need to insure that their audiences have the opportunities to try new behaviors, practice them and then be able to sustain them. Otherwise, behavior change is just an idea. This is where thinking about and targeting (things, not people) environmental, structural and policy barriers makes sense.
Have a little fun with messages. They do point out that for some types of organizations even a little bit of fun might be out-of-bounds. But be careful not to make it a joke or have the fun overshadow the intent of the message ('I laughed so hard I didn't pay attention to what they were saying').
Use media channels at the point of decision making. Always a good strategy, though I prefer to think of this as just one of several openings (the right time, place and frame-of-mind) that we need to be present in. Research notes a person living in the US makes more than 200 decisions about food a day. Plenty to aim at for the obesity prevention folks.
Try for popular/entertainment media. Back to the 'make it fun idea' and entertainment education certainly can play a role in communication efforts - if you can get your audience to come and pay attention. But for scalable behavior change, I want to use media to reach an audience where ever they are and then worry about tone.
Get commitments and pledges. Another classic behavior management tool for individual behavior change that finds many applications as behavior contracts. A little more difficult to do for populations, but not impossible. And a nice way to begin to introduce price as incentives into the social marketing program.
Use prompts for sustainability. They are referring here to sustaining behavior, not the sustainability of social marketing programs (unfortunately). Their relentless focus on individual behavior change leaves a lot out of what concerns practitioners and policy makers.
Track results and make adjustments. Just be sure you are monitoring and evaluating the important things, not simply what is easy and measurable. Will you be able to answer the questions: So what? Who cares?
What we will continue to grapple with throughout the course, and indeed in the profession (or discipline), is how to use social marketing for scalable impact on health issues and not be bound by theories and approaches that try and do it one person at a time. Been there, done that.