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Section 6. Promoting Behavior Changes by Making It Easier and More Rewarding: Benefits and Costs

Find ways as a social marketer to make the benefits of change attractive enough and the costs low enough that people will be willing to try something new.


  • What do we mean by making behavior change easier and more rewarding?

  • Why should you try to make behavior change easier and more rewarding?

  • When is the best time to address benefits and costs?

  • What are some ways to look at the benefits of behavior change?

  • What are some ways to look at the costs of behavior change?

  • How do you make behavior change easier and more rewarding?

Marge was a single mother on welfare. When welfare reform hit, she was actually glad it was happening: she wanted to go to work, and hoped that this would give her the opportunity to get off welfare once and for all. Her case worker saw her as a prime candidate for job training, and helped her enroll in a Certified Nurse's Aide program.

Although she was unsure of her ability, Marge was really excited. She had always been interested in health care, and saw this as not only a way of finding a decent job, but the first step on a long climb to becoming a nurse. She eagerly waited for classes to start.

Then reality hit. First, Marge found out that the classes were held way across town, two long bus rides away - as much as two hours. She had to find child care for her two young children, and worried about being away from them. Her case worker got her on the waiting list for an approved day care center, where child care would be free, but even one opening, let alone two, might be months away. And there was no way Marge could afford to pay a baby sitter for the 30 or more hours a week that she'd be away.

Marge was also discouraged by her intake interview for the program. The interviewer told her she'd be one of the oldest people in the class, and that, since she hadn't been in school for several years, she'd have to study hard. He didn't seem to be very encouraging, or to care much whether she succeeded or not. Marge was already worried about her ability to pass the course: the interview only increased her self -doubt.

After the interview, Marge gave up. If the training program had been closer to home, if there had been reliable child care, if the interviewer had taken an interest, Marge might have found it easier to go through with the training. The costs to her of the training program - the travel time, the child-care hassles, her anxiety about her children, her feelings of incompetence and self-doubt - simply outweighed the potential of benefits that were still vague and several months or years in the future.

When people are being asked to change their behavior, they pay attention to the benefits and costs of that change. This section will help you, as a social marketer, find ways to make the benefits of change attractive enough, and the costs of change low enough, that people will be willing to try something new.

What do we mean by making behavior change easier and more rewarding?

To make behavior change easier and more rewarding, you have to do your best to arrange things so that people perceive that they're getting the greatest benefits with the least cost possible. Alan Andreasen, in Marketing Social Change, proposes a three-pronged approach, summarized as SESDED: Superior Exchange; Socially Desirable; Easily Done.

  • Superior Exchange: This means, very simply, you have to offer the best deal for the price. If people feel they're getting large benefits at a small cost, it's clearly worth it to them to change. By the same token, if the new behavior will clearly bring benefits greater than those of the current behavior - whether actual or perceived - then change is likely to occur.

There are three ways to try to create a superior exchange, all of which will be discussed in greater detail later in this section:

  • Increase benefits. This could mean literally adding benefits to those already anticipated; providing information about benefits which people didn't know about previously; or changing people's perceptions about the importance of the benefits they know about.
  • Decrease costs. Decreasing costs could involve subsidizing actual financial costs; changing conditions to make other kinds of costs less of an issue; or, once again, changing people's perceptions about the importance of particular costs.
  • Decrease the desirability of competing alternatives. Badmouthing the competition is a standard commercial (and political) marketing technique. For social marketers, it is useful only in situations where the competition is a behavior detrimental to the health or well-being of the individual or society. If the goal is to eliminate the other behavior and substitute the changed behavior for it, then making the detrimental behavior less desirable makes sense. If the competition is a different program or treatment, then trying to discredit it may be unethical, and may easily backfire.
  • Socially Desirable. People are much more likely to adopt a new behavior if friends, family, and/or their social group approve of it or practice it themselves. In that case, there is actually social pressure to make the change.
  • Easily Done. The more easily the new behavior can be practiced, the more people are apt to adopt it. Removing barriers to participation in services, helping people gain the relevant skills to make a particular change, and providing material and psychological support are all ways to make behavior change easier to accomplish.

Why should you try to make behavior change easier and more rewarding?

There are really two simple reasons for you to try to make behavior change easier and more rewarding: it's possible, and it's important.

It's possible on two fronts:

  • Through market research, you can find out a great deal about how your target audience views behavior change. This information can help you decide just how to market it, and increase the chances that your campaign will be successful.
  • The benefits, costs, and conditions of behavior change are under your control, to at least some extent. You can change benefits, for instance, by increasing them; by altering the tone or target of an advocacy message; by attaching benefits to the behavior change itself, rather than just to its consequences; or by changing people's perceptions of their importance. By the same token, you can reduce costs by removing barriers, by providing more support for behavior change, by removing actual material costs (reducing or eliminating a fee, for instance), or by altering the circumstances or attributes of the desired behavior.

Making change easier and more rewarding is important because those can be the factors that determine whether or not people will actually make a behavior change. If they see the task as too hard, the costs as too great or the benefits as not great enough, they probably won't do what you hope they will. As a social marketer, therefore, you need to try to tip the scales on the side of change.

When is the best time to address benefits and costs?

As we've discussed throughout this chapter on social marketing, timing is important. In this case, we're not talking about time of day or time of year, but rather where in the process of change the target audience is. Here's a brief description of it, abridged from Segmenting the Market to Reach the Targeted Population:

Knowledge about the problem. The first step is knowing that the problem exists. There has to be awareness before there can be any movement toward change.
Belief in the problem's importance. Once people know about the problem, they have to believe there is a reason they should be concerned about it. That often means understanding how it applies to them personally.
Desire to change. People have to decide that there's a reason that they or the situation have to change. Many people, for instance, know that smoking is a health issue, and that it is important to individuals and society, but still aren't ready to quit themselves.
Belief in one's ability to change. Those reluctant smokers in the paragraph above have to believe they can quit before they'll make an effort to do so.
Action. At this point, individuals have resolved the previous four issues, and are ready and able to do something about the problem.
Ability to maintain the change. Once someone's taken the appropriate action, it's still not all over. Quitting smoking for a week isn't enough: quitting for a lifetime is the goal.

People are most concerned with benefits and costs - and most important to reach - when they're contemplating change. They've gotten to the point where they want to change, or even where they believe they can, but they haven't gotten to the point of taking action yet. It is at these points in the cycle when addressing benefits and costs is most effective.

Research has shown that early in their contemplation of change - when they've decided that change is really desirable - people are particularly concerned with the benefits of change, but often don't yet have a clear idea of what all those benefits are. Later in the cycle - when they've decided they actually have the ability to make the change, and it therefore becomes a real possibility - they pay more attention to potential costs. These are the times, then, when addressing benefits and costs could make the difference.

What are some ways to look at the benefits of behavior change?

It may seem that the benefits of behavior change, though dependent on the change in question, would be clear to all concerned. However, the way you view those benefits and the way your target audience views them may differ drastically. What you see as the obvious benefits of a behavior may be unimportant to others: they may be far more interested in something you regard as incidental.

A change may bring short-term or long-term benefits, or both. Sometimes the benefits don't go to the person making the change at all, but to others: her family, a particular group of people, or the society as a whole. Health and community activists most often focus on long-term benefits, and often on those that benefit larger groups. Individuals may be more interested in immediate benefits to themselves or those close to them. Market research can bring out these differences, and make it easier to couch benefits in ways that the target audience will respond to.

Some examples of various kinds of benefits

Short-term individual benefits.

  • Improvement in physical appearance and well-being.
  • Incidental improvements specific to the new behavior. (If you stop smoking, your clothes and breath no longer smell of cigarettes, for instance.)
  • Pleasure in learning a new skill
  • Enjoyment of the new behavior. (Regular exercise may take the form of a daily racquetball game, or hikes in the mountains.)
  • Economic benefits.
  • New friends.
  • Chance to meet powerful or famous people (as an advocate or spokesperson).

Short-term benefits to others.

  • Others may experience the immediate benefits of behavior change: relief from secondhand smoke, for instance, or children's benefits from new parenting or teaching skills on the part of adults.
  • Disenfranchised groups (welfare recipients, for instance, or migrant workers) may feel that someone cares about their issues, and may win at least temporary political victories (increased funding, recognition of issues, etc.).

Long-term individual benefits.

  • Better overall and lifelong health, leading to improved quality of life.
  • More skills, and a broader skill base to build on.
  • Improved economic status and/or employment and career satisfaction.
  • Better relationships.
  • Increased confidence and self-esteem.
  • Feeling of virtuousness, satisfaction of "doing good."

Long-term benefits for others.

  • A better life for children and future generations.
  • A better environment - whether physical, social, or psychological - for everyone.
  • More opportunity for others in the long term.
  • A more just world.

What are some ways to look at the costs of behavior change?

As with benefits, the target audience may view costs in a different light than the social marketer does. What might seem insignificant to one person - speaking in public or getting a shot - might represent a huge cost to another. The costs of behavior change can sometimes be measured in money, but are more often measured in other ways, as we saw with Marge, the potential Certified Nurse's Aide trainee.

Unlike benefits, most costs are direct costs to the individual making the change. In order to address them, you have to find out what costs are in fact important to the target audience, and what would constitute minimizing them. Once again, market research can help here, but you have to ask the right questions. It may take a lot of probing to find out what people see as the real costs.

Potential adult literacy learners often find many reasons not to enroll in a program. Lack of transportation and child care are two of the most common. The costs associated with these are money, time, and anxiety about their children. Another important cost is to self-esteem. Many learners find unbearable the feeling of failure that goes with admitting that they need help in this fundamental area. Even this, however, may not be at the root of their reluctance to enroll.

The real cost may be associated with upsetting the balance in a relationship with a spouse or significant other. That person may have responsibilities important to him or her as a result of the learner's lack of skills. If the learner gains those skills, then the dynamic of the relationship must change, and that's often difficult and terrifying for both partners. The situation gets even more complex if the relationship is abusive in some way, or tremendously one-sided. The possible costs to a learner and partner could be immense.

Some examples of various kinds of costs of behavior change

Economic. Sometimes costs really do involve money.

  • Members of the target audience might have to pay directly for their changes - recycling, for instance, or regular dental care - or there might be costs to taking advantage of new services or a new behavior - transportation or child care, e.g.
  • Their taxes might go up if they vote for land conservation or a new school or pollution clean-up.
  • Their behavior change might increase their consumer costs - if they lobby a power company to switch to a cleaner and more expensive fuel, for example.
  • They could put their financial security in jeopardy. A whistle blower or striker could be fired; a woman leaving an abusive partner might be giving up financial support.
  • They might affect their personal finances by voting against a tax cut, or by protesting, as shareholders, an unethical corporate action that would actually make them money.


  • Behavior change might require physical effort - cleaning up a vacant lot, exercising regularly, hanging out clothes instead of using the dryer, sorting recyclables.
  • Behavior change might cause physical pain or discomfort - substance withdrawal, inoculations and other medical tests and procedures, turning the thermostat down in winter and up in summer to conserve energy.

Time and logistics.

  • The necessity of arranging and spending travel time to and from services, volunteering, recycling, etc.
  • The necessity of arranging other support (child care, joining a support group) for new behavior.
  • Rearrangement of schedules to make time for new behaviors - volunteering, exercise, or participation in services, for instance.
  • Sacrifice of family or leisure time in order to accommodate the new behavior.
  • Behavior change may result in less sleep time.


  • The fear that a medical procedure will be painful or reveal a serious condition.
  • Anxiety about competency in the new behavior.
  • Stress over time management and responsibilities.
  • Guilt about neglecting family or other responsibilities, or about doing something your culture disapproves of.
  • The anxiety and pain caused by having to confront issues you've been avoiding.
  • The psychological discomfort caused by stopping the use of an addictive substance
  • Anxiety about change - new experiences, new people, and new ideas.


  • Loss of friendships or associations based on shared behavior (not smoking with other smokers on your break, for instance).
  • Loss of intimate relationships (leaving an abusive spouse or a gang).
  • Disapproval of or disagreement with friends and others.
  • Social pressure. (The social pressure on whites to remain segregationist in the mid-20th -century South was overwhelming, for example.)

How do you make behavior change easier and more rewarding?

Good commercial marketers don't rely solely on clever or original promotion to convince consumers to buy their products. In addition, they use their research to change the attributes, placement, and prices of the products to make them more attractive.  You can do the same, presenting change as a desirable prospect while increasing benefits and decreasing costs in order to make its accomplishment easier.

The first step is to research what your target audience wants, and what costs they're willing to bear. The next is to develop a plan for using your research, combining a promotion strategy with actions to address the benefit and cost issues your research has raised. Finally, you have to pretest what you've come up with to make sure that it does in fact satisfy the concerns of your target audience.

Find out the real reasons why people are willing to contemplate changing their behavior, and focus your campaign on those reasons. This means probing until you get to the core values or principles or issues associated with the change in question. For example, someone considering taking action in favor of environmental preservation might say she's doing it because "I love the outdoors." In fact, underlying that statement could be any - or all - of a number of basic principles:

  • Love of outdoor activity (hiking; outdoor sports such as skiing; hunting and fishing; camping; etc.)
  • Concern with aesthetics and the beauty of natural surroundings.
  • Desire to preserve natural beauty and recreational possibilities for future generations.
  • Religious or moral scruples about defacing the earth.
  • Concern about upsetting the ecological balance of an area.
  • Fairness and social justice (Why should someone have the right to destroy natural beauty simply because he has the money to do so?)
  • The need to be politically consistent, and take positions on the environment that conform, at least in the person's mind, with her positions on other issues.
  • Self-image (I want to see myself as someone who cares about the earth.)

Understanding the real value behind people's opinion on this issue makes it possible to gear both your message and your other strategies to that value. If the real value is love of outdoor activity, for instance, then a campaign emphasizing the preservation of natural beauty won't necessarily be very successful, even though it might be asking people to make exactly the same behavior change as one emphasizing outdoor activity.

Alan Andreasen stresses that you have to ask the target audience about benefits, not attributes. If you just ask people what kind of service they want, you won't know why they want it. If the research shows that people want small groups in a job training program, that still doesn't explain what it is about small groups that's attractive, or how to provide or market that concept. If what they want is a chance for more individual attention, and you emphasize that small groups make it easy to make new friends, they may not be interested.

Find out how people would prefer to accomplish behavior change. If the change involves services - e.g. taking part in a job training or literacy program, or undergoing a mammogram - it's important to know what characteristics people want in that service, and why. In many cases, the service itself, or the way it is delivered -rather than its eventual outcome - may be seen as the real benefit of behavior change.

If the behavior change in question doesn't require direct services, what form does the target audience think would give it the greatest chance for being successful? Suppose you're trying to convince people to take part in a community recycling program.

Some of the many variations this program might take:

  • Curbside pickup vs. drop-off at a collection point or at the recycling center itself.
  • Recycling of all recyclable materials, or just some.
  • Residents sorting recyclables before pickup or at the recycling center, as opposed to recycling center employees doing the sorting.
  • The program being paid for completely by taxes and/or fees; being paid for by selling the recyclables (meaning that only those materials that found a buyer would be recycled); or a combination of the two, in order to recycle everything possible.

Finding out which - or what combination - of these and other possibilities people would prefer and why would allow you to adjust the program accordingly, and raise the chances that you could successfully market it.

Find out whether others' opinions would sway the target audience's decision, and, if so, whose. Who are the people whose approval or disapproval would determine what members of the target audience do? They may be family and friends, members of the same culture, clergy, or simply society at large. Some groups of people are swayed by others' opinions very little or not at all, and that's equally important to know.

Research shows that, by and large, people who are members of tightly knit groups, and have less education and personal autonomy, are influenced by the behavior and approval of others; those with more education pay more attention to arguments that contrast costs and benefits.

Find out what benefits or costs would actually push people to make or not to make the change desired. This requires some probing. It may, for example, involve asking members of the target audience about their responses to a series of choices, on the order of "Would you take part in this program if it involved travel out of the neighborhood?" or "Would you pay up to $10 a year in increased taxes for this service? $50?" By careful questioning and eliminating of alternatives, you can determine what benefits people find compelling, and what costs they see as reasonable, or as too high.

Find out what kinds of support would make it easier for people to change. Marge might well have accomplished her change if she'd had even one of the supports she needed: some solution for the transportation problem; easily accessible and affordable child care; or emotional support and encouragement for what she saw as a difficult and potentially embarrassing task.

Develop a strategy

Start with SESDED. If you've done your research well, you have the information to tell you what constitutes a superior exchange for your target group, what defines socially desirable for them, and what would help to make the change easily done. Now you have to create a situation where

  • The benefits of the change outweigh the costs in the target audience's minds.
  • The new behavior is seen as socially acceptable and supported by those whose opinion matters to the target audience.
  • The target audience has the skills to adopt the new behavior, and can accomplish it with a minimum of hassle, logistical problems, or unnecessary extra steps.

Think about what the target audience needs to make change possible. There are three essentials for people involved in a change process.

  • Information. The more, and more accurate, information people have, the more likely they are to make good decisions.
  • Market conditions. The conditions around the change - how easy it is to achieve, how many of the barriers to it have been eliminated, how convenient it is, etc. - go a long way toward determining whether people are going to adopt it. Here's where providing material, psychological, and logistical support - offering a bonus, providing or subsidizing transportation and/or child care, arranging convenient times and places for services or activities, providing those services or activities in ways the target population desires - can really pay off.
  • Skills. People have to believe they're capable of making a change before they'll attempt it. If you can provide the necessary skills, or convince people that they already have them, the change is much more probable. That may mean conducting courses, providing group support, going door-to-door in neighborhoods and communities, or simply conducting an information campaign.

You can focus on either benefits or costs in any or all of these areas, depending upon where most of your target audience is starting from.

Decide how to maximize benefits. Earlier, we mentioned three ways to increase benefits: literally increasing them, by adding something the target audience wants; informing the target audience of benefits they may not have known about; or changing the target audience's perception of the importance of benefits.

Add other benefits.

  • This may involve:
    • Adding on an actual service or product (adding a job placement service to a job training program, for instance, or increasing the range of free food items available through a child nutrition program, or providing paraprofessional or professional training for volunteers).
    • Adding a benefit that makes the new behavior itself more pleasant, such as a movie to watch in a clinic waiting room, or coffee and snacks for job training participants.
    • Treating people well (being welcoming, supportive, respectful, encouraging, etc.)
    • Giving the target audience something extra - a certificate, for instance, a tax write-off, a social opportunity, or even, as in some job training programs, paying participants to attend.
    • Making the behavior change something that people will like for its own sake - cleaning a vacant lot or building affordable homes can be fun as well as work, if it's structured as a social occasion or a block party.

Provide new information about benefits. People may simply not know all the possible benefits of changing their behavior. Teen smokers may be aware, for example, that they'll reduce their risk of lung cancer if they quit, but they may not have realized that they'll improve their skin tone, be able to taste food better, improve their aerobic fitness, have more disposable income, and reduce their loved ones' risk of cancer and other smoking-related illnesses as well. These or other benefits of quitting may be more persuasive than the chance that they'll be staving off illness in the (for them) unimaginably distant future.

Change the perception of the importance of benefits. Those same teenage smokers might see quitting as more important if it's related to increased romantic possibilities (all those non-smokers who'll now go out with you) or athletic success. People may be more willing to contribute to a non-profit organization if they can understand that its services affect them and those they know, or that its work promotes a better society overall, rather than being narrowly focused.

Decide how to minimize costs. As with benefits, there are three possibilities here: reducing or subsidizing actual financial costs; changing conditions to reduce other types of costs; or changing the target audience's perception of the importance of costs.

  • Reduce or subsidize actual financial costs. This might entail offering services free; paying for all or part of child care, transportation, or materials; providing the opportunity to list a contribution as a tax write-off; or even simply providing a pre-stamped envelope in which to send a contribution.
  • Change conditions to reduce other types of costs. Here, in addition to providing, rather than subsidizing, such extra services as child care or transportation, you could adjust times to make participation easier (for either program beneficiaries or volunteers); change the location to reduce travel time; and set up conditions to reduce psychological and social costs (you could arrange support groups to counter social pressure; provide counseling, mentoring, or in-service training to help with skills for change; suggest getting regular exercise by playing tennis or volleyball with friends, or hiking with friends in a beautiful area; etc.)
  • Decrease the perception of the importance of costs. This is largely a matter of putting things in perspective. Some examples:
    • The comparison of what a contribution will do as opposed to what the same amount of money will buy for you ("For the cost of a meal in a good restaurant, you can feed a whole family for a month.").
    • A demonstration of how much more it costs not to change. (Most researchers estimate that every dollar spent on human services saves four dollars in the long run, by increasing employment and taxpaying, and decreasing the costs of homelessness, hunger, crime, and other social ills.)
    • An explanation that what is perceived as a cost may not be. ("There's no need to feel embarrassed in this group because you didn't graduate from high school - everyone here is in the same situation, and has similar experiences.")

Learn about and counter the competition.

The competition here can consist of anything in the internal or external environment of members of the target population (feelings, cravings, messages, social pressure, etc.) that works against the desired change. Andreasen sees competition as being of four types:

  • Desire competition. This encompasses desires that can be satisfied by not adopting the desired behavior. The simplest form of desire competition can be seen in the desire of a recovering alcoholic for a drink, but desire can take more complex forms as well. The desire to please a spouse, for instance, or to fit into a cultural role, could be equally strong. Addressing desires is difficult, and may involve group support, some medical or chemical help (methadone, e.g.), or help with alternative methods to accomplish the same purpose.
  • Generic competition. Generic competition consists of other ways that the desire that leads to behavior change can be satisfied. It may mean resorting to prayer instead of medication, or being submissive in the hope of pacifying a domestic abuser. Here, you may have to convince the target population of the effectiveness of your alternative, or offer it as something that can be used in addition to what they're already doing.
  • Service form competition. This means that the target population sees and tries to address the particular issue, but by using (ineffective) avenues other than the way you're suggesting. People who are taken in by "cancer cures," and therefore reject what might be life-saving, if unpleasant, chemotherapy, for example, may be responding to service form competition. Again, you may offer the desired change as a better option, or may offer it in addition to whatever other alternative members of the target population are pursuing.
  • Enterprise competition. In this situation, another organization or initiative is offering the same results as yours. This may mean it's offering similar services to the target population, or asking them to volunteer for or contribute to a project other than yours. Joining forces might be one possibility here (United Way is really an example of this); another would be promoting your service over others, if there's good reason to do so.

Make the new behavior socially desirable.

Another way of reducing social and psychological costs is to make people feel that the change they're making is supported by those whose opinions they value, by their culture, and/or by the society as a whole. Thus, they can make the change without risking disapproval or, even worse, being cut off from their normal relationships and interactions.

Some ways of making new behavior socially acceptable:

  • Blanket the target population and/or the community as a whole with messages showing the desired change as an accepted and normal behavior.
  • Choose respected community leaders and members as spokespersons. People are more likely to listen to those they know and respect. If those people are supporting change, they will at least be willing to listen.
  • Identify and convince opinion leaders. Everett Rogers, in Diffusion of Innovations, explains how some people are influential in spreading new ideas and behaviors. If you can identify those people in your community and get them practicing the desired behavior, they'll pull others with them.

At the beginning of the annual fundraising campaign, local United Ways recruit members of their boards and other community leaders - usually business people and professionals - to contribute large sums and serve as "pacesetters." They in turn recruit others, and convince them to contribute by pointing out how much they've contributed, that they do it every year, etc. University fund-raising efforts often proceed in this fashion as well.

  • Aim messages at those who may influence the thinking of the target population. Sometimes, it's easier and more effective to focus on those who may influence change, rather than those who may actually make the change. Convincing doctors to urge their patients to start exercising regularly may be more effective than trying to convince patients directly.
  • Get laws or regulations passed that support the desired change. Much of the reduction in smoking in recent years came about because of federal and state laws that put health warnings on cigarette packs, ended smoking in government buildings, and increased taxes on tobacco products. These laws encouraged many communities to pass their own laws and regulations outlawing smoking in restaurants, enforcing bans on tobacco sales to minors, and otherwise restricting tobacco sales and use. The laws themselves had an effect, but they also helped the public view smoking as less acceptable than in the past, and quitting as a socially acceptable and responsible act.

Make the change easily done: find ways to help the target population gain the necessary skills to make the change, and determine how to remove as many logistical and other barriers as you can.

  • Help the target population gain skills. The skills in question might be, among others:
  • Interpersonal (talking to children about drugs, participating in or leading meetings, talking to legislators)
  • Informational (understanding what particular substances do to your body, learning the history of racism in the U.S., understanding the work of an organization you might contribute to)
  • Internal (resisting the temptation to use an addictive substance, pushing yourself to exercise even if you don't want to, acting against what had been deeply-held values) Practical (learning how to tutor a student, how to take your blood pressure, or how to build a house)
  • Physical (learning to practice deep relaxation, or to perform CPR)

Your campaign might emphasize support groups or training, might provide information, might show people where and how to gain the skills they need, or might provide a product or process that will help them do what they need to (nicotine patches to help them stop smoking, for instance, as well as the group support they need to be successful in using them).

  • Remove barriers to change. Many of the most common barriers - money, transportation, child care, location, time - have been addressed above. There are also issues of safety (locating services for youth in places where they don't have to cross gang turf, for example), accessibility (physical and otherwise), comfort (adult literacy learners are often reluctant to attend classes in a high school, especially if it's the same one in which they experienced embarrassment and failure), and availability of services (many potential participants drop off waiting lists for services, volunteer positions, medical help, etc.) The more of these you can address, the more likely your campaign is to be effective.


Finally, when you have developed a strategy, you have to go back and pretest it with members of the target population. If it looks like you have everything in line, you're ready to go with your campaign. If people still find benefits unsatisfactory, or costs too high, or are still worried about what their friends and neighbors will think, then it's time to readjust until you have it right.

Once you've passed your pretest, you should be ready to run a successful social marketing campaign that results in the changes you hope for.

In Summary

When they're thinking about changing their behavior, people are concerned with the benefits and costs of the change, and you have to be concerned with them, too. The key here is SESDED: if people are to change, they need a Superior Exchange, where the benefits outweigh the costs; the change needs to be S ocially Desirable, so that friends and neighbors approve; and it has to be Easily Done, with as little hassle and as much convenience as possible.

Benefits can be short- or long-term, and may fall on the person making the change or on others. Costs can be economic, physical, logistical, psychological, or social. It's important to find out what kinds of benefits and costs people think would come from a particular change, and what they find acceptable. This can be accomplished through market research - asking members of the target population what they want and what they think.

Engaging in market research is the first step in making change easier and more rewarding for people. The next step is to devise a strategy, starting with SESDED, and understanding that what you can offer are information, market conditions (how services are delivered, for instance, or how you ask for money), and skills that will help people through the change you're asking them to make.

Your strategy should encompass maximizing benefits (by adding on to them, explaining as-yet unrecognized benefits, or changing the target population's perception of the importance of available benefits); minimizing costs (by reducing financial costs, changing circumstances to reduce other costs, or decreasing the perception of their importance); helping to make the change socially acceptable; and addressing barriers to make it as easy and trouble-free as possible.

Finally, you should pretest what you've come up with to make sure that you've understood your research correctly, and that your target audience will respond to your plans. Once you've confirmed your plan, or made the necessary changes to make it work, your social marketing campaign is ready to roll.

Online Resources

Population Services International, a non-profit social marketing organization (the world's largest) based in Washington, DC. Examples of campaigns, other information.

The Research Exchange, an online journal of the National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research. An overview of social marketing, particularly good on dealing with competition to change.

The Social Marketing Institute.

Print Resources

Alan, R. (1995).  Marketing Social Change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Kotler, P., & Alan, R. (1987). Strategic Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.