National Social Marketing Centre

“So, what is it that social marketers actually do?”

James Hynes, Friday, February 17, 2012 - 00:00

I, like many of my fellow social marketers I’m sure, have often struggled with (and sometimes dread) the frequently asked question by friends and family - “What is social marketing?” closely followed by, “So, what is it that social marketers actually do?”

Obviously it depends on who is asking, but usually I begin with an amended textbook definition - “Social Marketing is the systematic application of marketing tools and principles, tied with theories of behaviour change to effectively change a specific behaviour of a population in a way that benefits both the individual and the society that they live in.”  Usually, if I haven’t lost them after, “systematic application...” I take it as a win but typically at this point my response begins to get a bit more complex.

In my experience, there are common activities that most social marketers do in order to obtain a deep understanding of the population and the context of the existing behaviour that they are trying to effectively change. These activities usually consist of; analysing existing quantitative research, reviewing what work has been done in tackling the issue or with the target audience before, conducting some form of qualitative research either with the target audience directly or with people who work closely with them, developing a solution with colleagues and the target audience...

So, to answer the question, “So, what is it that social marketers actually do?” I have found it is most useful to frame my response utilising my existing understanding of the person who is asking the question, in a way that they can relate to. Often using an example of a campaign that may have had an impact on them before, whether that be smoking, eating more fruit and vegetables, alcohol consumption... and reflecting on the campaign in relation to the aforementioned common social marketer activities.

What I like and think is quite unique to working in social marketing, is that it feels like it is a continual learning process. You strive to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of the world that people live in and how it affects their current behaviour, then utilise this insight to hopefully make a positive impact within society.

A fellow social marketer named Nedra Weinreich who has made fantastic advancements within the field, has recently developed an image that does an excellent job of trying to explain the complexities of this dilemma. I highly recommend you take a look at it – I think it is fairly accurate!

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