Social marketing theory is a collection of theories that focus on how socially valuable information can be promoted.
The theory is an attempt to clearly understand how societal and psychological factors work to successfully manipulate them in order to increase how effective mass media information campaigns are. When there is a need to promote any new idea, person or behavior, the first step is to create awareness that such a new concept or individual exists. When disseminating messages, it is important to first identify the audience that requires the message and then finding the most efficient means of reaching them with the message.
When the audience is not interested in the person, product or service being promoted, they will not seek out any information about them. To make audience seek information, it is necessary to grab their attention and stimulate interest. Once information has reached the intended audience, efforts should be taken to ensure that the desired decision is arrived at. Typically marketing of services is done following the services marketing mix using the 7 Ps framework unlike the marketing of products for which the marketing mix involves the 4 Ps framework. The initial movement in marketing strategies was from a direct marketing scenario to brand marketing. However, with services gaining prominence over time, it was realized that the very definition of services was evolving as more and more services were being focused on internet or info-tech based services where direct interaction with the customer was lost. Since services cannot be differentiated purely based on features on offer, the major differentiation to create a brand association and thus customer engagement, is through tapping the social networks. The 7 S framework for digital marketing started gaining in prominence for services marketing strategists.
Over time, it was realized that social media is perhaps the biggest tool today to lead a brand marketing strategy for many of the services and product categories, since in both cases, the target segment often uses the internet as a source of information (through websites or though the personal social network) while deciding on a service vendor. Scarcity is more than an economic idea of there being limited resources to meet everyone’s every need.
They illustrate the scarcity and tunneling problems through reference to several studies in both the laboratory and in the field of how poverty is a major contributor to reducing bandwidth.
Scarcity, and the cognitive load it puts on people who dwell on immediate concerns to the detriment of other issues, literally makes us dumber and more impulsive. A related paper by Datta and Mullainathan (2012) also discusses ideas of scarcity in a policy development context. Scarcity of cognitive capacity - Cognitive resources available to people at any moment are limited and can be depleted by their being used for other activities. Scarcity of self-control - Think of our self-control as a psychic “commodity” of which we have a limited stock, so that using up some for one task (continuing to exercise when you really want to stop) depletes the amount available for other tasks (resisting the dessert at dinner after your workout). Scarcity of attention - Think of attention as another precious commodity – people do not have unlimited attention and might not pay attention to the ‘right’ things – they are busy paying attention to others. Scarcity of understanding – People’s mental models of how the world works may be incomplete; not all underlying causal relationships are correctly or accurately understood. Behaviour is generally easier to change when habits are already disrupted, such as around major life events.
That was the challenge given me by the Society of Nutrition Education and Behavior for a webinar I did this week. I start with Duncan Watts, a physicist and sociologist, who presents two problems that bedevil people faced with the challenges of large and complex puzzles. The second problem Watts (2011) discusses is the micro-macro problem: one that goes at the heart of the social marketing dilemma. To bring this problem back into the social marketing world, believing that social change will happen “one person at a time” does not conform to what we know about emergence in many other disciplines. These words sum up how important it is for us to have ways to explain facts and make sense out of them. All social change efforts involve different actors known by various labels such as audiences, influencers, stakeholders, consumers, suppliers, partners and policymakers. Everyone has assumptions and explanations for how and why people think and behave the way they do; these are often referred to as naive theory or folk psychology. Many social change agents are familiar with the challenges of addressing other people’s cultural beliefs as they relate to health and social behaviors. This is why many social marketers stress the need to base programs to improve health, social welfare and the environment on empirically-validated models and theories. Many social marketing programs, and most public health ones, have shied away from working with their customers or members of their priority groups. We would view the launch of our smoking cessation effort as the continuation of a conversation with them. Is it time for more of us to loosen our grip on the 4Ps of the marketing mix as a necessary ingredient or benchmark for social marketing programs? The internal orientation of the marketing mix in which the four elements are controlled by the producer of goods, services and behavioral offerings and has little involvement or interaction with customers. The rise in services as primary drivers of economic activity that have their own unique character not addressed by the traditional 4Ps - for example, People or Participants, Physical Evidence (of their value), Processes (of service delivery), the intangible nature of their offering and demonstrated value to customers, as well as unique legal and professional restrictions on providers of many services (licensure of health providers, lawyers and general building contractors being just a few examples). Most of these debates have been on theoretical grounds rather than based on empirical studies; it is also true that most marketers continue to practice as they were taught in college marketing classes (Constantinides, 2006). What S-D Logic shows us is that a tangible (product) or intangible offering (service, behavior) has value only when a customer ‘uses’ it.
The premises of S-D Logic (see below) guide us away from trying to create what we believe will be of value to people to a customer perspective that reminds us that it is how people utilize our offerings and experience rewards or value for adopting behaviors that should be our critical concern.
Many of the biggest policy challenges we are now facing – such as the increase in people with chronic health conditions – will only be resolved if we are successful in persuading people to change their behaviour, their lifestyles or their existing habits. That statement appears in the Foreword of a new joint publication by the Cabinet Office and the Institute for Government MINDSPACE: Influencing behaviour through public policy.
The contrasting model of shaping behaviour focuses on the more automatic processes of judgment and influence.
So MINDSPACE becomes a methodology for, as they put it, changing behavior without changing minds.
The differences in the social marketing approach became even more pronounced in the international community where social marketing became synonymous with the marketing of products for family planning, HIV prevention and malaria control while various other groups organized themselves around concepts such as behavior change communication, health communication, development communication and community mobilization to name a few. A hybrid approach developed independently in North America to reunite community with social marketing was coined as community-based social marketing (CBSM; McKenzie-Mohr, 2000).
Over the past few weeks I have tried to visually represent my first take on what I hope could become a framework for cross-cultural research in Social Marketing. In a nutshell, the framework looks at tries to identify the five main factors which influence research into and carrying out a Social Marketing intervention in a cross-cultural context. As I said in the first paragraph, this model is very much in an alpha state – and I really would appreciate your thoughts, comments and additions to the model. This theory has been used by social and welfare organizations to help promote or discourage various behaviors. The theory focuses on helping identify the various social and psychological barriers that hinder the flow of information through the mass media and offers ideas and ways to overcome these barriers. Awareness is created by using all available channels at one’s disposal like news media and even new media like the internet. This helps cut costs and ensures higher levels of audience penetration.  For example, if the message is intended for old people, using the internet to spread information would be a waste of time as most elderly people do not use computers. It’s therefore necessary to reinforce the message by repeatedly ensuring that individuals are exposed to the message from different channels.
In direct marketing, the marketing managers typically had a role of sales managers and the most important strategic focus was to ensure a incentive structure for the sales force, both internal salesmen and external salesforce (dealers, retailers, distributors) such that the one-to-one marketing could be done at the point of sales. While branding definitely ensured that the customers develop a brand association with the service, sometimes the nature of the service is such that the essence of the service is a transactional one. While the dynamics of a pure internet marketing strategy is slightly different, the essence of the same has been captured in more comprehensive frameworks on digital marketing, which have been derived purely through the theories based on economic rationality.
Our authors are educators from top QS ranked universities and practitioners from multinational enterprises. Having less than what we perceive we need – whether it is food, money, friends or time – is having less than we feel we need. It extends the insights from behavioral economics beyond the nudges and defaults we are now so familiar with to how we think and feel when we have too little; it changes our thoughts, choices and behaviors.
Consider some unsuspecting shoppers in a mall who were asked to imagine a scenario in which they either had (a) a $300 estimate, or (b) a $3,000 estimate to repair their damaged car of which their insurance would pay half the cost.


Think about that the next time you wonder why people who are poor do some of the things they do – to your utter exasperation. They talk more about the limited resources imposed by perceptions of scarcity and suggest some ideas about how to address each of them in program design. So increasing the cognitive demands of social change programs (cover more material, require more time spent in classes) may in fact be designing them to be less likely to succeed.
Good points to be reminding ourselves of as we talk with people among our priority groups and set out to design programs that will help them solve their real problems. This is the reason I spend time talking about different theories and models of behavior change. What dramatically illustrates the power of a theory, and its drawbacks, is to break the workshop (or class) into five smaller groups. We have a strong tendency to go with the default or pre-set option, since it is easy to do so. Making the message clear often results in a significant increase in response rates to communications.
Financial incentives are often highly effective, but alternative incentive designs — such as lotteries — also work well and often cost less.
We are embedded in a network of social relationships, and those we come into contact with shape our actions. We often use commitment devices to voluntarily ‘lock ourselves’ into doing something in advance. We are more influenced by costs and benefits that take effect immediately than those delivered later.
You might also note that none of these methods have direct counterparts to any of the variables in the theories I presented above. Some of the countries outside the US that were there included Canada, Columbia, Czech Republic, Spain, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Malta, Mexico, Pakistan, Romania, Somalia, Turkey and Uganda. This theory has guided many marketers’ approach to discovering what the desired behavior might be, its possible determinants, the context in which it occurs - or not, and the consequences that people and society incur. This dilemma emanates from our desire to achieve macro outcomes, ones that involve changes among large numbers of people, among population segments, or in society as a whole. It is analogous to believing that consciousness can be explained by the action of a neuron or even many neurons; it may be convenient to think like this, but throughout his book, Watts (2011) takes on these logical fictions with data. But even more so, the lyric reiminds us of why it so important to have facts to back up one's theory. Depending on the actor and the objective of the program, social marketers and change agents may be trying to increase some behaviors (healthy eating, physical activity, recycling), decrease others (tobacco use, risky sexual behaviors, energy use), encourage participation in social change activities (citizen engagement, social mobilization) or gain support for environmental change (adopt policies, redesign physical entities such as automobile safety features or entertainment content). Stories and case studies have a limited place in moving us closer to understanding and solutions. Yet, agreeing on a common approach to thinking about and addressing wicked social and public health problems is a major point of contention when working with partners. Our role is to facilitate value creation as they quit smoking: they must integrate what we (and perhaps others) are giving to them as an active creator of value, not a passive recipient of benefits (Gronroos, 2011). Rather, we should view exchanges as mutual sharing of knowledge and resources among the social marketing agency, the priority group or customers and other actors or stakeholders (co-creation of value-in-use). This shift requires marketers to understand customer constructions and evaluations of value, be more flexible in their approach, engage with customers over longer periods of time, and innovate and adapt to changing market conditions - especially those related to technology and communication. People bring skills and competencies to encounters they have with us, and thus are always a co-creators of value, not passive recipients of what we judge they need or want.
Fortunately, over the last decade, our understanding of influences on behaviour has increased significantly and this points the way to new approaches and new solutions.
This shifts the focus of attention away from facts and information, and towards altering the context within which people act. It certainly provides something for us to think about when we try and use policy-making as a way of changing behaviors.
Lefebvre & Flora (1988) laid out the defining features of the social marketing approach based on experiences they shared directing community interventions for cardiovascular disease reduction. Responding to this fracturing of resources and talent, McKee (1991) wrote a book that he hoped would enhance the understanding of social mobilization, social marketing and community participation amongst communicators who sometimes set up unnecessary barriers between their various fields.
The theory is administrative in nature in such that it seeks to outline a framework that can be used to design, implement and evaluate information campaigns. Promoting the media in various mass media, going door to door, holding group discussions, having debates on television are ways in which messages can be reinforced. Here recognizable and easily understandable images are shown and the new product or service is shown in relation to that image. Over time marketing managers have realized the sustainability of pull marketing than the traditional approach of push marketing strategies. However, it was realized that if a fraction of the sales force deviated or moved to another firm, the entire customer segment was lost to the business. So brand marketing focus gradually started to shift towards customer engagement and the benefits of social networks started getting conceptualized.
What makes scarcity an important idea for social marketers and other change agents is that it captures the mind; scarcity changes the way we think. While we recognize how scarcity can make us more attentive and efficient in managing immediate needs – think of the last deadline that was looming over you – it also reduces what the authors refer to as ‘bandwidth.’ They consider bandwidth as a short-hand for our cognitive capacity and executive control that are currently available for use. Do they get the car fixed, or take the chance that it will continue to run a little longer?
Scarcity forces people to engage in trade-offs; having slack in money and time (disposable income and free time) makes decision-making (and life!) so much easier. The prescription: simplify choices people have to make and encourage rules-of-thumb (heuristics) for decision-making.
In workshops that I facilitate, I use this slide to illustrate some of the main ideas from some usual, and not so typical, theories that I find are employed by many social change agents. All of the groups are given the same behavior change challenge and asked to come up with one or more priority groups to focus on, what research questions they would want to ask of them to learn more about the problem, and what potential solutions can they quickly generate (brainstorm). In particular, it’s useful to identify how a complex goal can be broken down into simpler, easier actions. Similarly, policy makers should be wary of inadvertently reinforcing a problematic behaviour by emphasising its high prevalence. Governments can foster networks to enable collective action, provide mutual support, and encourage behaviours to spread peer-to-peer.
Policy makers should consider whether the immediate costs or benefits can be adjusted (even slightly), given that they are so influential. A proven solution is to prompt people to identify the barriers to action, and develop a specific plan to address them.
The ideas and tools are designed to stimulate innovative approaches to nutrition education. I offer that to fully develop the discipline of social marketing and its promise to be a positive force for social change, we must think about change as it occurs among groups of people (segments, social networks) and at different levels of society (organizations, communities, physical environments, markets, and public policies)…[Ed Note: See Transformative Social Marketing (pdf)]. Both of these problems highlight the need for social change programs to adopt theoretical perspectives that are broader than individual determinants. Yet these outcomes are driven by the micro actions of individuals (for example, it is individuals whose voting behavior determines the outcome of policy options, individuals’ behavior that sets the tone for an organizational culture, and individuals who connect through social network sites to organize and plan social action).
Changes in complex social systems involve interactions between people and systems, just as neurons must be connected and interact with each other in systematic ways to create what we refer to as consciousness.
For social marketers, social innovators and people who are working with social and mobile technologies for health and social change, the song should become a chant. Who is the focus of these activities, and what they are asked to do is largely a function of the framework (or theory of change) that we bring to the task.
Because people often only have only one or two frameworks or theories they use for problem solving, these conversations quickly devolve into the city of Babel or attempts to convince the other side that our POV is the correct one.
Constantinides (2006) summarized over 40 papers that have been critical of, or presented alternatives, to the 4Ps marketing mix framework. It moves us from being ‘customer-focused' not just in the beginning of a project when we conduct formative research, but throughout the process - especially when people discover or create the value of change for themselves.
Are we, in fact, simply applying our old prejudices for rational decision-making and persuasion by implementing policies that mandate the delivery of more information (think about BMI report cards in schools, restaurant menu-labeling programs for example)? Yet, even by the early 1990s, we can recall where social marketing and community development components of Health Canada could not find common ground for collaboration.


People can eventually  change themselves as agents when they start spreading the message that they have received from others. A politician photographed cleaning a beach helps drive home the point that he cares for the environment.
This paved the way for the next generation of marketing, namely marketing using social media.
Scarcity causes us to ‘tunnel’ – to adopt a mindset that focuses only on what seems, at least at that moment, to matter most. Simply put, when scarcity captures our mind it helps us focus on doing a better job with our most pressing needs; yet it also makes us less insightful, less forward-thinking and less controlled. They were given a test of cognitive ability, the Raven’s Progressive Matrices, before being given the scenario and then a few minutes after considering their response. The frame problem proposes that it is impossible to know all the potentially relevant facts and determinants of a puzzle, given the overwhelming number of possibilities and combinations of variables. This problem is embedded in definitions of social marketing as changing individual behaviors in order to achieve social good. Theories, whether based on common sense, past experience or empirical evidence, create frameworks for our work. And the use of the wrong theory to understand a problem and develop strategies to address it is one of the primary sources of program failures.
That is, the notion that we conduct research to unearth the ‘benefit’ that will compel people to exchange with us is misguided; we cannot presume to be the final arbiters of ‘value’ – the user must create or find that value as they engage with the behavior, product or service we are offering.
They may surprise us by noting that over time they are experiencing other benefits that are now more important to them. In this post, and the following one, I extend the S-D Logic to social marketing (and thank Bob Lusch for his review and comments on an earlier draft). People will behave differently only if they find the new behavior (or discontinuing an old one) leads to self-defined value (benefits) when they engage in it (put it to use).
The presumption is that citizens and consumers will analyse the various pieces of information from politicians, governments and markets, the numerous incentives offered to us and act in their best interests (however they define their best interests, or - more paternalistically - however policymakers define them).
Or are we focusing on changing the context in which judgments and decisions about health behaviors are made?
As more practitioners appropriated social marketing as the basis for the development of ‘new’ health communication campaigns, the term became associated (and in some quarters still is) with mass media campaigns that segmented their audience, pretested materials and considered the 4Ps only in the context of communication planning, not marketing. The aim of the framework is primarily to highlight the various factors that influence the Social Marketing intervention at the various levels and show them in a wider context, which in turn acknowledges the often complex, synergistic and permanently evolving influence factors. Once this is done information is packaged and distributed in a manner that will be easily accessible to the intended audience. The benefit of using newer media on the other hand is that a wider range of audience can be reached out to. For example, watching an old couple reminisce about their college days and romance while sipping a hot cup of coffee is a tactic where a familiar event is used to attach happy emotions to a new coffee product, thus developing its image. A dish washing product that claims one bottle will clean a thousand plates could organize an event where a thousand or more plates are washed in real using a single bottle. Now as services gained in importance, it was realized that the differentiation of services was even more difficult based on tangible features like that of a product. The bad news is that the associated reduced bandwidth can lead to more scarcity as we continue to ‘tunnel,’ or neglect other, less immediate concerns that then becomes tomorrow’s, or next month’s or next year’s pressing need.
Not so easy.] The point of EAST is that these are methods to apply after your learn about the people you intend to serve with your program and have selected the specific behavior you want to focus on with them - regardless of the theory you bring to the table. Consequently, it is then difficult to selectively focus on only certain ones and ignore the others, to look for example at only psychological determinants or to consider only solutions that employ persuasive communications. Although the intentions are commendable, the actual process of moving from individual behavior change to changes at the societal level is ignored, as if this transition will occur automatically - that it is simply a matter of increasing the numbers of people practicing the behavior. Marketers who attempt to imbue their products or services with value, or benefits that consumers will find attractive, are reflecting ‘goods dominant’ logic. Within the larger networks in which we operate, the S-D Logic also involves creating value propositions for stakeholders and partners. Yet, how frequently, if ever, do we understand if our offerings actually result in value for people who use them (whether that value was what we proposed, or what the value is they 'created' or discovered when they used or practiced it themselves)?
And should we also be asking how we can expand the frame for policy-making even more and focus on the marketplace itself to improve health behaviors by increasing access and opportunities to healthier behavioral options, products and services? The use of internet helps reach  younger audience  who may not read newspapers or depend on television for information. This event could be promoted as breaking the Guinness Book of World Record and immediately causes people to become interested in the product.
It is the tunneling phenomenon that is the central culprit for poor decision-making and behavior choices.
The authors’ explanation is simple, yet may provide the insight for many programs serving the poor: the $3,000 scenario got poorer people to consider their own money scarcity (“How could I come up with that?”) and this tunneling (or preoccupation) carried over to their performance on the Progressive Matrices in the post-test. Unfortunately, as many of you have no doubt discovered, all of the health and social puzzles we tackle rarely conform to one theoretical model. Frameworks, or heuristics, such as EAST and the 4Ps, help you make the shift from being a problem describer to a solution seeker.
What the frame problem poses to social marketers is that we cannot know for certain whether we have selected the right set of variables when we choose a theory, or frame, to guide us in thinking about our puzzle.
As Watts (2011) notes, how micro behaviors become macro solutions is a puzzle in search of an explanation in many disciplines, and this puzzle cannot be simply dismissed or explained away as inconsequential. Rather, social marketing can be thought about as facilitating customer experiences or discoveries of value when using the product, trying the service or practicing the behavior.
As with customers, the value for organizations to participate with us comes from their investment of information and resources to co-create value in the partnership (it is not something that is simply handed over, or exchanged, with them). Because the classic analysis of exchanges has focused on the immediate exchange of money for products, the value the product provides to a person (the customer) after the transaction is completed is ignored. The alternative proposed by S-D Logic is to think about exchanges of knowledge and skills, not one-way offerings; that the people we serve become producers of value for us as well as for themselves (co-value producers). A primary source of failure of interventions is the use of the wrong theory to understand and address the puzzle.Behavioral economics is one domain that has captured the interest of policy-makers and social marketers alike.
In short, value is uniquely experienced by each customer when they use our offering – not in how persuasively or creatively we ‘sell it’ to them.
Since the early years of social  marketing, many people have struggled with how to apply the logic of economic exchanges to social marketing ones - usually without much success. The value of an S-D Logic perspective for social marketers includes asking what do we learn from our customers, are we open to changing ourselves and offerings as a result of their input and response, and have we created opportunities for them to participate in a reciprocal process? The authors note that these differences correspond to a drop in IQ of 14 points (a shift in an intelligence score of this magnitude can result in a person of average intelligence being reconsidered as ‘borderline deficient’ – just because of the bandwidth tax imposed by thinking about one’s tight financial situation).
The point Watts is making is that many disciplines work with many different scales of reality and they are difficult to integrate.
The S-D Logic perspective encourages marketers to suggest what the value might be - value propositions (“we think you may like this because it…satisfies a need you are experiencing now, solves a problem for you, facilitates your getting a job done, or helps you reach a goal”) - that customers must then validate through their experience of using the offering (product, service or behavior) in their lives. The same effect, they show in another study, holds true for farmers in India before harvest (when times are lean) and then after it (they have now been paid for their crops). This perspective on how value is created by users means we must design interactions (or service touch points) to facilitate value-in-use and feedback. This is not because they are less capable, but rather because part of their mind is captured by scarcity” (p. Instead, biologists and other scientists invoke the idea of emergence to describe the shifting from one scale of reality to the next, and use ideas such as complexity, interactions, and systems to consider more than one scale at a time (an atomic scale versus a biochemical or physiological one). In a classic social marketing approach, the first task would be to understand from the potential customers’ perspective, and there may be several segments of them with different perspectives, what benefits and barriers they perceive in quitting smoking. Then we would incorporate smokers into every facet of our discovery, design, creation and rollout of the program – not just invite them into focus groups and testing sessions. Finally, we would treat our value offering as a proposition and not be so sure we have actually ‘made value’ for a smoker who is trying to quit (see above for 4 possible approaches).



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