Social marketing began about thirty years ago with the adoption of business marketing principles to social ideas. Over that time there has been many adaptations in the discipline and its reputation has been transformed in the social sector. However, there are also a number of misperceptions: social marketing is not advertising. Social marketing is a tool for understanding how to move your organization forward and a ‘scorecard’ to keep track of what’s working in your organization and what needs to happen next. Phil Kotler, a professor of business marketing, says that “marketing takes a day to learn and a lifetime to master” and that’s true of social marketing as well. Social marketing does not require tremendous resources; in fact, the less money you have, the more powerful social marketing can be for your organization.
Why does social marketing matter? Your sustainability as an organization depends on it; if you are not marketing, others are. Success derives from social marketing; it is part of the social change agenda to persuade people to give you money. People are driven by social marketing. And lastly, the social good you ultimately strive for is a direct product of social marketing.
1. Break out of the mission versus money trap
For many organizations in the social sector money and mission are polarized: mission is the reason for the organization existing and money is needed. Many organizations find themselves desperate for money and compromise their mission to receive funds. The organization finds itself in the situation of ‘death by a thousand cuts’; small compromises followed by further compromises. Mission is the reason you exist but money can become the defining reality of your organization’s need. On the other hand, money will follow your mission if your organization has a good social marketing plan.
The mission must be clear and compelling. It must provide direction to those both inside and outside the organization as to why you exist. Often a mission is incomprehensible to those who were outside the process of creating the mission statement. The mission should be explicit on how your organization fits into the wider picture. What is your unique purpose in the world? Although the sector is by its nature collegial and collaborative, in fact the external reality is that competition is rampant for funding dollars, for volunteers, for publicity; a clear mission can make your organization stand out.
2. Know your markets very, very well.
There is a fundamental difference between selling and marketing. Again, quoting from Phil Kotler, “the purpose of marketing is to make selling unnecessary”. Too often an organization is transaction-oriented; once the cheque has been received, the transaction is complete. However in the long-term what is important is not the cheque, but the cultivation of the relationship with your organization. Additionally the focus is too often only on the organization and its mission; this can become narrow and limiting. Find a way to express your organization’s ideas in a way which builds a bridge between your organization and people you are trying to influence.
To understand markets it is necessary to put oneself in someone else’s shoes. Often the information we have about funders, for example, is superficial; we have to create intelligence and insight into who these people are. The best research method is to ask. People hate to be sold but they love to buy into causes and ideas that resonate for them. You have to be able to bridge their needs with your wants. There are three approaches:
- Look around at who matters; Who cares and why? What are their interests and needs and what motivates them?
- Look inside your organization at who is already there; Who are they connected to? What are their concerns?
- Look ahead at where things are going; Who are your competitors? Who are your comparable organizations? What can you learn from them?
There is an incredible amount of stoicism in the social sector; in spite of all the difficulties, organizations soldier on. This can be a limitation because often organizations have a hard time picturing success. Social marketing is based on a fundamental understanding that the transformation of reality is the name of the game and social marketing is one tool that can help you get there.
3. Brand your message
Branding is not about advertising and logos although both are used as elements of branding; it’s really about formulating a fundamental idea. There is a tendency to believe that because your organization exists, it is impressive. Every cause is good, however every issue has many players competing for attention and influence. With the resources available, there is an oversupply of nonprofit and charitable organizations. There is a tendency to blame others however social marketing emphasizes that you are in control of your destiny.
Branding builds on a fundamental vision of what the world can be with a clear mission and a distinct interpretation of your issue area. Branding imbues your ideas with purpose, promise and personality; the ‘brand bundle’. Those three ‘p’s have to be clear and meaningful to your target audience and target market. Sometimes it comes down to a slogan and a logo but not always; these are only some of the tools of branding. Social marketing attempts to shape perceptions; what people feel, what they believe and how they think are far more persuasive than what people know. To win hearts and minds, a good idea needs to be branded and your organization must reflect the branding; there cannot be a disconnect between the two.
4. Align the media with the message
Ninety per cent of your organization’s success comes from the alignment between the ideas and the media that you choose. The less money that you have, the more important the media becomes. In the charitable sector, often people are very proud of the money they don’t spend. Winning hearts and minds depends not on good works speaking for themselves, but good works being the assets that are leveraged to get people engaged with your organization.
Have a systematic approach to communications and make your message as good as you can; not flashy, but clear, strong communication. Follow the backwards planning principle about media; think about the channels that you have, the people that you can reach and make sure that the media you choose is appropriate. The automatic default used to be a brochure and a poster; then a brochure and a video; then a brochure and an internet site. It depends on what you are trying to do. Consider the full range of media tools: print, graphic, electronic and personal. Keep it clean, simple and consistent. Focus on content, not on style.
5. Invest your money wisely
The most frequent reasons why organizations don’t want to do social marketing: lack of time, lack of money and lack of perceived need. If you are in the social change field, you are by default a marketer of social ideas. You can do it unconsciously, or be deliberate.
Marketing is an essential thing to do with your resources. Often marketing funds are deleted from an organization in a budget crunch however research has shown that those companies who increased their advertising budgets in a recession were both short-term and long-term winners. Your organization’s capacity to carry out your vision over the next five years will be determined by how you spend your time and resources now. A low priority on marketing guarantees low returns and failure.
To get the biggest returns, be strategic. Create core materials that are versatile. Ensure that everyone in the organization is ‘on message’ and ‘on strategy’ all the time. Make your environment count; for example, be conscious of the first impression that your premises make. Centralize all marketing and communications to emanate from both one idea and one voice to ensure that your limited resources are working both synergistically and cumulatively.
Good Resources on Social Marketing “
Marketing Social Change Changing Behavior to Promote Health, Social Development, and the Environment (Jossey Bass Nonprofit & Public Management Series) by Alan R. Andreason
Social Marketing: Theoretical and Practical Perspectives (Advertising and Consumer Psychology) by Marvin E. Goldberg, Martin Fishbein and Susan E. Middlestadt.
Social Marketing: Improving the Quality of Life by Philip Kotler, Ned Roberto and Nancy Lee
The Art of Cause Marketing: How to Use Advertising to Change Personal Behavior and Public Policy by Richard Earle
Social Marketing by Michael Ewing
The Mission Statement Book: 301 Corporate Mission Statements from America’s Top Companies by Jeffrey Abrahams
Managing the Non-Profit Organization: Principles and Practices by Peter F. Drucker, Harper Business
Social Marketing For Business, What To Know, What To Do by Mark Sarner & Janice Nathanson