Community-Based Social Marketing

Research has shown that it takes more than just awareness to change people’s behavior, especially when it comes to natural resources. Knowing the right thing to do often isn’t enough to inspire people to change their behavior. Community-based social marketing uses specialized techniques to help groups move beyond providing awareness to actually “selling” behavioral change in their communities. The steps in social marketing, including an example campaign, are:

  1. Define the behavior that you want to change
    1. Urban residents are using phosphorus in their lawn fertilizer on established lawns
  2. Identify possible solutions
    1. Increase the number of phosphorus-free fertilizers available in stores
    2. have people mulch grass/leaves for the lawn or compost kitchen scraps instead of applying fertilizer
    3. Encourage proper lawn maintenance – cutting grass to correct height, applying correct fertilizer at correct time
    4. Convince lawn care services to decrease their use of phosphorus
    5. Reduce number of lawns in urban area in favor of gardens
  3. Determine a very specific target audience.
    1. Single male homeowners who do yard work themselves
    2. Families who do yard work themselves
    3. Lawn care companies performing residential yard service
    4. Big box home service stores
    5. Family-owned greenhouses who carry lawn fertilizer
    6. Fertilizer manufacturers
  4. Conduct marketing research on target audience – be sure to find out what benefits and barriers there are to doing the behavior you want to promote. Find ways to reduce barriers and maximize benefits.
    1. No big box stores carry phosphorus-free fertilizer or it costs too much
    2. They believe that their lawn needs phosphorus
    3. Lawn care companies can charge homeowners more for applying fertilizer 4 times per year
  5. Create the message – wording, medium, graphics, etc.
  6. PRETEST the message on a subset of the target audience and make adjustments as needed.
  7. Conduct the campaign.
  8. Evaluate the campaign.
  9. Revise/adapt the campaign as needed.

Social marketing is not the same as an awareness campaign; though to be fair, awareness is necessary before we can expect a behavior change. After all, if people don’t know the consequences of their behavior, they don’t know that there is anything to change! Social marketing goes beyond awareness to analyze what motivates people to, and discourages people from, making behavior changes and addresses them. Watershed groups might use awareness and social marketing campaigns together to encourage behavior change.

Three great resources for watersheds engaging in community-based social marketing are:

  • Getting Your Feet Wet with Social Marketing [PDF]:
    • This handbook provides a primer on social marketing theory, as well as practical examples, worksheets and additional resources directly geared toward watershed groups and water quality-related behavioral change.
  • Community-Based Social Marketing Website:
    • This website provides a forum for natural resource professionals to share their experiences, scientific studies, and advice related to community outreach in an effort to spread success, reduce duplication, and make our environment a better place to live. Also available for free download on the site is the book Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing, which describes a successful approach to change natural resource-related behavior in a community.
  • Clear Choices Clean Water:
    • This Indiana-based campaign is a well-done example of social marketing for water quality improvement. For information on the research conducted to produce this website, contact the charter sponsors listed on the website.