Marketing Strategy

Social marketing’s future in Europe

On Friday, I was fortunate enough to attend the first meeting of the European Social Marketing Association – here’s a brief précis of what you missed…

Well, I say I attended the first ESMA meeting. One of the items on the agenda was to discuss the name of the group. So it could have been a Network, Institute, Gathering, Group or pretty much any other word relating to people getting together to further knowledge, share research and improve social marketing practice.

To begin at the beginning, what is social marketing?

Definitions abound – but what’s obvious is the fact that American understanding of the term differs to the European understanding. The ever-marvellous Professor Jeff French ran through some of these differences early on – and so soon as the notes/presentations are out from the meeting, I’ll share them here with you.

In short terms, and something that the US and other audiences agree on, social marketing is the application of marketing practice to achieve long term behavioural change for social good.

It therefore differs from ‘traditional’ marketing practice because the outcome is behavioural change rather than financial. So this might be a campaign to increase seatbelt use, to stop people smoking, to modify eating behaviour and exercise patterns to reduce obesity etc. (As regular readers of this blog will know, I champion the idea that all marketing is actually about behavioural change, not sales. Which muddies the waters just a little bit – but let’s stick with the idea of lifestyle behavioural modification, rather than purchase intent behavioural modification)

Social Marketing seems to rest on the 4P pillars at the moment. Again, as most of you will know, I’m a proponent of looking at things in a very different way. So part of my learning as this unfolds will be how my proposed outlooks and practices gel with what is, arguably, an already relatively established practice…

Does Europe need its own group, network, gathering?

Prior to the meeting, the organisers had polled hundreds of marketers across Europe, some of whom already belong to the International Social Marketing Association. The overwhelming response to the survey indicated a feeling that “Europe is different – let’s make out voice heard [on the world stage].

Europeans are, apparently, more socially aware than other regions and have a history of social justice motivations – strong pointers to the need for a dedicated network.

Respondents to the survey also indicated that they wanted an agile network within which they could engage with “new thinking and innovation” in the social marketing field.

All of this, plus discussions on the floor, gave attendees the mandate to carry on and scope out how a European Social Marketing Association might look like…

So, what’s next?

Since this is a new venture, there will be a lot of set up behind the scenes. Groups have been formed to examine everything from the issue of the name to framework constitutions/legal agreements, funding streams and so on.

Yours truly has volunteered to be part of the group looking at how such and association will be marketed – so keep an eye on this space.

My gut feeling is that there won’t be much outward movement for the next year or so while all of the preparation work is undertaken. Groups like this don’t spring up overnight, and the general plan is to wait until all of the ducks are in a row before going to market properly.

However, I promise to keep you updated on developments as they arise and can be distributed!

Key Take Aways

Although the meeting was essentially a set-up session, I did come back with a few key take aways.

1) Systemic social marketing application could change the way that we communicate with our target audience. Although many of us marketers are already using some of the core practices, a definition and study model for social marketing will serve to enhance many offerings.

2) Marketers across Europe are facing the same challenges, difficulties and opportunities.

3) Social marketing is currently seen as a bit of a niche application. However, through structure and cohesion, the aim is to widen the scope and engage at policy, strategic and tactical levels.

4) I think I’m a social marketer at heart.

Friday’s meeting felt like an exciting step forward, not only for my marketing practice, but for the development of marketing and social marketing overall.

Let’s see what the next twelve months bring…

If you’re a social marketer and want to share your thoughts, I would love to hear from you. Are you part of a local, national or international social marketing group elsewhere on the globe? If so, what are your experiences?

FOOTNOTE: Friday’s meeting was probably the friendliest meeting of its type that I’ve ever been to… Great bunch of people with incredible drive, enthusiasm and expertise – loved every moment of it and hope for great things in the future!


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