Friday, 28 November 2008

Social Marketing for Health and Specialised Health Promotion: Stronger Together – Weaker Apart

A Response: The View of a Commercial Marketer

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The National Social Marketing Centre has just made available a new discussion paper, Stronger together - Weaker apart, which aims to identify the common ground - and the differences - between specialised health promotion and social marketing for health, in England. It suggests an approach to integration between the two spheres which would improve practice, make more effective use of resources and improve the impact of interventions to improve health and reduce inequalities.

The paper formed the background to a discussion and debate session at September's World Social Marketing Conference.

Here, T Media posts a brief response paper to lend the views of a commercial marketer:

I read the document with great enthusiasm (I know how that makes me sound!), and went as far shutting myself away in a quiet bright room so that I could concentrate.

The paper aimed to "identify the common ground - and the differences - between specialised health promotion and social marketing for health". As a private sector marketer working with both Social Marketers and Health Promotion teams, I was fascinated to see how the NSMC and the Royal Society for Public Health viewed the level of interaction.

At the risk of calling my cognitive capacity into question, I have to say that I found it hard work.

To say that specialised health promotion can be significantly enhanced by social marketing, and conversely that Social marketing for health can be significantly enhanced by specialised health promotion is valid, easy to accept and therefore easy to move on without the need for further debate.

Principles such as the value of Social Marketing's emphasis on really understanding people's lives and Health Promotion's ethos empowering people and working in partnership with them, results in more positive health outcomes. To me, this constitutes good marketing practice.

The reality is that Social Marketing and Health Promotion are, and certainly should be intertwined, as they are based on a fundamental marketing process:

  1. Understand your reason for being and find your customers

  2. Understand your customer, their needs and all of the key influencing forces

  3. Develop solutions, products, services and conditions that ultimately benefits these customers

  4. Develop communication strategies and conditions which fulfill these customer benefits

  5. Ensure that the customer gains real benefit, is glad that they made the choices they did and would pass this on to others

The linear marketing process above is one I have written spontaneously rather than taking a model from one of the thousands of marketing books out there. Also, I'm fairly confident that the process above could be applied to specialised health promotion, social marketing and even commercial marketing.

As I reflect on this I notice that I have used the word "customer" at every stage, However, looking through the discussion paper the term is thin on the ground, with one notable exception:

"The word ‘marketing' and describing people in the health context as ‘customers' or ‘consumers' is a problem for some people working in the public sector because it has connotations of commercialisation."

In our organisation we use the term clients as opposed to customers. This is a term widely accepted amongst those delivering professional services and its origins are in trying to make the customer feel special. As it happens, I work within the "Client Care" division. We are the largest division in terms of people employed and were it not for the nature of our work, I'm pretty sure we'd be called "Customer Care".

Our role covers all marketing functions described in the linear process above and the customer, or client, is central to everything we think and do. We must create customer benefit (equivalent to better health); customer value (the trade-offs must fall on side of the customer); we have to develop suitable products and services, often utilising the latest technology to make things faster, better, easier, more effective, and less costly, whilst whilst maintaining a personal service (equivalent to improvements in the way health services are delivered): we must do what we have promised for our clients, on time and to budget (whatever your sector you are measured and everything has to add up!); and we do all this whilst trying to make a profit (equivalent to making sure that at the end of the month our accounts are in the black).

Amongst organisations developed to customer care, and indeed customer value, profit is not a dirty word. In a world of enormous customer choice, as a growing company we firmly believe that profit is invariably the bi-product of good service, good products and good marketing practice!

The very same good marketing practice that you get by combing the best bits of Social Marketing for Health and Specialised Health Promotion.

We want to fully understand and deliver value for our customers within the NHS by adding value to the work of Health Promotion Teams, Social Marketers, Communications Teams, Health Improvement Practitioners and all engaged in achieving better health.

We want to do this diligently, creatively, faster, better, easier, more effectively and less costly whilst maintaining a personal service, do what we have promised for our clients, on time and to budget and we try to do this whilst making sure that we have the profit to pay our skilled and passionate employees and directors what they are worth.

If the bi-product of providing great service means that social benefits are achieved throughout the UK then we can end each day knowing that we have not only cared for our customers, but that that we have contributed to social good. I feel that this is a good and honest way to make living with very strong motivation, albeit in a commercial way.

There are common grounds between specialised health promotion, social marketing for health and commercial marketing. The objectives will be different, though the delivery is always grounded in good marketing practice.

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