Importance of Upstream Social Marketing

Most observers and many practitioners see social marketing as a downstream approach to influencing people with “bad behaviors”—smoking, neglecting prenatal care, not recycling. However, this narrow view hugely underestimates social marketing’s real potential. Social marketing is simply about influencing the behavior of target audiences. There are many more target audiences who need to act besides “problem people” if we are to solve major social problems. Alan R. Andreasen – Georgetown University –  Social Marketing in the 21st Century

Since social marketing emerged in the 1970s, much of the focus in the field has been on individual behaviour change. However, in recent years social marketing experts have proposed that social marketing should broaden its scope beyond individuals, or groups of consumers, and attempt to influence those who help shape the determinants of human behaviour such as policy makers, regulators, managers, educators and the media.

The premise is that marketing concepts and techniques, alongside other tools, can be used to influence the behaviours of decision makers and opinion formers for example to induce policy change. This in turn can influence the environment in which individual behaviours operate. For example, upstream social marketing has been influential in changing the environment in relation to smoking, including bans on tobacco marketing and introduction of smoke free legislation Source

Health Canada ran a campaign on second-hand smoke in the workplace. Health Canada had been delivering messages on the harms of tobacco use and second-hand smoke for many years, but the “Heather” campaign was aimed at a different target. The campaign featured Heather Crowe, a real Canadian who had been a waitress for 40 years. Heather never smoked, but worked in smoke-filled restaurants, and in the campaign materials she explained that she was dying from lung cancer due to second-hand smoke. Heather became a well-known spokesperson on second-hand smoke and toured the country speaking about second-hand smoke in the workplace. The campaign and the work Heather has done personally in communities across Canada has had a major impact on provinces and cities invoking bans on smoking in workplaces, restaurants and bars.

Heather Crowe Poster

It is unfair to expect your audience to change their behaviours easily, because actions they take are determined by many factors, both internal and external. Sometimes, even if motivated, the barriers are difficult to overcome, because some barriers are beyond the audience you are trying to influence and control.

In recent years social marketing has moved beyond the traditional focus on promoting individual behavior change to acknowledge that the environment where they live and work also partially constrains people’s choices. Upstream social marketing addresses how we change the policies, laws, regulations, and physical environments that can marginalize or render worthless our best efforts as social marketers at getting individuals to change their behaviour if there are too many environmental barriers.

Different from downstream social marketing, which focuses on producing individual behavior change, an upstream social marketing program is designed to change the macro-environment surrounding people’s lives to influence or change individual behaviour or attitude. Therefore, the focus on the social marketing should move from downstream to upstream factors, which will make it easier to get results.

Social Marketing can assist with the development of effective and efficient programs at each level through the setting of clear behavioural goals, competition analysis, the development of valued social exchanges, the development of segmented interventions, and the selection of the optimum intervention mix at each level to bring about uptake and compliance.

Social Marketing’s systematic planning approach can also assist with the development of efficient and effective programs that can be evaluated in terms of their impact on specific behaviours at upstream level such as corporations’ behaviour related to promotions such as citizen uptake of support services and at down-stream level such as changes in fruit and vegetable consumption. Source

There appears to be a widespread belief among social marketers that engaging upstream is as important as downstream intervention. Upstream social marketing proposes that influencing policy makers, regulators, managers and educators can help address societal problems, and that these groups can be treated as target audiences similar to conventional interventions.

Recognized social marketing tools such as consumer orientation, formative research, segmentation and targeting, and addressing barriers & offering incentives can be used in this process. Other approaches such as advocacy, stakeholder engagement, public relations, and political engagement can also be utilized.

Social marketers should engage in research, development and testing of theory, concepts and ideas in this area, and disseminate the findings. Doing so would help social marketing operate effectively downstream, midstream and upstream

To learn more about social marketing, please join us on March 18th in Ottawa

LOCATION: 205 Catherine Street, Suite 300, Ottawa, ON K2P 1C3

 Introduction to Social Marketing Planning for Behaviour Change

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 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.

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