Everyone is not your marketThis post is the second 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.

There is much for public health professionals to learn from the current marketing and social marketing literature and practices. Even Melinda Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation looks to Coca-Cola’s distribution and marketing approach to inform strategies to distribute condoms and vaccines to remote African villages.

I like to say that marketing is simply “taking all the good stuff you do and care about and getting others to care about it, too!” Just think about all the good stuff you and your colleagues do every day!  As you ponder how marketing principles can help you reach new markets and get others to care about your work as much as you do, consider these basic rules.

Rule 1: Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come

You actually have to market. In public health, just because a behavior is healthy and supported by the evidence base does not mean that people will adopt it. Social marketing reminds us that we have to understand the audience and design behavior change strategies that best fit that audience. And more importantly, remember the market is not you. Don’t apply your values, attitudes, and behaviors to your audience.

Rule 2: Awareness is the first stage on the continuum to action

In their 1999 book Fostering Sustainable Behavior, An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing, authors Doug McKenzie-Mohr and William Smith outline the continuum from awareness to action (awareness –> interest –> desire –> action) and provide tools to move people along the continuum. They demonstrate that getting commitment, using prompts, and changing social norms help people make lasting behavior changes. They list simple, low cost ways to increase program success.

Rule 3: Everyone is not your market

Yes, that holds true for public health, too! As long as you have limited resources and need to get specific outcomes, you must focus your efforts. This is particularly important for public health, where trying to be all things to all people means being nothing to no one. The concept of target marketing – focusing on the segment of the population that is most important (to your cause or issue) or most likely to take action on your behalf – is essential to any public health program.

Note that target marketing is not exclusive. It does not turn people away if they are not in your target market. Target marketing just says that you want to apply limited resources to get outcomes.

Rule 4: The right strategy depends on the audience

The most important questions you can ask are, “Who is our audience and what would work for them?” Marketing is 80 % analysis and 20% strategy. Once you know everything about the audience, the strategy is easy (and there is a right answer to the strategy question; it is not a matter of public input or opinion). Marketing strategies must be relevant and resonate with the audience. Is social media important? Is working through churches useful? Should we partner with the schools? It depends. What will work for your audience? Even evidence based practices need to be adapted to prevailing cultures.

Now that you have some of the basic principles, the next post will walk you through the marketing process and provide a simple marketing plan matrix.