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NC Department of Health and Human Services
NC Division of Public Health
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Social Marketing

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For more information or social marketing assistance, please contact the DHHS Communications Office at 919-855-4840.

What is Social Marketing?

Social marketing is about making health behaviors “fun, easy and popular.” Social marketing draws on the same research and planning principles that make commercial marketers successful at getting people to buy, say, a Ford rather than a Toyota, or to drink bottled water rather than tap water. However, instead of urging people to buy products, health and human service organizations use social marketing to support people in doing behaviors that will improve the quality of their lives and enhance societal well-being.

Many people think of advertisements or PSAs (public service announcements) when they think of marketing.  However, both commercial marketing and social marketing are much more about removing barriers to doing a behavior, than it is about promoting demand or informing people.

Social marketing focuses on understanding the motivations, wants, fears and aspirations of our target audiences. This insight allows us to create programs and messages that both meet the wants of our audiences and achieve our public health goals.

Social marketing is a process to help you create a variety of interventions that make a health behavior something that your audience wants to do—not just a decision to use messages and advertising. Social marketing is as much a mindset, as it is a set of tasks to do—a mindset that asks, “How can I make this behavior easy and rewarding for my target audience to do?”

Why Should My Program Use Social Marketing?

  • To help your program be more effective. [more]

Social marketing provides a 360° view both of the causes of the problem you are addressing and its potential remedies. This allows you to choose the interventions that will have the most impact. The social marketing process provides a logic model with which to tie together all of your services, outreach efforts and messages into a coherent strategy. This audience-orientated approach allows for greater buy-in from the groups you want to impact.

  • To make more efficient use of limited resources. [more]

Because it focuses on understanding the target audience, and the barriers and benefits that audience associates with doing healthy behaviors, social marketing allows you to create the right programs and the right messages for the right people at the right place and time. It allows you use your resources on the interventions that are most likely to “move the needle” on behavior change.

  • To have increased opportunities for funding. [more]

Using social marketing can put your program in a better position to receive funding. More funders of public health programs, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Cancer Institute are using social marketing, and are tending to include the use of social marketing as a requirement in their requests for funding proposals. Grant Makers in Health, a nonprofit umbrella group of foundations and organizations that promote health, has also commended social marketing as an effective approach to improving health.

  • To use an approach with a history of experience that is continuing to develop. [more]

Social marketing has been in use for over 30 years around the world. It has been used for a multitude of public health, environmental and safety issues. Social marketing draws upon the science of commercial marketing, which is continuing to research, develop and refine methods to draw upon. Social marketing itself has developed as an academic and practice discipline that continues to grow and develop. Therefore, there is tremendous experience and expertise to draw upon both for “tried and true” interventions and cutting-edge innovations.

Additional Social Marketing Information