Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing


Doug McKenzie-Mohr

St. Thomas University

A healthy sustainable community is in large part the result of each of its members. When members of a community adopt healthy habits - by getting more exercise, for example - the community becomes a healthier one. When the members use resources wisely - by recycling, for example - the community moves towards sustainability. When community members pollute less, the community becomes both healthier and more sustainable. Therefore, to promote a healthier, more sustainable future, it is essential to know how to encourage individuals to adopt corresponding lifestyles.

Increasingly, those who develop and deliver programs to promote health and sustainability are turning to community-based social marketing for assistance. Community-based social marketing emphasizes direct contact among community members and the removal of structural barriers, since research suggests that such approaches are often most likely to bring about behaviour change.

Community-based social marketing also uses a set of "tools" which have been identified as being particularly effective in fostering such change. While each of these tools on its own is capable of promoting healthy and/or sustainable behaviour under the right conditions, the tools are most effective when used together.

Community-based social marketing is pragmatic. It involves:

  • identifying the barriers to a behaviour
  • developing and piloting a program to overcome these barriers
  • implementing the program across a community
  • evaluating the effectiveness of the program

To promote healthy, sustainable lifestyles effectively, the barriers to healthy, sustainable activities must first be identified. Community-based social marketers therefore begin by conducting the research that will help them identify these barriers. It is not unusual for this research to uncover multiple barriers quite specific to the activity being promoted.

Once the barriers have been identified, community-based social marketers develop a program that addresses each of the them. Personal contact, the removal of structural barriers, and the use of proven tools of change are emphasized in the program.

To ensure that the program will be successful, it is piloted in a small segment of the community and refined until it is effective. The program is then implemented throughout the community and procedures are put in place to monitor its effectiveness on an ongoing basis.

The tools and detailed case studies provided in this website will help you incorporate into your program the techniques of community-based social marketing. The steps comprising community-based social marketing are simple, but effective. When barriers are identified and appropriate programs are designed to address these barriers, the frequent result is that individuals adopt healthier and/or more sustainable lifestyles, which is the corner-stone of healthier, more sustainable communities.

More on Community-Based Social Marketing

Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing