When is social marketing not social marketing? When it’s social marketing.
Confused? You’re not alone. In fact, this lack of clarity is an issue affecting many in the marketing industry.
Lets explore – then I want to know where you stand…
Beginning at the beginning, what is marketing?
An often-asked question, and one to which there are a multitude of answers. However, I’m a behaviourist, so I nail my flag to the following colours:
“Marketing is the process of influencing an individual’s behaviour towards a mutually beneficial outcome for the individual and for the brand”.
Of course, this is only the crudest of outlines, but you get the general idea. It allows room for manoeuvre across channels and departments, and gives the impression that marketing isn’t a big hammer designed to crack the audience’s nut, but rather a series of laser-tight inputs to produce multiple ripple effects.
Furthermore, it stresses the mutual benefit of the outcome and concentrates on the behaviours which drive adoption, uptake, repeat custom etc.
So that’s that. What about ‘social marketing’?
The dichotomy between social marketing and social marketing was highlighted in a blog post by Steve Goldner (which I disagreed with).
Steve’s contention, held by a lot of the marketing industry, is that social marketing consists of things like Target Market Insights, Content, Influence, Listening, PR etc as a way of getting the “target audience to get deeper in a relationship with [the] brand”.
He’s not wrong, exactly. I just didn’t think that he was totally right in the ‘social marketing’ context either.
Meanwhile, the National Social Marketing Centre suggests:
“Social Marketing is an approach used to develop activities aimed at changing or maintaining people’s behaviour for their benefit.
“Whereas marketing in the commercial world ultimately seeks to influence consumer behaviour for profit, social marketing encourages behaviours that provide benefit for individuals and society as a whole.”
These are two different things.
Following my comment on Steve’s blog, a fairly spirited discussion erupted between Tom Megginson, Marc Van Gurp, Nedra Weinreich and myself over on Twitter, which ended with a conclusion of confusion in the industry, and the probable need for Social Marketing, in the NSMC sense, to rebrand.
You see, social marketing in the Steve Goldner sense is actually marketing which is social. I.e. connects consumers with brands for profit and isn’t too much of a wet blanket while doing it.
Social marketing, in the NSMC sense, is actually social change marketing, as Nedra so helpfully added to the conversation.
Neither are social media marketing (which a lot of people call social marketing), although both may involve social media. This particular confusion has been going on since at least 2009…
These aren’t contradictory viewpoints, but they are different.
Both Steve’s interpretation and that provided by the NSMC are complementary. Marketing should always be social (non-douche-like, to use a colleague’s expression), and this approach will help social change marketing messages embed and spread within their target communities.
However, they are genuinely different – due to the motivations of the brand/organisation carrying out the marketing in the first place.
(I’m bypassing the ‘social media marketing’ as ‘social marketing’ argument for the moment because social media is nothing more than a channel. The other definitions are marketing ecosystems which have more potential for confusion, as opposed to being just plain wrong.)
Is there a third way?
While I love Nedra’s ‘social change marketing’ terminology, I fear that this will put off a lot of suits who worry themselves grey over the monthly P&L.
It sounds very good, very righteous, very right – but not the sort of thing that you’d be worrying about if you’re trying to sell lawnmowers or chocolate (as opposed to health or environment related behaviours).
And although I get where Social Steve’s coming from, I don’t agree with that appropriation of ‘social marketing’.
There needs to be a third way – which I believe lies in the way that the brand sees themselves, their relationship to their consumers and what they stand for.
If a brand defines themselves in terms of their category and their P&L, then the best that they can hope for is marketing which is social. Although, if they’re solely brand-centric, they’ll fail the “are you being a douche” test (I really must speak to my colleague about her colloquialisms).
However, if the brand defines themselves in terms of their consumers and communities, then they legitimately stand for something, have a position on the issues which affect their consumers and can start to undertake social [behavioural] change marketing.
This is a much deeper question than ‘What’s social marketing’ and it goes right to the heart of brand architecture. I believe, unequivocally, that, as marketers, this is exactly what we need to be doing to connect with our audience, develop and deliver great work, and make that defined contribution to the bottom line.
We need to be creating social [behavioural] marketing alongside marketing which is social AND contribute to the bottom line.
At least, that’s my view.
What’s your position on the social marketing v social marketing debate?
Are you with Social Steve, or in the same field as Tom, Marc and Nedra?
Please, share your opinion by commenting below. I predict that this topic is going to gain traction over the next twelve months, so the more debate we have now, the better…
I’m looking forward to learning from you!
Neil Hopkins is a Marketing and Branding Theorist at heart, and a Marketing Communications Manager by day. His blog – interacter – is the primary location he shares insight and information relating to marketing, branding and advertising strategy.
You can follow Neil on Twitter, circle him (like an escaped bull) on Google+ or track him down in any number of other ways.
The lovely question mark image comes from Ciccio Pizzettaro on Flickr under Creative Commons.