Introduction for Social Marketers


Larry Hershfield

The Health Communication Unit
Centre for Health Promotion
University of Toronto

Jim Mintz

Director, Partnerships & Marketing
Health Canada

Tools of Change provides a very accessible set of resources for social marketers - including a Planning Guide, specific Tools of Change, and Case Studies illustrating their use. This introduction reviews social marketing in brief, and explains how its fundamental principles are built into this site.

A Brief Review of Social Marketing

The following introduction to social marketing was originally excerpted from Health Canada's Social Marketing Web site and from an article written by Eric Young of E.Y.E.

Social Marketing is a planned process for influencing change. Social Marketing is a modified term of conventional Product and Service Marketing. With its components of marketing and consumer research, advertising and promotion (including positioning, segmentation, creative strategy, message design and testing, media strategy and planning, and effective tracking), Social Marketing can play a central role in topics like health, environment, and other important issues.

In its most general sense, Social Marketing is a new way of thinking about some very old human endeavours. As long as there have been social systems, there have been attempts to inform, persuade, influence, motivate, to gain acceptance for new adherents to certain sets of ideas, to promote causes and to win over particular groups, to reinforce behaviour or to change it -- whether by favour, argument or force. Social Marketing has deep roots in religion, in politics, in education, and even, to a degree, in military strategy. It also has intellectual roots in disciplines such as psychology, sociology, political science, communication theory and anthropology. Its practical roots stem from disciplines such as advertising, public relations and market research, as well as to the work and experience of social activists, advocacy groups and community organizers.

As Phil Kotler points out in his book Social Marketing - Strategies for Changing Public Behaviour, campaigns for social change are not a new phenomenon. They have been waged from time immemorial. In Ancient Greece and Rome, campaigns were launched to free slaves. In England during the Industrial Revolution, campaigns were mounted to abolish debtor prisons, grant voting rights to women, and to do away with child labour. Notable social reform campaigns in nineteenth-century America included the abolition, temperance, prohibition and suffragette movements, as well as a consumer movement to have governments regulate the quality of foods and drugs.

In recent times, campaigns have been launched in areas such as health promotion (e.g., anti-smoking, safety, drug abuse, drinking and driving, AIDS, nutrition, physical fitness, immunization, breast cancer screening, mental health, breast feeding, family planning), environment (e.g., safer water, clean air, energy conservation, preservation of national parks and forests), education (e.g., literacy, stay in school ), economy (e.g., boost job skills and training, attract investors, revitalize older cities), and other issues like family violence, human rights, and racism.

Social Marketing combines the best elements of the traditional approaches to social change in an integrated planning and action framework, and utilizes advances in communication technology and marketing skills. It uses marketing techniques to generate discussion and promote information, attitudes, values and behaviours. By doing so, it helps to create a climate conducive to social and behavioral change.

This Site and Social Marketing

This Site and Situational Analysis

Situational analysis is the process of determining the real "market opportunities" for influencing change. The Planning Guide (Getting Informed section) outlines the primary information required to conduct such an analysis, and can be used to summarize your key findings. When you choose to print your plan, this information will be consolidated into the situational analysis section of the plan.

This Site and Marketing Integration - the Four P's

Marketing Integration involves making strategic decisions (and subsequent allocations of resources and effort) regarding marketing's traditional four P's:


This is the price paid by the consumer to adopt or "buy" the goods, services, ideas, or actions you are promoting. The price can be "paid" in money, time, risk, inconvenience, or other lifestyle changes. The main areas of this site discussing price are:

Planning Guide

Tools of Change


his refers to the goods, services, ideas, or actions you are promoting. The main areas of this site discussing product are:

Planning Guide

Tools of Change


This involves the Tools of Change you select for your social marketing campaign, and how you implement them. The main areas of this site discussing promotion are:

Planning Guide

Tools of Change


Place is where and when the target market will perform the desired behavior, access our products and services, and become engaged in our programs. In his most recent book on social marketing, Kotler clarifies that "Our objective as we develop the place strategy is to make it as convenient and pleasant as possible for our target audience. Cost-efficient means should be explored to make locations closer and more appealing: extend hours, be there at the point of decision making, and make performing the desired behavior more convenient than the competing behavior".

The main areas of this site discussing how to do this are:

Planning Guide

  • Getting Informed (where we discuss how to determine the points of decision making, and what could make the desired behaviour / product / service and how it is performed or accessed - more convenient and pleasant for the target market.)
  • Targeting the Audience (where considerations of "place" are used to focus on particular groups of people, such as those who are at the right points of decision making and/or those most likely to perceive the desired behaviour /product / service  and how it is performed or accessed - as convenient and pleasant.)
  • Choosing Tools of Change (where considerations of "place" are used to help link to activities that people are already doing, provide effective prompts, and build motivation over time.)

Tools of Change

  • Building Motivation Over Time (where considerations of "place" are used to help link to activities that people are already doing, provide effective prompts, and build motivation over time.)
  • Overcoming Specific Barriers (where considerations of "place" may emerge in the form of key barriers to consumer acceptance, and how to make the desired behaviour /product / service  and how it is performed or accessed - more convenient and pleasant.)

This Site and Exchange Theory

The basic idea behind Exchange Theory is that your audience must pay a price in order to "buy" or adopt the goods, services, ideas, or actions (product) you are promoting. In order to persuade people to take part in the exchange, they must believe that the resulting benefits are worth the price.

This site can help you make the exchange more attractive in two ways.

Increasing the perceived benefits by:
Decreasing the perceived costs by:

This Site and Maintaining a Consumer Orientation

Social Marketers focus tightly and continuously on their target audience or consumers. This emphasis on the consumer is social marketing's greatest asset and the most significant contribution it can bring to any program. All too often, program organizers are so focused on the changes they want to achieve and the messages they want to convey, that insufficient emphasis is placed on understanding and effectively reaching the people they are trying to influence.

The main areas on this site that help you focus on your audience are:

Planning Guide
Tools of Change

This Site and Tracking Results

Social marketing strives to import valuable tools from the world of for-profit marketing, including careful measurement practices. These enable you to:

  • pilot approaches before implementing them widely,
  • monitor your effectiveness so that you can make ongoing improvements to your promotion,
  • provide feedback,
  • report achievements to your managers and/or partners, and
  • demonstrate to potential funders and other partners your ability to reach particular audiences and bring about desired results.

The main areas on this site that help you track your results are:

Planning Guide

Social Marketing in Practice: Case Studies

The Case Studies section of this site brings the Planning Guide and Tools of Change to life. To search for case studies that illustrate particular points of interest, use the site's search capabilities.

Site Guide for Social Marketers

Use the navigation bar at the top of the screen to explore the various sections of this site. The following are some highlights for social marketers.

The Planning Guide:
  • provides step-by-step instructions with plenty of examples, for conducting a situational analysis, planning your program, and tracking results,
  • enables you to create and print out a skeleton communication plan, which can be developed over a number of Internet sessions if desired,
  • places a strong emphasis on behaviour-change and community-based social marketing, and
  • stresses research-based decision-making (see Getting Informed and Measuring Achievements).
The Tools of Change section:
  • provides step-by-step instructions with plenty of examples, for making use of specific tools of change,
  • can help you make strategic decisions regarding marketing's traditional four P's, and
  • can help you make your marketing "exchanges" more attractive by increasing the perceived benefits and decreasing the perceived costs (seeThis Site and Exchange Theory, above).
The Case Studies section:
  • brings the first two sections to life, with success stories illustrating how the planning approach and the use of multiple tools led to success, and
  • can be searched by topic area, location, key words, and other factors.