What is social marketing?

Simply stated, social marketing is a coordinated, strategic effort that uses marketing principles and techniques to raise awareness regarding a social issue and ultimately influence a change in behavior that benefits both the individual and the greater public good.

As explained in the video above, social marketing is much more than promotion. Rather, social marketing involves a holistic, audience-centered approach in the development of communication strategies and associated services. An audience-centered approach means that research plays a key role in the social marketing process. Consider the following quote from Dr. Carol Bryant, USF Health Professor and social marketing specialist:

“Social marketing demands a passionate commitment to understanding consumers. Although existing data are used whenever possible, original research is usually needed to fully understand how people view the benefits, costs, and other factors that influence their ability to adopt new behaviors…Without these unique insights, it is impossible to develop an effective, integrated marketing plan.”

Commercial Marketing vs. Social Marketing

Commercial marketing focuses on selling goods and services for a financial gain, while social marketing seeks to influence behaviors for societal gain. Despite this key difference, commercial marketing and social marketing employ many of the same techniques and principles to achieve their respective ends.

This includes:

  • Audience/customer orientation
  • Value exchange of benefits vs. cost
  • Emphasis on market research
  • Focus on target audience through market segmentation
  • The 4Ps (product, price, place, promotion)

Dr. Nadia Zainuddin gives a very useful explanation of social marketing, its distinctions from other disciplines, and its applications in the video below.

Ultimately, social marketing is an effective and strategic tool used for initiating and implementing behavior change for the benefit of both the individual and society.