How to Market Your Social Marketing Campaign

If all it took to change behavior was hearing a message, then we'd have world peace. You know better. Leveraging all "Four Ps" will help ensure your social marketing campaign makes a real difference.
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It's easy for social marketers to assume that promotion is all they need. After all, who disagrees with energy efficiency? Who thinks driving drunk is a great idea? Who would argue that kids should start smoking?

But alas, most advocates won't ever get the chance to test drive a $100 million advertising campaign -- and the sad truth is, even if they did, it would almost certainly fail.

That's because if all it took to change behavior was hearing a message, then we'd have world peace. But there are plenty of people who know they shouldn't eat that donut, or get into that car, or light up that cigarette, but they do it anyway. Behavior change takes a lot more than promotion.

In other posts, I've discussed how to avoid the most common mistakes in developing a social marketing campaign. Here, I'll talk about how social marketers can use the legendary "Four Ps" of marketing -- product, price, place, and promotion -- to get the maximum impact from their campaign.


According to famed Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt, "People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!" It's too easy for social marketers to get caught up in the most literal definition of product -- the shower placards that remind women to do breast self-exams, or energy-efficient lightbulbs that get handed out.

That's great, but far more relevant is what's called the "core product" -- the benefit you're selling. In business, we often say no one cares about how powerful your blender is -- until you explain how many margaritas you can make and how you'll be the hit of the party. People often aren't convinced to take action until you paint a compelling picture for them.

Being respected, living a green lifestyle, standing up for energy independence -- those are all-powerful "products" to sell, compared to the lightbulb or building renovation you might have thought you were selling.


If things are free or very cheap, people will take action -- right? Well, it's not quite that simple. Pricing is actually rather complex when it comes to social marketing, but it means you have a lot of tools at your disposal. Most simply, you can reduce the price of an item you'd like people to adopt -- witness the cornucopia of coupons for compact fluorescent lightbulbs a while back -- or give people bonuses for good behavior.

You can also (with the help of government or other decision makers) increase the cost of things you're prefer people stay away from, such as a pack of cigarettes (which, where I live, now costs about the price of a movie ticket). Additionally, there are non-monetary benefits (or costs) you can think about leveraging.

Want people to drive more hybrids? Give them a special parking space right by the door. Want more businesses to upgrade the energy efficiency of their buildings? Have the mayor hold a press conference praising their good citizenship. On the cost side, smokers are often subject to great inconvenience, forced to stand 20 or 30 feet away from the entrance of a building, even in inclement weather, if they choose to indulge their habit.


Place is often overlooked in marketing -- but its effects can be profound. Netflix killed the video store industry by providing DVDs by mail (and now via streaming video). Apple revolutionized checkouts by having their sales clerks handle the transaction with portable devices, rather than forcing customers to stand in line at the register.

Similarly, think about ways you can leverage place to enhance your social marketing campaign. If something has typically been done in person, can you do it by mail or online -- or vice versa? If hours or days of operation have typically been limited, can you extend them to be more accessible to your target audience? Can you employ existing distribution channels (financial advice through barber shops) or make your location more appealing (because a health clinic is scary enough without looking cold and sterile)?


And finally, there's promotion. Two key questions you'll want to answer are what channels you should use to communicate, and when you should do it. Mass media -- TV, newspaper ads, radio -- is the first thing that comes to mind for many people.

But, depending on your target audience, it could be a big waste of money. If you're doing a campaign aimed at small business owners in a particular city, you don't need to buy a Super Bowl ad that will reach them -- and every other person in America. Instead, focus on selective channels like direct mail or online advertising, or -- perhaps even better -- use interpersonal efforts to create face-to-face meetings or workshops.

Don't kill the mosquito with a sledgehammer; to conserve your marketing budget and attain maximum impact, speak as directly as possible to your narrow target audience. Finally, think carefully about what they read and listen to, and when they do it. A little early market research can help you determine, for instance, whether your business owners are more likely to read emails during the workday (when they're at their desk) or on weekends (when they have a little more time to catch up).

If you're launching a Bike-to-Work campaign, you might not want to do it in December, and if you want retail businesses to conduct energy efficiency upgrades, you might want to lay off during the week before Christmas.

Too many social marketers assume the right tagline or a big billboard campaign will solve all their problems. You know better. Leveraging all "Four Ps" will help ensure your social marketing campaign makes a real difference.

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Reinventing You and Stand Out, and you can receive her free Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook.

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