Setting the Right Goals for Your Social Marketing Campaign

Creating an effective social marketing campaign starts with having the right goal. Big ideas are great -- one student when I taught a social marketing class wanted to develop a campaign whose goal was "getting people to care about violence in Africa."

But what people? How would we know they cared? And what would they do once they did? Your ideal campaign goal is measurable (otherwise, we'd have no idea if our campaign succeeded or not) and involves a specific target making a specific behavioral change in a specific time period (we don't have infinite time when it comes to solving social problems). So, for example:

We want reduce binge drinking among college juniors and seniors by 25 percent within the next three years.

By next fall, we want 80 percent of families in our neighborhood to eat dinners that include fresh vegetables at least five nights per week.

At least 15 percent of small business owners in Smithville will agree to upgrade the energy efficiency of their buildings.

Those are all clear goals that allow you to easily measure the campaign's efficacy (did they persuade 15 percent of small business owners or not?) and also dictate -- in a good way -- how the campaign should proceed. It's obvious you don't want to waste time with large business owners in Smithville, or small business owners in other cities.

And it won't matter how much they bike to work or compost or use low-VOC paint: those eco-friendly actions are nice, but don't impact our goal, which exclusively focuses on building energy efficiency. A clear goal saves you a lot of time and hassle because it eliminates activities (like talking to large business owners) that might distract you.

While tangible, behavioral goals are what really matter, it's important to note that there are two other types of objectives -- belief objectives and knowledge objectives -- that can help you along the way. In order to meet our energy efficiency goal with small business owners in Smithville, we'll want to think about what they need to understand and feel in order to sign on. For instance:

Knowledge objectives: Do they understand how much money they can save by doing an energy efficiency upgrade? Are they aware of the financial incentives now available to them? Do they know how many of their fellow business owners have already taken part? In general, you'll want to ensure they know any relevant facts that they'd find motivating or correct any misperceptions they might be holding.

Belief objectives: Do they believe one person's actions can make a difference for the environment -- or do they think it's useless? Are they afraid the process will be bureaucratic and waste their time? Do they feel hopeless about being able to afford the upgrades? Here, you'll help them connect emotionally to the goal -- knowing they can do it and feeling committed to take action.

So, if you want a successful social marketing campaign, the first step is devising a measurable campaign goal that involves a specific group making a specific behavioral change within a specific amount of time. Creating your plan based on a well-crafted behavior goal -- and its supporting knowledge and belief objectives -- can help ensure your campaign stays on track even when facing the most challenging social issues.

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.