A 2019 update to this post, which was first published in 2013, can be found here – 4 Steps to Your Marketing Plan!
This post is the third in a three-part series exploring marketing and social marketing for public health professionals. Click here to read part one: Social Marketing: A Fundamental Public Health Practice and here to read part two: Shelli’s 4 Golden Rules of Marketing.
The process of developing and implementing a marketing (or social marketing) plan is as much a thought process as a prescribed set of activities. It is a valuable tool that every public health professional should have in her/ his toolbox and offers a helpful frame for almost any situation. Developing and implementing a marketing plan to meet the needs of your program or initiative does not require a business or marketing degree! Here are the six steps I follow when working on a marketing plan for a client.
Step One: Set the Goal
This step sounds simple, but it can be a challenge to define the result you want your marketing efforts to achieve. Make the goal specific enough that it is unequivocal and everyone understands the purpose of your marketing effort. I often ask: What do you want to be different at the end of the marketing initiative than you have now?
Step Two: Define the Potential Market
Defining the potential market is an exercise in segmentation: grouping populations by like characteristics for purposes of understanding. In order to be able to segment the potential market, you will need to conduct market research (see the Louisiana story in part one for a description of one such market research effort).
You market research approach does not need to be extensive or expensive. Talk to the people that know the audience, make observations, and rely on secondary research such as other studies and relevant articles.
The typical segmentation of a potential marketing is done by age or ethnicity, or perhaps by geography. It is more useful to segment by psychographics: values, attitudes, lifestyles and behaviors. A good question here is to ask: How do people relate to or think about the issue or cause?
For example, in the Louisiana project we segmented the market by how they related to the desired behavior of breastfeeding. Two of the psychographic groups that were identified were the “Traditionalists” (those women who aligned with the dominant cultural norm that breastfeeding is distasteful) and the “No-Brainers” (those women who planned to breastfeed their babies no matter what). Describe each segment to understand them enough to make target market decisions.
Step Three: Select and Profile the Target Market
This is the part in the process where you must remember that, “not everyone is your audience!” Once you have defined the segments, make deliberate decision about the target market you’re your marketing plan. This decision could be based on any number of criteria:
- Highest need
- Greatest disparity
- Easiest to reach/ most ready
- Hardest to reach/ most neglected
- Most strategically significant (i.e., if you succeed in reaching this group, you will build credibility or create a means to reach other groups)
Once you select your one or two target markets continue your market research so that you understand everything there is to know about that group. You need to know them intimately.
For example, for many public health programs, community members with low socio-economic status are the target market. But how much do you know about them, really? What is most important to them? What does good health mean to them? How do they make decisions and what drives those decisions? Where do they get their information? You get the idea.
You may be tempted to skip from selecting your target market to step four. Don’t do it. Without the kind of intimate knowledge about your target market described here, you cannot develop products and outreach strategies that work.
Step Four: Create the Product that Resonates
For public health, that “product” might be a service, program, or other offering. Oftentimes, marketing is as much about you redesigning an existing product as it is employing certain outreach strategies. The key here is to use your market research and target market profile to determine what product is relevant to and will resonate with the target market. Remember, you need something that increases benefits to the target market and/ or minimizes barriers.
For example, if your goal centers on increasing the number of low-SES children immunized and your target market is low-SES working moms, then you may have to need to re-design the hours your clinic is open so that they are more convenient for that market and doesn’t require them to take time off work (i.e., more evening, early morning, or weekend hours). Indeed, no outreach effort or strategy you throw at your target market can overcome the obstacle of a clinic that is only open Monday – Friday from 8:00 – 5:00.
I once had a client that wanted a marketing strategy to reach 30-somethings to volunteer on outdoor projects. The research demonstrated that no amount of marketing would be successful because that target market wasn’t interested in their product (a multiple-weekend volunteer commitment with a significant upfront training requirement). That client could either accept that 30-somethings could not be their target market, or re-design one of their fundamental offerings and significantly decrease the time commitment required.
Step Five: Then Create the Outreach Strategies
Creating the best, most effective outreach strategy depends entirely upon who your target market is. This step is NOT a brainstorming process. It is not about picking the idea or communications mode you like best.
Use your target market research and profile and logically determine what strategies are most likely to succeed in reaching that target market. If you have taken the time to really get to know the target market, the best strategies are usually quite obvious.
Step Six: Test, Evaluate, Adapt, Implement
If you can, do a trial or a test with a sample population, evaluate that effort, make any needed adaptations and then implement your plan. Even companies that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on market research sometimes get it wrong. Testing is a valuable step in the process and one that can save lots of time and money.
For more detailed information on these steps, see my article: Beyond Marketing: Becoming a Constituent-Centered Organization.