What Is Social Marketing? And How Does It Work?

Social marketing campaigns are those that borrow from commercial marketing techniques for social engagement – influencing a target audience to change their social behaviours and to benefit society.

The importance of social marketing cannot be underestimated because it often raises awareness of far-reaching topics that are often out of the sight and mind of the mainstream population.

Whether it’s related to the environment, public health, safety, or community development, marketing for good is a methodology for creating change.

The history of social marketing
As a formal discipline, social marketing started in 1971 when Philip Kotler and Gerald Zaltman published their article “Social Marketing: linksexpert An Approach to Planned Social Change” in the Journal of Marketing.

Since then, marketers have been playing with social marketing ideas, refining the strategies, and working on the most effective means of spurring widespread changes in social behaviour in a variety of fields.

In 2021, public health and environmental concerns top the list of most used social marketing topics.

Social marketing definition, what it is and what it isn’t
There are many approaches to obtaining a societal change through effective social cause marketing programs. Still, the central tenant always remains the same: the social good is always the primary focus.

Whether it’s trying to convince the public to stop smoking or encouraging men in developing counties to use condoms, the focus is always on the public good first.

The concept of societal marketing, therefore, revolves around driving change to local, national, and international communities in creative ways, for the public interest.

Social marketing, therefore, should not be confused with other similar terms: social media marketing, green or sustainable marketing, and commercial marketing with a social focus.

Social media marketing is that which uses social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn. These are collective groups of web properties that are published primarily by users to build online communities. They can be used to generate publicity for social marketing campaigns, but that is not their primary purpose.
Sustainable marketing is that which is used by a corporation to demonstrate their corporate social responsibility. Although a commercial company may engage in social marketing–promoting support for public radio, for instance–sustainable marketing to promote their own business does not qualify as social marketing.
Commercial marketing with a social focus may run the gamut from advertising a new 100 per cent recycled plastic water bottle to encouraging people to buy a more fuel-efficient car. While these marketing campaigns are promoting eco-friendly products that will undoubtedly have benefits for society, their primary focus is not societal good; it is selling a product.
According to the Institute for Social Marketing, these are the most important social marketing strategies and techniques:

The ultimate objective of marketing is to influence action and change behaviour;
Action is undertaken whenever target audiences believe that the benefits they receive will be greater than the costs they incur;
Programs to influence action will be more effective if they are based on an understanding of the target audience’s perceptions of the proposed exchange;
Target audiences are seldom uniform in their perceptions or likely responses to marketing efforts and so should be partitioned into segments;
Marketing efforts must incorporate all of the “4 Ps,” i.e.:
Create an enticing “Product” (i.e., the package of benefits associated with the desired action);
Minimise the “Price” the target audience believes it must pay in the exchange;
Make the exchange and its opportunities available in “Places” that reach the audience and fit its lifestyles;
Promote the exchange opportunity with creativity and through channels and tactics that maximise desired responses;
Recommended behaviours always have competition which must be understood and addressed;
The marketplace is continually changing, and so program effects must be regularly monitored, and management must be prepared to alter strategies and tactics rapidly.
The best examples of social cause marketing campaigns, which result in actual change, are the ones designed to shock, provoke, inform, and remind – all at once!

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