What can social marketing learn from products and services marketing?

Nearly 10 years ago a student asked me about social marketing, when I was teaching an introductory marketing course at The University of Sydney’s Centre for Continuing Education.  Back then, social marketing was a far less used term, and had a much lower profile.

Although I don’t teach many courses anymore, one of the things I still love when I run a training session is that I learn something new every time.  And I also love the fact that students – who are almost all adults in the workforce – always learn from each other’s experiences, across different industries and sectors.

As experienced marketers, do we learn enough from what other sectors are doing?  As social marketers, what can we take and apply to improve our outcomes?  And what can product and services marketers learn from social marketing practice?

Trying to be all things to all people

Large corporations, from banks to food companies, spend significant time and resources understanding what makes us different, and targeting their efforts very differently, based on clusters of us – be that based on age or demographics, interests and behaviours, life stage or a combination.

By their nature, above the line mass social marketing campaigns include a high percentage of wastage – talking to people who won’t or can’t change, or for whom the message is irrelevant.  Rather than big scale television or billboard campaigns, could these funds be better spent if more focused in their targeting?

Awareness is only the beginning

Whether they market products or services, many corporations – both large and small – do a great job of guiding and encouraging consumers right through the process from awareness to consideration to trial to repurchase.  Think point-of-purchase incentives, such as discounts and special offers.  Think in-store sampling.  Think experiential marketing.

Attacking awareness is very important in social marketing campaigns, but it’s not enough, on its own, to change habits of a lifetime.

Sticking at it

A consistent long term message, based on sound branding and insight, is so very effective.  It takes time to build awareness, engender trust and gain traction to the point where people will make a change – be that stopping smoking or purchasing a service or product.

Organisations across the board – in all sectors – are often guilty of changing focus, changing look, changing strategy much too often, to their own detriment.  It doesn’t mean you need to stick with an old and tired campaign for years, but there is immense value in consistency.   This is where small and medium sized organisations with a stable long term management team can make wonderful inroads.

Devote time and resources to strategy and planning – before you start

Service and product marketers take note.  This is something social marketers often do really well.

It can be difficult to see the benefits of something so intangible as a plan or strategy, yet these are the building blocks of every successful undertaking, and should be based on sound insights.  The creative execution is of course, really really important, but without the good quality thinking and understanding, good creative becomes pretty background clutter.

At the recent World Social Marketing Conference held in Sydney, there were some great examples of well thought out, integrated and comprehensive social campaigns.  The one that stands out in my mind was the American Real Warriors campaign, which aims to address post traumatic stress disorder in returned servicemen.  It looked well planned, well targeted, respectful and engaging.


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