The students in the advanced social marketing course I teach have been asking for guidelines about how I will be grading their various assignments, including conducting a marketing audit of an existing program or organization and developing a research plan. Because I take an expansive view of social marketing in my text, Social Marketing and Social Change, the types of outcomes that can be the focus of their projects are broader. The outcomes might include behavior change, product use or service engagement, but they could also be organizational adoption of new evidence-based screening or treatment guidelines; community engagement such as increasing public participation in, and support for, change efforts or increasing community capacity and social capital to address local issues; changes in market conditions like increased availability of healthy products to people with lower incomes or restrictions in advertising of unhealthy ones; policy changes such as organizational or statewide mandates to support active living choices; or altering the environment to provide more opportunities to engage in physical activity.
This list of questions I ask when reading their assignments also applies to how I read manuscript submissions to journals, review published papers, consider proposals for social marketing projects and funding, and yes, conduct social marketing consultations. I believe the questions are broad enough to cover many different expressions of social marketing while they also focus on critical elements that distinguish social marketing from other behavior and social change methodologies. So if you are a student, teacher, practitioner, researcher, journal editor, manuscript reviewer or grant maker who is interested in answering the question - "Am I (or are they) describing or doing social marketing well?" - or want to ask more incisive questions about the programs you direct or manage, feel free to help yourself.
- Is the context of the problem described (what is the nature of the puzzle to be addressed)?
- Are program objectives clear (how will success be determined)?
- In planning the program, have organizational strengths and limitations been considered with respect to the opportunities and challenges present in the environment or marketplace?
- Is there a theory of change?
- Is there selection and concentration on priority groups (more than simply a ‘target audience’ that also includes potential intermediaries, stakeholders, partners critical for success)? Are they described beyond socio-demographic characteristics? Do they have Personas or another type of presentation that brings them alive as people?
- Has research been conducted with priority groups? What were the major insights that were discovered?
- What are the competitive behaviors, products or services from the priority group’s point-of-view?
- What are the relevant behaviors, products and/or services that will be the focus of the effort (in some circumstances these could be expanded to include organizational practices, community engagement, market conditions, design changes in the built environment, policy change)? What value or benefits will be proposed by the offering(s)?
- Is there a clear positioning statement for the new offering?
- Are strategic concepts (desired behavior or other change offerings and their proposed value/benefit) tested among priority groups; were members of priority groups involved in the creation of them?
- Are final offerings (messages, products and services) pretested among relevant priority groups; were members of priority groups involved in their development?
- What are the key change products that are offered (for example, new behavioral options, products, services, organizational practices, community coalition development, market conditions, environmental designs, policies)?
- How do these offerings address price considerations from the priority group’s perspective (incentives and costs)?
- How are opportunities to engage in desired behaviors, access products and/or engage with services managed?
- Do messages support behavior change, adoption of new practices, community participation, market place or policy change objectives? Are relevant communication channels and technologies employed?
- Is a program monitoring system in place? If yes, does it provide information about relevant program effects (for example reach and frequency of communication efforts, numbers and characteristics of product and service users, involvement of the priority group, development of engagement or relationships with people, progress towards intermediate outcomes)?
- How is the program measuring outcomes of interest – progress towards behavior change objectives, adoption of new practices, public engagement and participation, changes in market conditions or the environment, and/or policy change?
- Is there evidence that monitoring and evaluation data are used to improve program relevance and responsiveness to priority groups and its overall effectiveness?