10 Tips for Changing People’s Behaviours through Social Marketing

Do not assume that presenting important and compelling facts or information will change people’s attitudes and/or behaviours.

The field of social marketing has demonstrated that people are not always logical, rational, or driven by coherent internal motivations. A host of factors influence people’s actions, and knowledge of facts is just one of those factors.

Do not go for big changes initially start small and build

Social Marketers need to break down big changes into bite-sized chunks for people. Start with small steps i.e. specific actions and behaviours that people can sustain over a period of time. Early successes lead to long-term successes.

Seeking to make a change forever, instead of a defined period of time.

A fixed period of time works better than “forever” when it comes to building new behaviours. Because if it sounds doable and achievable, your audience might just give it a try.

Good Communication is not always the key to any behaviour change program

Good communication is certainly important but there is more to social marketing than communications. The most successful behavior change initiatives focus on removing barriers to desired behaviors. This takes more than a good communications campaign. It may involve re-thinking how you interact with your audience, advocating for changes in regulations, or your audience’s environment. Barriers are all those things that stop people from adopting a new behaviour. They take many forms but most are either structural or personal. When doing your marketing research ask your target group what’s stopping them from changing their behaviour?

Most important focus less on aggressive promotion/communications and focus more on aggressive listening as communications is a 2-way process. Many campaigns fail because too much time is spent telling people what they should think or do, rather than asking how they can be helped to do it.

One thing we have learned from social marketing is the importance of listening to the people whose behaviour you want to change. This is the single most important thing, because whatever people do – even when it’s something that seems crazy to you – they have their reasons. The reasons may not be rational. People may not even know what their reasons are. Rarely, however, are they waiting for you – or any other social marketer – to tell them what to do. Even then, if you can get their attention long enough to tell them either the risks they face or the wonderful benefits of something they still may not change their behaviour.

Create an Effective Message Strategy

The average person is exposed to thousands of marketing messages every day. You have very little time to catch someone’s attention. Here are a few tips for effective messages:


  • Specify the desired objective.
  • Specify the desired action required (call to action).
  • Focus on personal relevance of issue to each member of the audience.
  • Adapt creative style to specific audience.
  • Communicate benefits and focus on immediate, high-probability consequences of positive behaviour.
  • Portray people with which members of target group can identify.
  • The messenger in many cases can be much more important than the message.
  • Celebrities and popular spokespersons can be effective to change social norms.
  • Positive reinforcement can be effective.
  • More emphasis is needed in creating a climate conducive to social change.
  • “Blame the victim” approach hurts credibility of social marketing.
  • Upstream approaches and strategies help credibility of social marketing
  • Communicate benefits, rather than features … and most important
  • Keep It Simple


  • Play on emotions.
  • Do not be moralistic. Guilt messages work less well, however can be effective in certain circumstances.
  • Pity and altruistic appeals do not work well.
  • Humour can be difficult. Use it with caution.

Demonstrate the desired behaviour:

  • Showing the desirable behaviour serves as a guide to appropriate behaviour.
  • Promote alternative behaviours as substitutes for undesirable present behaviours.
  • Examples: designated driver in DWI, physically active (use stairs, not elevator).

Multi-year consistency in theme

  • Consistency is required to move target audiences through the various “stages of change”.
  • Variety in creative approach from one period to the other and one group to the other is required to keep the attention-grabbing power of the campaign (however messages have to be consistent).

Pay attention to social norms

Social norms are people’s beliefs about the attitudes and behaviours that are normal, acceptable, or even expected in a particular social context. In many situations, people’s perception of these norms greatly influence their behaviour. Therefore, when people misperceive the norms of their group—that is, when they inaccurately think an attitude or behaviour is more (or less) common than is actually the case—they may choose to engage in behaviours that are in sync with those false norms.

The social norm process works by collecting data on the actual versus perceived behavioural norms. If there is an over-exaggeration of the norms, then social marketing messages and tactics are developed to communicate the true norms that exist. By continuing to communicate the true norms, the myth that everybody is doing it is slowly eroded away until the group realizes that the majority are doing what’s right. When this positive message is sustained for a year or two, the negative behaviours of the group begin to shift downward to reflect the majority behaviour.

Know exactly who your audience is and look at everything from their point of view

Marketers are consumer-focused. It is crucial that you clearly identify your target audience and that you look at the world from their point of view. Why does a marketer think this way? To motivate people to take an action, you have to understand the world from your target audience’s perspective – what do they want, struggle with, care about, dislike? The people you are talking to will not listen if they sense that you do not understand them.

Need to understand what makes people do what they do

People do not change their behaviours because it is “the right thing to do”. Education alone does not change behaviours. Also, people tend to fib about their behaviours. People do change their behaviours when the benefit to them outweighs the barrier they face. Finally, do not forget your audience is always asking themselves when told to do something what is in it for me? my family? my community? my city? my region? or my country?

Get influencers involved

Every audience has influencers: people that they look to for direction. One of the great successes of effective social marketing initiatives is getting a wide range of influencers on board. When celebrities, business leaders, community leaders, and your most influential and connected friends are participating, it’s hard to resist joining the fray.

Do not assume that behaviour change is difficult

Difficulty is a qualitative judgment of effort required based on task/behaviour requirements versus our capabilities. No matter what’s being asked of people, if it’s rational, desirable, and people are motivated, with a clear and sensible process, behavioural change is possible.

Monday, June 13: 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (as part of MARCOM 2016)
Awareness, awareness, awareness. Are you getting tired of hearing that word? Don’t you want to move to something more substantial like changing people’s attitudes and behaviours? Surely it is time to move from public education and awareness campaigns to motivate people to get engaged and take action.The brutal fact is awareness alone does not lead people to change their attitudes or behaviours. If you want a target audience to adopt a specific lifestyle or support your program or cause, you have to go beyond making people aware. You need to start using components of behavioural psychology and strategic social marketing to stimulate attitude and behaviour change.This workshop has been designed for leaders involved in communications and outreach strategies. It will be very relevant if you are influencing attitudes and behaviours to improve health, prevent injuries, protect the environment, prepare citizens for emergencies, or any other current critical issues.By attending this workshop, you will save countless hours of planning time and learn proven techniques for launching a successful campaign to change attitudes and behaviours. You will learn how you can develop a social marketing strategy on your own, all in one day!You will learn:

  • How to use a step-by-step, structured approach to prepare a social marketing plan that is actionable, has maximum impact, and leads to successful implementation;
  • How to present and “sell” your social marketing strategy to management;
  • How to implement a social marketing program on a very tight budget;
  • How to monitor and evaluate your inputs/outputs, outcomes and impacts;
  • How social marketing gives you a single approach: for mobilizing communities; influencing the media; activating key stakeholders; and building strategic alliances with business.

For more information or to register:


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