nedra weinreich is the president and founder of weinreich communications, a published author, blogger, a professor and a sought-after teacher. her subject? social marketing, the use of marketing methodologies to change behavior. nedra and i chatted about what exactly is social marketing, how design thinking intersects with communication and whether one should go after the low-hanging fruit first.
fm: let’s start by defining social marketing, since it’s frequently confused with the concept of using social media to market.
nw: social marketing is using commercial marketing techniques to change behavior related to health or social issues. it goes beyond the standard educational approach that’s typically taken and uses the tools that nike or apple would use. the difference is that rather than the bottom line being sales, our bottom line’s behavior change.
fm: what are those tools?
nw: the first thing is knowing your audience. knowing what their needs and wants are, what their lives are like. you want to know their current knowledge, attitudes and behavior related to whatever issue you’re tackling. you also want to know the benefits that’ll be most important to them, and their values.
next is segmenting your audience so you know whom you’re trying to target. usually companies try a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t fit anyone well at all. with this kind of scattershot approach, you may get lucky and hit the bull’s-eye occasionally, but more likely you’ll miss the people you most want to reach. if your population is fairly homogeneous in terms of their levels of knowledge, attitudes and behavior, you may be able to design a single intervention that will be effective for most people. but knowing how your audience is distributed across the continuum of the stages of change—whether they know they should be doing something, are ready to adopt the behavior or are already doing it—is critical for designing your program strategy. people need different types of information, assistance and motivation at each stage, so you’ll be most effective if you can target that appropriately.
fm: if i’m a company, i’m now hearing two things: time and money, neither of which i have much of. so, now what? are there shortcuts companies can take?
nw: i always recommend that organizations look at what research and campaign materials have been created by other organizations with similar audiences or goals before they jump into creating their own. there’s no sense in reinventing the wheel when it’s likely that others have addressed the same topic with a similar audience in the past. if you can find work that’s already been done to use as a foundation or to adapt for your purposes, you can save time and money. of course, anything you’re thinking about using or adapting should be pretested with members of your own target audience to see if it will work.
considering what budget and what resources are available may dictate a smaller push. an organization’s not going to create systemic change with $5k. instead, they can consider what they can reasonably expect to accomplish.
partnerships can be handy, too. companies that want to encourage their employees to use public transportation could partner with the local transit system for discounted transit cards or other rewards. it may even be that companies can work with the city to direct bus lines closer to their offices where one doesn’t currently exist. grocery stores are other potential allies. there may be ways to partner with local grocery stores to create programs for eating healthier foods, for example.
fm: if you’re narrowing your sights in order to be more effective, which should one pursue, the low-hanging fruit or the hard to reach?
nw: if you could get the people entrenched in their behavior to change, it’d be the biggest bang for the buck. but they’ve likely already resisted waves and waves of efforts to help them change. if instead you go for the people who need a little nudge…who are more ready to change…if you can get them, you can start a snowball effect. maybe their friends and family are in the bigger targets of risk pool, and you’ll then get them to sign on.
fm: i read some of your writing about design thinking. how does design thinking apply with helping change health behaviors?
nw: it can be really small things. making it easier to do the healthy things, like pointing them to the stairs. but then there are other ways, like how you make things available. having the healthy food at the beginning of the line so that’s what people see and take first. or policies that allow people to go out and take a walk during the workday. i also think defaults can be really powerful. there was an organ donation study that researched how rates of donation were affected by the form. in germany, which has an opt-in system, only 12% consented to become organ donors; in austria, a similar country but which has an opt-out system, the consent rate is 99%!
fm: i’d like to see more companies adopt opt-outs for their 401(k) plan. and i’m wondering how an opt-out design for health and wellness services might be used in conjunction with a health risk assessment. what would you make the defaults?
nw: if the health risk assessment generates recommendations that tie in with particular wellness services offered by the company, individuals could be automatically signed up to participate and have to opt out. or maybe at a lunch meeting, having the healthy foods be the default on the menu selection form and employees have to make a special request for less healthy options.
read more interviews with health innovators.