Social Marketing For Organizations

Factsheet - ISSN 1198-712X   -   Copyright King's Printer for Ontario
Agdex#: 057
Publication Date: 07/94
Order#: 92-097
Last Reviewed: 11/97
History: Reprinted July 1994
Written by: John Shewchuk - Communications Specialist/OMAFRA

Table of Contents

  1. The Situation Couldn't Be Worse...
  2. What Is Social Marketing?
  3. Emerging Trends
  4. Buzzwords: What Do They Mean?
  5. Social Marketing vs. Commercial Marketing
  6. Social Marketing In Action
  7. The Social Marketing Process
  8. Conclusion
  9. References

The Situation Couldn't Be Worse...

Your organization is facing a financial crunch. Membership is down, interest in your programs is dwindling, your profile in the community has never been lower, and attracting volunteers couldn't be more difficult. You lie awake at night wondering, "what in the world can we do to turn things around?" If you're responsible for marketing your organization's programs or activities, the answer may lie in two simple words: social marketing.

What Is Social Marketing?

In basic terms, it's the selling of ideas. In more complicated terms, it's the creation, execution and control of programs designed to influence social change. It uses many principles of commercial marketing - from assessing needs to identifying audiences, developing products and measuring results. But it's also quite different. The goal of social marketing is not just a one time business transaction. The goal of social marketing is to build a long-term relationship between your organization and its different audiences. The success of the 'blue box' recycling program in Ontario shows how a well-planned social marketing campaign can influence the way society thinks and acts.

There are two keys to social marketing for organizations

  • firstly, you must understand the attitudes of the society in which your organization exists.
  • secondly, you must tackle your social marketing campaign in an orderly, step-by-step, manner.

Recognizing the changing trends of the 1990s can give your social marketing campaign the edge it needs to guarantee success. Knowing what the public will or won't accept - before you start - can be a huge advantage. This Factsheet will look at the social marketing process later. Let's start by looking at some of the trends that could profoundly affect your organization's future.

Emerging Trends

In the 1990s, no form of marketing - social or commercial - will succeed without a clear understanding of the forces shaping society. These forces will help determine which of your ideas or programs are accepted by the public and which are not. What worked to persuade people in the 1980s may not work in the 1990s, no matter how successful you've been in the past. Keep the following trends in mind when planning your social marketing campaign:

  • The return to conservative ideals. In the 1990s, people will respect authority, self-discipline and nostalgia. They'll define success in terms of personal satisfaction, not money. Society will rediscover its roots.
  • The demand for real, intrinsic value. In the 1990s, people will do things to gain satisfaction, not status. Quality will become paramount in the decision to 'buy' something and the 'sellers' will have to be knowledgeable, sincere and caring to succeed.
  • The growth of altruism. In the 1990s, people will reject the self-centred consumerism of the last decade. Charitable and community organizations with proven records of social influence will gain members and clout by appealing to the public's new belief in a 'greater good.'
  • The search for balance and moderation. In the 1990s, people are fed up with stress. Even leisure was hard work in the 1980s, and people now ant uncomplicated and less intese involvements. Still, the convenience and speed of service people grew accustomed to in the last generation is a luxury most won't sacrifice.
  • The rejection of th 1980s' legacy. In the 1990s, materialism is out -- community welfare is in. The emotional and financial cost of status symbols is a price most won't pay, buecause they don't hold solutions to community concerns. The values of the 1980s will be viewed as superficial and selfish. Understanding the impact of these trends can help your organization market its programs and activites more effectively.

Here's an example of how to profit from knowing the trends:

Your organization knows that the legacy of the 1980s is out of step with what people believe today. But your last marketing campaign theme - "The Glorious '80s" - tied your organization to the 1980s. As the person in charge of marketing you would. . .

  • Keep the slogan and defend it.
  • Pretend nothing's wrong.
  • Change your theme to reflect your organization's unselfish dedication to the community because that's one of the guiding trends in society.

If you chose the last option, you understand how to profit from knowing the trends.

Buzzwords: What Do They Mean?

Knowing the current trends is one key to a successful social marketing campaign. Understanding buzzwords - those little words and phrases packed full of hidden and symbolic meaning - is another. Buzzwords often reflect the priorities of a society. In the following section, the left column lists some words and attitudes that held deep meaning for people in the 1980s. The column beside it lists the words and attitudes that are important to people in the 1990s.

Looking at the first word in each column shows how the emphasis in what people care about has changed. In the 1980s it was important for people to have prestige. In the 1990s it's important for people to have comfort. In 1985, a good social marketing campaign would have highlighted the prestige an organization's members enjoyed in the community. While that prestige may still be evident, it is no longer a key selling point and shouldn't be used as one. Today it would be better to emphasize comfort - the fact that your organization is friendly, undemanding and non-threatening to new members.

If you find your organization locked into the attitudes of the 1980s, try to build bridges across to the attitudes of the 1990s. Ask yourself, "how can we soften our 'prestigious' image and make our organization appear more 'comfortable'?" It doesn't mean abandoning what you stand for. It just means emphasizing the things your organization offers that the public may care about.

One Caution: Never, under any circumstances, sacrifice the integrity of your organization for the sake of doing the 'in thing.'

1980s 1990s
Prestige Comfort
New Old
Future Past
Trend Tradition
Stat-Of-The-Art Enduring
Fast Track Sure-Footed
Wealth Contentment
Make-Believe Real
Image Character
Leading-Edge Heritage
Fitness Wellness
Nutrition Health
High-Tech High-Touch
Me You

Social Marketing vs. Commercial Marketing

You may now feel ready to tackle the social marketing process itself. But before you do, it's important to know how and why social marketing differs from commercial marketing.

Commercial marketing has traditionally been based on and explained by the following factors:

Product, Price, Place and Promotion

In business, these terms speak for themselves. The product is what you sell, the price is what the customer pays, the place is where the product is sold, and the promotion is what you do to attract the buyer. Social marketers have added another factor - participation - and added a different slant. The social marketing "Ps" are defined below:

Product: The idea, belief or habit your target audience must accept, adopt or change to meet its needs. Example: The idea you want the public to accept is that membership in your organization is personally rewarding.

Price: The cost in terms of modified habits, changed beliefs, time or money that your target audience will have to bear to meet its needs. Example: You tell the public the cost of joining the group is limited to time only. There is no fee, but members must attend a weekly meeting.

Place: The location or medium through which your audience will receive the message. Example: Your group holds a meeting of potential members at the municipal office so people can judge the organization for themselves.

Promotion: The medium or message that attracts attention to your product. Example: The local radio station advertises the rewarding experiences you'll have if you become a member at the meeting.

Participation: The input your audience has in planning, developing and implementing a 'product' it needs. Example: The event planners consulted potential members to see what rewarding experiences they were seeking.

Social Marketing In Action

So what sets social and commercial marketing apart?

  • Commercial marketing can cause your organization to focus too much on its own concerns, ignoring the concerns of its audience. Your organization can become self-centred or inward-looking by trying for the 'quick sale.'
  • Social marketing forces an organization to think about the needs of its audience as well as its own. At its best, it makes an organization more audience-centred in the search for a long-term relationship. In other words, social marketing is more likely to help you answer your audience's need to know 'what's in it for me?'

Shifting attention from your organization's needs to your audience's needs is crucial in social marketing. While carefully following the social marketing 'Ps' can help, it's not without its pitfalls. You can still become trapped in a process that puts your concerns ahead of your audience's concerns. One way to avoid this is to approach the social marketing 'Ps' from the perspective of your audience.

A convenient and easy to remember way of doing this is to think about the social marketing 'Cs.' The following columns will help you see how you can shift the emphasis from your organization's perspective to your audience's perspective.

Organization Perspective:

  • Product
  • Price
  • Place
  • Promotion/Participation

Audience Perspective:

  • Consumer wants/needs
  • Cost to satisfy wants/needs
  • Convenience to obtain satisfaction
  • Communication

Let's use one of your organization's programs as an example of a product. You already have a feel for the product, price, place and promotion/participation from your point of view. But do you have a feel for your audience's perspective? Does your product meet their wants and needs? Does your perception of the price match their perception of the cost? Does your audience find the place your program is offered convenient? Finally, are your promotions based enough on participation that your audience believes there's been true communication?

You can only know what's important to your audience by stepping into their shoes. To fully grasp your organization's perspective, think of the social marketing 'Ps.' But to fully grasp your audience's perspective, think of the social marketing 'Cs.' Bringing the two perspectives as close together as possible, will increase your chances of success.

The Social Marketing Process

Once you've understood the public's attitudes, recognized society's trends, and reconciled your concerns with the concerns of your audience, you're ready to begin building your social marketing plan.

There are six basic steps in the social marketing process. Although you've already covered some aspects in your preliminary thinking, it's important to use a methodical approach to ensure everything is covered thoroughly. Use your earlier thoughts as a guide to help you move through the various stages. Every step should be committed to paper for future reference:

Step 1 - Getting Started

Define your issue and research its key details. Learn all you can about the subject. Then assess your resources, the things in your favour. Remember public attitudes and society's trends as you do this. Something that was a valuable resource a decade ago may now be a liability.

Step 2 - Planning and Developing Your Strategy

Identify your target audience, establish your goals and objectives, identify the benefits to you and your audience, and select the techniques you'll use to assess your progress. You must be very careful at this stage. Being honest with yourself and realistic about your objectives is essential.

Step 3 - Develop Your Materials and Activities

Decide what your message will be. Then plan the media activities, special events and other promotions that will help communicate the message.

Step 4 - Write Your Communications Plan

This is the 'make or break' point. Carefully review everything you've done so far and note the following: issue; goal; objectives; target audience; benefits to audience; delivery methods; resources; potential problems; indicators of success; and assessment methods. Then set a manageable time frame for the program. This is your road map. It must be written down.

Step 5 - Implement the Plan

Prepare the launch of your campaign. Work with community leaders to help ensure your message is at least considered by the people who count. As the plan unfolds, don't hesitate to review and revise as necessary. Nothing is so damaging as going ahead with something you know is flawed.

Step 6 - Measure Your Results

Here's where you find out if it worked. Write an honest, detailed assessment report. This can help pinpoint both the weak and strong points for any future campaigns.


To successfully market your programs and ideas you must understand the directions in which society is moving. Recognizing public attitudes will help you implement a solid social marketing program. Always remember, underlying everything is one basic question your audience wants answered. So, stand back for a moment, put yourself in their shoes and ask, "What's in it for me?" A six-step social marketing campaign, based on the trends and attitudes of the 1990s will give your organization the answer.

For more information about personal, organizational or community leadership, contact your local Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs office.


Getting Close to Your Customers. Barrow, Peter. Exchange, July, 1991.

The Great Marketing Turnaround: The Age of the Individual and How to Profit From It. Rapp, Stan and Tom Collins. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1990.

Megatrends 2000: Ten New Directions for the 1990s. Naisbitt, John and Patricia Aburdene. William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, 1990.

Old Truths Out The Window. Strauss, Marina. Globe and Mail Report on Marketing and Media, September 17, 1991.

Social Marketing in Health Promotion: A Communications Guide. Ontario Ministry of Health, Queen's Park, Toronto, 1991.

Torlee Targets Marketing in the 1990s: Research Reveals Attitudes and Values That Will Govern The Marketplace. Torlee, Liz. Marketing, Vol. 96, No. 49, December 9, 1991.

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