Social Marketing for Public Health

Some current Management Academy scholars were asking us about social marketing recently. It’s something we cover in the program but not so much in the book—there’s a lot of literature out there on it. Social marketing is basically using marketing strategies to change behavior. Besides just getting someone to buy something, it’s selling the behavior change, keeping in mind that the “costs” are not necessarily just monetary, and the "product" is not only the main behavior change you want to effect. The example we use in the book is that a program to supply clean needles to drug addicts has some costs that those of us who don’t do illegal drugs may not think of, like the “cost” of losing friends because they think you don’t trust them enough to use their needles. And, the "product" is not just new needles but a new way of thinking of yourself as worthy of using clean needles. And in the end, the hope is that friends will bring friends along to the new "product." Most of what our scholars do is not quite at the level of difficultly as a needle exchange program in terms of “selling” the change—we’re generally talking day care center preparedness or business-place health programs. But still, there are issues related to product, place, promotion, and price—the Four Ps—that should be considered.

One team this year has a clear social marketing angle. They are setting up a primary care clinic in their health department, and they’re working with a community group called 100 Black Men to attract early adopters and motivate others in the particular target group to care about their health in ways they may not have thought of before. Maybe as a group they think of going to the doctor as not a "manly" thing to do, but if they see the 100 Black Men group going, they'll think differently about it. As the group members begin to understand and believe in the program, they’ll bring their friends, and a peer social marketing network is formed.

In a meeting recently of Executive Education program directors from the NC Institute for Public Health we thought about our programs in similar terms, too. With the economic downturn, we must think about how to save money, maybe change the programs to fit a new budget reality, put our own preaching about fiscal efficiency into practice. But at the same time, one thing our students always say is that they love the on-site time and when they graduate they miss how “cool” it is to be part of this special group that gets to come to Chapel Hill a couple of times over the course of a year. What is lost if we replace some of the on-site time with distance learning components? The cost of those components is a fiscal reality, but there may be a cost in not doing them (or doing less of them) that we have not considered. A lot can be gained if more public health professionals can attend who would not be able to come if they had to travel, but some sense of being part of a special club might be lost. When we are considering the social marketing angle of our program, we will have to think about what, exactly, we are “selling” besides the nuts and bolts of public health management and leadership education.

Please share any thoughts you have about the "product" we call the Management Academy for Public Health. What did you value? For you, how did its "costs" compare with the "product" you received? How can we do it better?

-- Anne Menkens