Identifying ways to expand social marketing

By Anjum John on March 7, 2015

In the 1950’s, a random thought ran through the mind of Wiebe, a psychologist, “Why can’t you sell brotherhood and rational thinking like you can sell soap?” (G.D. Wiebe 1952). Imagine if love could be sold like soap or biscuits, there would be no war between Gaza and Israel.  This idea was developed by others into the marketing strategy, we now know as social marketing (Kotler & Zaltman 1971).

Social marketing, unlike its better  known counterpart,  commercial marketing, has an altruistic outcome which is a change in behavior of a person or a community. At this stage, the reader cannot be blamed if he has started thinking, “ Social marketing is a marketing gimmick; it tries to develop ways to “ win friends and influence people” (Duke & Novicevic 2008)- so what is all the noise about ?”

The whole idea of social marketing is that it uses the media efficaciously to cause a social good. Today, we are interrupted constantly when we watch our favorite program on TV, a renowned Indian actress Vidya Balan campaigning for a Shauchalaya for every house in India. People are wooed to the TV screen or the radio, to know what their favourite star has to say. We also know of brand ambassadors who speak for social causes like eye donation, registering of births and deaths or even against social ills like sex determination testing or domestic abuse in India. These are methods which time has shown have produced changes in society.

Capturing audiences through social marketing and converting them into customers

We live in a digital age where there is an overload of information in the environment we live in. At homes, the televisions show us commercials that make us want to buy them instantaneously. While in the world outside our homes, we are connected to events around the world through the social media. Wouldn’t it be an effective strategy to use all the sources we have at our disposal to market a thought or an action that would effect a behavior change?

A new method of social marketing was propagated by the Canadian scientist Doug McKenzie Mohr, by applying the tools of social psychologists- focus group discussions, to discover barriers to behavior change and ways to overcome them. This method which goes by the name of community based social marketing (CBSM) focuses on ways to foster sustainable changes in behavior, through understanding the psychology of the audiences (Mckenzie-Mohr 2007).

So these days, social marketing has become a science with definite processes and procedures. Its propagandists say that there are three essential elements to a successful social marketing campaign which produces change that is sustained; which  are, sales conversion, content attraction and social engagement (Sashi 2012). We find that with the competition there is in the digital world; entrepreneurs have to resort to new marketing strategies to keep their products on the shelf. Is it better to keep marketing in house or to outsource (Buck-Lew 1992; Louis & Drum 1996; Johnson 2004)?

What digital marketing activities should and should not be outsourced?

Some new generation marketing experts believe that “any process or service that does not directly improve customer service or generate new customers should be outsourced”. This means that if a marketing campaign is not showing the expected responses, a new idea has to be brought into the campaign. For health campaigns especially for a disease that is rampant, the campaign may have to be spruced up by outsourcing. On the other hand, a business that has been doing well for a few years would perhaps do well to use its own in house marketing talent for some more time.

Digital innovation

Digital social innovations are a new solution to produce effective social marketing campaigns in which the audience interacts through social platforms to produce solutions for a wide range of social needs that failed to have met by existing solutions” (DiMaggio et al. 2001; KIM 2008).

Coca cola, one of the pioneers of soft drinks, has successfully used crowdsourcing, to engage the crowds or its customers in its sales. Like the recipe for a perfect Scotch, the makers of the coke were known to be tight lipped about its formula. Recently Coca Cola launched a crowd sourced campaign called the “Shaping a better future”, which uses an open model for promoting its global business. It has made a series of short films and TV commercials on the theme “Where wills Happiness Strike next?” which bank on the social media input of its customers, who share with the company ideas about creating happiness. It has asked the help of its customers to provide suggestions online about how to market better in a digital world (Banutu-Gomez & Rohrer 2013; Yadav et al. 2013; Kent & Ignatius 2011). According to the Forbes’ business magazine, it is third most valuable brand in the world, with a market cap of $ 168.7 billion in May this year.

Importance of social marketing

Although the debate continues as to whether social marketing needs to influence customer (downstream) changes or move upstream (to influence policy makers) or to develop its own theoretical basis of innovation. It has become essential that it moves from its traditional marketing strategies to utilize  the modern technologies available to them, including Instagram, Tumblr or Pinterest (DiMaggio et al. 2001; WELLMAN et al. 2001). To not indulge in digital social innovation would sound the death knell on social marketing, as we know it, with its lofty ideals of behavior change.