What Is Social Marketing?

Social marketing is a distinct marketing discipline which uses commercial marketing principles and techniques to advance a social cause and influence the target audience behaviors to improve their lives or the society in which they live.
The characteristics which distinguish social marketing efforts from other marketing efforts are:

Focusing On Benefiting Society

Unlike other marketing efforts where the ultimate gainer is the marketer, social marketing efforts aim at benefitting the society at large. This is the most important characteristic of social marketing.

Objective Is To Influence behaviors

Social marketing is all about influencing behaviors of the target audience. The marketing efforts may be used to:

  • Give up an addictive behavior (e.g., stop smoking)
  • Avoid or reject a potentially undesirable behavior (e.g. don’t try drugs)
  • Prevent long-term consequences (e.g. wear sunscreen to prevent skin cancer)
  • Prevent the environment (e.g. recycle)
  • Learn a new skill (e.g. learn for free and get a job)
  • Risk retaliation (e.g., adhere to the speed limit)

Use Of Commercial Marketing Techniques

Social marketing uses all the commercial marketing techniques. The only difference is that the ultimate beneficiary is the target audience.

Who does Social Marketing?

In most cases, social marketing techniques are used by the national and international public welfare organizations and offices responsible for public welfare like WHO, centers for disease control and prevention, department of health, environmental protection departments, national highway departments etc.

Not-for-profit organizations also involve themselves in social marketing activities of those causes which align with their organization’s missions. For example, Kaiser Family Foundation promotes getting tested for HIV disease by promoting their Know HIV/AIDS campaign.

For-profit organizations sometimes indulge in social marketing activities rather than cause marketing activities to fulfill their corporate social responsibility and build their brand image through better community relations strategies.

Social Marketing vs. Cause Related Marketing

Cause related marketing is a form of marketing where a for-profit organization teams up with a not-for-profit or a charitable organization to raise awareness and/or tackle a social or environmental problem and create business value for the organization at the same time.

Usually, a brand markets its product in affiliation with one of the societal causes and pledges to donate a portion of the proceeds from the sales to the cause. Other cause marketing strategies include:

  • Donation boxes at the point of sales.
  • Making employees volunteer for social good
  • Paying to use a nonprofit’s brand on company’s product, etc.

However, social marketing doesn’t benefit the organization in monetary terms. In fact, it involves spending money for the betterment of the society and not the organization.