In our experience, the level of understanding and engagement for social marketing varies from PCT to PCT. Some health promotions and communications teams have embraced this and are delivering effective social marketing campaigns in a range of key areas. However, at the other extreme, some in the NHS seem to view marketing as a process of defining which marketing materials would be most effective to deliver a top-down message. They are, however, aware that social marketing is growing in significance in a very big way.
Here is a 5 minute guide to identifying and applying social marketing within the NHS, based on the six key characteristics identified by the National Centre for Social Marketing (NCSM).
Social marketing has:
1: Strong ‘customer orientation’
This reinforces one of the core values more commonly associated with commercial marketing; ‘Understanding the customer’. Appropriate market research would go beyond statistics to incorporate an understanding of the ‘customer’s’ awareness, knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and values.
Key Questions: What are the key drivers? Where are they at, in terms of the desired behaviour of the individual? Where are we at, in terms of the wider social and cultural influences on people?
2: Clear behavioural goals
As any management and marketing book or workshop will tell us, it is essential that we shoot for behavioural goals that are specific, realistic and achievable in the relevant timescale, and phased over the short, medium and long term.
The NCSM will tell us, “we are not just looking at ‘behaviour change’ but also at ‘behaviour reinforcement and maintenance”.
Practical Example: For increased fitness programmes, a behavioural outcome might be taking regular exercise, but the behavioural goals on the way to this might include developing an exercise plan or finding out about local fitness facilities.
3: Using ‘exchange’ concept: “to give something, in order to get something”
This would be demonstrated in an understanding of what a person has ‘to give’ in order to get any offered benefit. The real cost to the customer could include time and effort involved, social consequences, implications of deferring potential enjoyment and pleasure, as well as potential monetary costs. Understanding would therefore focus on: enhancing the incentives or benefits of the desired behaviour AND removing or minimising any barriers in the way of this.
Practical Example: Restricting or banning smoking in public places increases barriers around the negative behaviour, making it harder or less rewarding and attractive.
4: Well developed audience ‘segmentation’
Segmentation would move beyond the traditional focus on demographic or epidemiological factors such as age, sex, class, culture, education, and disease patterns. Segmentation would primarily focus on behavioural factors.
Key Insights: We need to understand “where the audience is at” in relation to adoption and maintenance of the desired behaviour and behavioural goals. For example, are they strongly resisting, willing but feeling unable, contemplating change, uncertain or unaware of the benefits?
5: Based on ‘voluntary’ action
Initiatives would primarily focus on encouraging and supporting particular ‘voluntary actions’, rather than aiming to control or regulate them.
The focus on voluntary action would also extend to wider secondary audiences or ‘key influencers’. Where relevant, this might include specific policy or decision makers, and practitioners that may have important impacts on the primary audience.
Practical Example: In encouraging children to eat more fruit and vegetables, parents are likely to represent a key secondary audience for the success of this programme. Their role both in supporting their child’s acceptance of fruit and vegetables, and in monitoring eating patterns within the home, is crucial. However, the behaviour must stem from the voluntary desire of the child to have a lasting effect, as imposing vegetables may have a detrimental effect.
6: Using ‘competition’ concept
Much like the business world is competing with a vast array of alternatives and bombardment of marketing messages, social marketing initiatives would recognise the issue of ‘competing interests and factors’, and would specifically look at ways to neutralise or minimise their impact on target audiences.
Practical Examples: ‘Anti-health forces’ such as advertising for unhealthy foods or alcohol brands promote negative health behaviours. ‘Pro-health forces’ compete for the attention of the same audience, which could either work synergistically or create message overload. Internal factors could include desires for risking taking or ‘thrill seeking’ which may need to be fulfilled in other areas.
Social marketing: “putting people at the heart of policy, communications and delivery to encourage behaviour change.”
The key to successful social marketing is to take these insights and convert them into intrinsically linked action.
Those in marketing, communications and strategic roles within PCTs and NHS trusts may benefit from the assistance of private sector specialists, who can apply social marketing insights, along with commercial marketing principals and technical know-how, to deliver effective social marketing campaigns.