What is social marketing? Jennifer Wayman, President & CEO at Hager Sharp, breaks down misconceptions around the term. She discusses how to sell behavior change as a product. Jennifer also emphasizes the importance of public and private partnerships in social marketing.
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About the Host:
GUEST: JENNIFER WAYMAN
HOST: DOUG SIMON
DOUG: So, I think our audience might be surprised to hear about an anniversary involving social marketing. So, what’s that anniversary about?
JENNIFER: So, social marketing just turned 50 in July of 2021.
DOUG: So, people might actually be confusing social marketing with social media and social media marketing. Can you explain the distinction?
JENNIFER: Yeah, that happens a lot. Many people confuse social media marketing with social marketing and really, social media marketing is just one tool of social marketing. What social marketing is, it’s a discipline that integrates behavioral science and social science, as well as commercial marketing principles to create programs and initiatives that improve or benefit society and social good.
DOUG: Right, now obviously, definitions of that can vary, but one of the key things about that is it’s about changing people’s behaviors, which really all marketing is about but doing so in a way for good. So, how do you go about starting down that road, developing a strategy to change behaviors in a positive way?
JENNIFER: Well, the first step really is understanding, first and foremost, what behavior you’re seeking to influence, because it can be many depending on the issue or the topic that you’re working on. And from there, understanding what the audience currently, how they currently behave, what they currently think about the issue, what their knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors are related to the topic at hand and working on developing insights and strategies that hopefully will at the end of the day, motivate that behavior change among the audience that you’re specifically aiming to influence.
DOUG: Yes, so in effect, are you trying to sort of sell behavior change as a product and how do you go about doing that? Are there some specific approaches that might differ between when it actually is a physical product you’re selling?
JENNIFER: Yeah, I mean, social marketing could be marketing a product in some instances, like marketing a cancer screening, but you’re really ultimately encouraging people to go get that cancer screening, right? So, it is a behavior change sort of endeavor. And really what you need to do is find the exchange with your audience. So, what are the benefits and motivators that will encourage people to care about that behavior and want to change and want to sort of exhibit that behavior? It really requires a lot of audience research to understand what motivations you can tap with your audience to get them to move along that behavior change continuum.
DOUG: How important are public and private partnerships when you’re trying to get that change? Obviously, we’ve seen a lot of that with the COVID vaccine. How do you navigate that when people view things differently?
JENNIFER: I think partnerships are incredibly important in social marketing, because we’re talking about big social change. We’re talking about big, complex, sometimes messy issues that we’re trying to motivate people around, and it really takes all aspects of society to work together to make that happen. And the audience trusts different messengers, they trust different spokespeople, they trust different organizations. And if you can create a program that engages those organizations that your audience does trust and respect, you have a much better opportunity to get them to listen to you and to get them to consider the change that you’re asking them to make.
DOUG: Yeah, and you talked about how a lot of this is based on the insights you get about the audience. How do you go identify what those insights might be? What are some of the tools, approaches that your team is using?
JENNIFER: So, it all begins with research. And there’s lots of different tools you can employ – focus groups, in-depth interviews, literature reviews. We’ve used some innovative techniques like mobile ethnography, for example, on a breastfeeding campaign that we did with WIC to really understand what moms were struggling with at the moment that they were struggling with it, which is oftentimes in the middle of the night or certainly after business hours, to really understand their perspective and then be able to bring that research finding back towards developing programs that will motivate that behavior. But it’s not only research, you can’t Google an insight, as my old boss used to say. So, it’s that combination of research and your own intuition and understanding of having worked in marketing and social marketing for years, understanding the audience, understanding what’s going on in sort of the current environment in the country or in the community that you’re working in, to be able to tap into those unique factors that are relevant to the project that you’re working on specifically.
DOUG: Do you see the pandemic itself, separate from discussions about the vaccine, is that changing the importance of social marketing? We found in our own business with the media tours, a lot of these types of topics have become more relevant, more of interest to the media that’s covering us, things have become life and death issues. What are you seeing and what might change if you look ahead to 2022 as to how people might approach social marketing?
JENNIFER: I think it has become that much more important to take a disciplined approach towards developing a social marketing program and not shortcutting the research and the audience understanding piece, because so much is changing, and there are a lot of voices out there with their own perspective. And it’s more important than ever, I think, to really hone in on the audience segment you care about influencing and really understanding what their specific motivators might be, and what they believe, and how they behave regarding the topic that you’re working on.
DOUG: We started this off sort of referencing social media and social media marketing as it can get confused with social marketing, although it’s a tool that’s used within. Is one of the challenges dealing with misinformation that’s out there, and how do you go about combating that?
JENNIFER: Very much so. First of all, you have to monitor it very carefully and be aware of what’s out there. I think what CDC has been doing and attempting to do recently of directly refuting that misinformation is incredibly important, and there’s sort of two forms of it to be worried about. There’s misinformation, which is innocent mistakes of people sort of passing along things that aren’t accurate, and then there’s disinformation, which is the deliberate attempt to create confusion or so distrust or so, a different message that is not factual. So, they’re both important to be vigilant about, and you need to treat each one a little bit differently.
If it’s truly misinformation, you don’t want to go at the person, because they’re not intentionally misleading and being more forceful I think when you see the disinformation being spread of really refuting that very aggressively.
DOUG: Yeah, and we’re seeing, finally, as more brands and corporations get more involved in CSR and ESG, taking it to the next level, it seems like there’s going to be an increase in demand among the corporate clients to do more social marketing.
JENNIFER: We hope so. I think the place that corporations can get involved very easily is on the public-private partnership side and working with the organizations that really do understand the discipline of social marketing, and they have perhaps the scientific research to really understand the issue and the messaging that needs to be communicated and working to help amplify and reinforce that messaging through partnering on the campaigns.
DOUG: It’s great stuff, thanks so much for sharing your great ideas and insights. Congratulations on your continued success.
JENNIFER: Thanks so much, Doug