Social Marketing was “born” as a discipline in the 1970s when Philip Kotler and Gerald Zaltman realized that the same marketing principles that were being used to sell products to consumers could be used to “sell” ideas, attitudes, and behaviors. Kotler and Andreasen define social marketing as “differing from other areas of marketing only with respect to the objectives of the marketer and his or her organization. Social marketing seeks to influence social behaviors not to benefit the marketer, but to benefit the target audience and the general society.” This technique has been used extensively in international health programs, especially for contraceptives and oral re-hydration therapy (ORT), and is being used with more frequency in the United States for such diverse topics as drug abuse, heart disease, and organ donation.
Like Commercial Marketing, the primary focus is on the consumer–on learning what people want and need rather than trying to persuade them to buy what we happen to be producing. Marketing talks to the consumer, not about the product. The planning process takes this consumer focus into account by addressing the elements of the “marketing mix.” This refers to decisions about 1) the conception of a Product, 2) Price, 3) distribution (Place), and 4) Promotion. These are often called the “Four Ps” of marketing. Social marketing also adds a few more “P’s.” At the end is an example of the marketing mix.
Product: The Social Marketing “product” is not necessarily a physical offering. A continuum of products exists, ranging from tangible, physical products (e.g., condoms), to services (e.g., medical exams), practices (e.g., breastfeeding, ORT or eating a heart-healthy diet) and finally, more intangible ideas (e.g., environmental protection). In order to have a viable product, people must first perceive that they have a genuine problem and that the product offering is a good solution for that problem. The role of research here is to discover the consumers’ perceptions of the problem and the product and to determine how important they feel it is to take action against the problem.
Price: “Price” refers to what the consumer must do in order to obtain the social marketing product. This cost may be monetary, or it may instead require the consumer to give up intangibles, such as time or effort, or to risk embarrassment and disapproval. If the costs outweigh the benefits for an individual, the perceived value of the offering will be low and it will be unlikely to be adopted. However, if the benefits are perceived as greater than their costs, chances of trial and adoption of the product is much greater. In setting the price, particularly for a physical product, such as contraceptives, there are many issues to consider. If the product is priced too low or provided free of charge, the consumer may perceive it as being low in quality. On the other hand, if the price is too high, some will not be able to afford it. Social marketers must balance these considerations, and often end up charging at least a nominal fee to increase perceptions of quality and to confer a sense of “dignity” to the transaction. These perceptions of costs and benefits can be determined through research and used in positioning the product.
Place: “Place” describes the way that the product reaches the consumer. For a tangible product, this refers to the distribution system–including the warehouse, trucks, sales force, retail outlets where it is sold, or places where it is given out for free. For an intangible product, the place is less clear-cut but refers to decisions about the channels through which consumers are reached with information or training. This may include doctors’ offices, shopping malls, mass media vehicles or in-home demonstrations. Another element of a place is deciding how to ensure accessibility of the offering and quality of the service delivery. By determining the activities and habits of the target audience, as well as their experience and satisfaction with the existing delivery system, researchers can pinpoint the ideal means of distribution for the offering.
Promotion: Finally, the last “P” is a promotion. Because of its visibility, this element is often mistakenly thought of as comprising the whole of social marketing. However, as can be seen, by the previous discussion, it is only one piece. Promotion consists of the integrated use of advertising, public relations, promotions, media advocacy, personal selling and entertainment vehicles. The focus is on creating and sustaining demand for the product. Public service announcements or paid ads are one way, but there are other methods such as coupons, media events, editorials, “Tupperware”- style parties or in-store displays. Research is crucial to determine the most effective and efficient vehicles to reach the target audience and increase demand. The primary research findings themselves can also be used to gain publicity for the program at media events and in news stories.