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Strategic social marketing for nonprofits
Nedra Kline Weinreich
Circa October 2007

To many nonprofit managers, marketing equals fundraising. But your organization exists for more than just bringing in donations. By using social marketing methods, you can boost the effectiveness of programs and activities that are the reason your organization exists—to make a difference.

Social marketing uses the same tools and techniques of commercial marketing, but its purpose is to bring about positive health and social change. Social marketing's bottom line is behavior change.

Social marketing as described here is distinct from the more recent usage of the term by bloggers and social network marketers to label peer-to-peer or consumer-generated media. The field of social marketing has been around for over a quarter of a century, used to address issues around the world, from family planning to HIV/AIDS, to breast cancer screening.

When social marketers develop a program strategy, they consider the same elements of the marketing mix as commercial marketers. However, the social marketing mix has to be adjusted to take into account the unique nature of the products and environments with which they work.

What does the social marketing mix look like, and how is it different from the Four Ps that commercial marketers use?

1. Product

The social marketing product is not usually a tangible item, though it can be (e.g., condoms). Generally, social marketers are selling a particular behavior. While you may be promoting a life-saving or life-improving practice, quite often social marketing behaviors are things that people don't particularly want to do—eat more fiber, conserve water, exercise, get a colonoscopy. To address this issue, use the same tools as commercial marketing to promote the product's benefits based on the target audience's core values. Show them how using the product helps them become the person they want to be.

2. Price

While adopting the product may have a monetary cost, the more important price considerations are social and emotional costs. These include the hassle factor of performing the behavior, time, embarrassment, deprivation of something they enjoy, fear of finding a medical problem, or social disapproval. The strategic issue is to figure out how to reduce the price as much as possible and make it easy and stress-free to perform the behavior.

3. Place

How will you make the product available? In other words, how and where can people perform the behavior? The concept of aperture is relevant here; just like a camera's lens opens and shuts very quickly to let in the light when you take a picture, you have only a small window of opportunity to get your message through to the target audience at a time and place they can act on it. Your potential participants will not go out of their way to look for your messages—you need to go to them and provide the opportunity to easily learn about the product and perform the behavior.

4. Promotion

Promotional approaches for social marketing do not differ much from those used by commercial marketers. One key difference may lie in the types of target audiences addressed. Many are not the types of consumers that a for-profit business would even consider going after; they may be low-income, unable to speak English, difficult to find, and/or uninterested in making any changes in their lives. Social marketers must be creative in the ways they promote their products to these hard-to-reach populations.

And because of the inherent challenges faced by social marketing programs, I have added four more Ps to the social marketing mix.

5. Publics

When planning and managing a social marketing campaign, you must take into account all of the people who can affect the success of the program, such as the external publics—the target audience, groups that influence the target audience, policymakers, the media, and others outside the organization. Just as importantly, nonprofit social marketers must involve their internal publics in the program implementation. These are the people within your organization—from your Board members and management staff who must approve your plans, to the receptionist who answers the phones and needs to know what to do when someone calls in response to the campaign.

6. Partnership

Many social marketing issues are so big that one organization cannot address them.

Potential partners include organizations (other nonprofits, government agencies and businesses) that have one or more of the following attributes: similar goals to yours, access to the target audience, credibility with the target audience, interest in sponsorship of your program, or resources that fill gaps in your organization's capabilities.

7. Policy

Governmental or organizational policies can act as a catalyst for social change on a large scale. When policies are put into place that provide an environment of support for a particular behavior, individuals are much more likely to sustain that behavior change. For example, workplace nonsmoking policies make it easier for smokers to quit by ensuring that they do not see others lighting up around them and removing social cues to smoking.

8. Purse strings

Unlike businesses, many nonprofit organizations are not able to automatically set aside a percentage of their revenue for marketing activities. Social marketers must be creative and proactive in seeking funding for their campaigns from sources such as corporate partners, foundations, donations, and government agencies.

Use the social marketing mix to go beyond fundraising. Use marketing to make an impact on the lives of the people your organization exists to serve.

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