Key Social Marketing Terms

Determinants of behavior
4 Ps of marketing
Market research
Market strategy
Target audience





See Intervention activities

Appeal A message quality that can be tailored to one's target audience(s). This term refers to the motivation within the target audience that a message strives to encourage or ignite (e.g., appeal to love of family, appeal to the desire to be accepted by peer group, appeal to pride in one’s identity group).
Attitudes An individual's predisposition toward an object, person, or group, that influence his or her response to be either positive or negative, favorable or unfavorable.
Audience See Target audience
Audience profile A formal description of the characteristics of the people who make up a target audience. Some typical characteristics useful in describing segments include media habits (magazines, TV, newspaper, radio, and Internet, etc.), family size, residential location, education, income, lifestyle preferences, leisure activities, religious and political beliefs, level of acculturation, ethnicity, ancestral heritage, consumer purchases, psychographics (See Multivariate psychographic characteristics).
Audience segment(s) A subgroup of people within the target audience who are enough alike on a set of characteristics such as risk for the health problem, behaviors, behavioral determinants (See Determinants of behavior), demographics and/or psychographics that one can develop a market strategy and intervention activities that are most likely to be equally successful with all members of the segment.
Audience segmentation The aggregation of the target population into homogeneous groups on the basis of one or more common characteristics related to the health problem, such as risk for the health problem, current behaviors, behavioral determinants, psychographics and/or demographics.



Factors that get in the way of the audience adopting  the desired behavior change. Factors may be external or internal to audience members themselves (e.g., lack of proper health care facilities, the belief that fate causes illness and one cannot alter fate, lack of skill to use a condom correctly, etc.).

Baseline study The collection and analysis of data regarding a target audience or situation prior to intervention. Generally, baseline data are collected in order to provide a point of comparison for an evaluation.
Behavioral objective Clear, specific, feasible action that you want your audience to take. The action can be a one-time event (having a vasectomy), repeated but finite (getting child fully immunized), repeated daily actions that take little effort (wearing seat belt), situational actions (using condom during sex) or permanent lifestyle changes (quitting smoking).
Benefits Advantages that the audience associates with a behavior. What the audience will obtain from the desired behavior change. (See Exchange)
Bounceback cards A pre-printed, pre-addressed, pre-paid postcard distributed with program materials. Recipients are asked to respond to a few simple questions about the materials and then return the postcard by mail.
Branding Developing words, images, and tone (See Tone) that are used consistently in all communication that promotes the desired behavior change and any associated products or services to the target audience. Brands are a shorthand way to communicate the value of the behavior change and help inspire your audience to action.


Central location intercept interviews

Face-to-face interviews conducted with respondents who are approached and asked to answer questions at a highly trafficked location that is frequented by individuals typical of the desired target audience.

Changeability The extent to which a contributing factor can be affected through an intervention.
Channels The routes or methods used to reach the target audience. (See Interpersonal channel, Small group channel, Organizational channel, Community channel, Mass-reach media channel)
Closed-ended questions Questions worded to provide respondents with a limited number of response choices (e.g., multiple-choice questions, yes/no questions, Likert scale items).
Communication campaign Goal-oriented attempts to inform, persuade, or motivate behavior change in a well-defined audience. Campaigns provide non-commercial benefits to the individual and/or society, typically within a given time period, by means of organized communication activities. (Centre for Health Promotion, University of Toronto. (1997). Available on-line at:
Community channel A communication channel in which messages are disseminated at the community level (e.g., library, supermarket, local swimming pool).

The behaviors and related benefits (See Benefits) that the target audience may prefer over the behavior you are promoting.

Competition also encompasses the organizations and persons who offer or promote alternatives to the desired behavior.

Comprehension A measure to determine whether messages are clearly understood.
Concept testing The process of learning about the target audience's responses to possible concepts (See Creative concept) on which you might base your communications materials. This process usually requires qualitative research, such as focus groups.
Contributing factors Determinants that directly or indirectly cause the problem. A contributing factor can be biological, behavioral, or attitudinal; or an element of the physical or social environment; or the result of policies related to the problem.
Convenience samples Samples of respondents in research studies who are typical of the target audience and who are easily accessible. No attempt is made to collect a random sample (See Random sample), and convenience samples are not statistically representative of the entire population being studied. Therefore, findings from studies using convenience samples are not generalizable.
Cost/benefit evaluation Examines the overall cost of a program compared to the dollar value of the effects that can be attributed to the program. These two values yield a cost-benefit ratio.
Creative Brief A document that includes information that will be needed by a creative team in order to develop concepts and messages for the communications interventions. It includes the goal and main messages of the communications, actions you want the target audience to take, and the demographic/psychographic characteristics and other key insights about the audience that should be taken into account when developing the communications, e.g., settings, channels, and activities for reaching them. Secondary audiences are also profiled.
Creative concept

The central theme of a communication effort to which all messages are related. Concepts represent the "hooks" to which an audience can connect or relate. Examples of concepts include:

1) To dispel the belief that one must go to a gymnasium or pay for a membership in a health club to be physically active, communications materials will demonstrate a variety of ways to engage in moderate amounts of physical activity outside of a gym or health club and include the phrase, "no membership needed"
2) To show women how hard it is to consume enough folic acid from naturally occurring dietary folate, materials will display a picture of many brussels sprouts with the text, "To protect your unborn child from birth defects, you would need to eat this many Brussels sprouts every day. Or, take one of these. Folic Acid. It needs to start when birth control stops."

Credibility A quality that contributes to the ability of a message source to influence the target audience. Some components of credibility include whether the message source is trustworthy, believable, reputable, competent, and knowledgeable.


Demographics Data such as gender, age, ethnicity, income, or education that can be collected from a target audience, and can be useful for defining the target audience and understanding how to design effective interventions for the target audience.
Determinants of behavior Factors, either internal or external , that influence an individual’s actions or behaviors. Behavioral science theories and models list various determinants.
Doer/Non-Doer analysis Research and data analysis method where audience members who do perform the behavior in question (doers) and those who do not (non-doers) are asked a set of six brief questions about the behavior's consequences, their ability to do the behavior, and what other people think about the behavior. Researchers then look for the differences between the doers and non-doers that suggest possible areas for effective intervention strategies.



Earned media

Coverage of your story through a letter to the editor, a press conference, an appearance on a talk show or local news program, news releases and on-air or print interviews. Such coverage is called “earned media” because you have to develop materials, work with reporters, and expend resources to get it.
Effects evaluation A measure of the extent to which a program accomplished its stated goals and objectives. Also called impact, outcome, or summative evaluation.
Environmental factor A component of the social, biological, or physical environment that can be causally linked to the health problem. (Adapted from Green, L.W., Kreuter, M.W. 1991. Health promotion planning: An educational and environmental approach. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.)
Evaluation Assessing a component of an intervention that compares what was expected to what was observed.
Evaluation plan Written plan that documents all tasks related to evaluation (e.g., designing surveys, planning data collection and analysis, reporting on findings).

The concept that people compare the costs and benefits (See Barriers and Benefits) of performing a behavior before actually doing it. The benefits must outweigh the cost in order for people to perform a behavior.

Executive summary An overview of a project, evaluation, or research findings generally presented at the beginning of a report that highlights such issues as activities that took place, why a study was conducted, how it was carried out, and results and recommendations.
Expert review Examination and critique of program plans or materials by selected people who are knowledgeable in a relevant content area.




A mental state that motivates problem-solving behavior if an action (fight or flight) is immediately available; if not, it motivates other defense mechanisms such as denial or suppression. (Green, L.W., and Kreuter, M.W. 1991. Health promotion planning: An educational and environmental approach. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, p. 431-432).

Fear appeals Attempting to elicit a response from the target audience using fear as a motivator (e.g., fear of injury, illness, loss of a loved one).
Fixed costs Non-variable costs for planning, implementing, and evaluating a social marketing program (e.g., video equipment purchased for training seminars).
Focus group interviews A type of qualitative research in which an experienced moderator leads about 8-10 respondents through a discussion of a selected topic, allowing them to talk freely and spontaneously.
Formative research Research conducted during the development of your program to help you decide on and describe your target audience, understand the factors which influence their behavior, and determine the best ways to reach them. It looks at behaviors, attitudes and practices of target groups, involves exploring behavioral determinants, and uses a myriad of methods to collect data. Formative research may be used to complement existing epidemiological and behavioral data to assist in program planning and design.
Fotonovela A print item (usually a booklet) in which a story unfolds through the use of photos of characters with their thoughts or conversations written alongside.
4 Ps of marketing Four classes of strategies and tactics to consider when planning intervention activities for a target audience– Product, Price, Place, Promotion. (See Product, Price, Place and Promotion)




Someone with whom you must work before you can reach a target audience (e.g., a schoolteacher) or accomplish a task (e.g., a television public service director).

Generalizable finding A study finding from which you can make reliable inferences about people, places, or settings similar to those in the study (Adapted from Sarvela, P.D., and McDermott, R.J. 1993. Health education and evaluation measurement: A practitioner's perspective. Dubuque, IA: Brown and Benchmark.).
Geodemographics Geographic factors and trends in a specific locale (e.g., where people live, population density, healthcare, climate, eating patterns, spending patterns, leisure activities, local industry, and outdoor activities) that can help with locational decisions (e.g., selecting a clinic site), selecting a target audience or planning local interventions. Census data and information from commercial marketing databases (e.g., PRIZM, Macrovision 50) are often used as sources for this information.
Goal The overall improvement in the health problem the social marketing program will strive to create.



Health behavior

An action performed by an individual that can negatively or positively affect his or her health (e.g., smoking, exercising).

Health communication The study and use of communication strategies to inform and influence individual and community decisions that enhance health.
Health communication intervention The use of communication activities (advertising, public relations, print materials, promotional materials, signs, popular media, etc.) to influence behavior change.
Health indicator A statistical point of reference for determining the health status of a community in response to a health problem.
Health policy intervention Using regulatory, legislative, or organizational rulings to influence and support behavior change.
Health product intervention Modifying or providing a new object that supports behavior change (e.g., needle-free blood glucose monitoring kit or journals to plan and track food intake).
Health service intervention Modifying or providing a new service to influence and support behavior change, such as STD risk reduction counseling, in-home breastfeeding consultation or a drug-use prevention hotline for parents.



Impact evaluation

See Effects evaluation.

Implementation plan Written plan that documents all tasks related to program implementation from "rollout" forward (e.g., kickoff event, newsletter mailings, conferences). This plan differs from a research or development plan that documents tasks prior to rollout (e.g., researching the target audience, concept testing, getting buy-in from stakeholders).
Incremental costs Scheduled costs for planning, implementing, and evaluating a social marketing program (e.g., replacing worn-out equipment, producing program materials, setting up call centers, etc.).
In-depth personal interviews A qualitative research method that involves a one-on-one discussion between an interviewer and a respondent about selected topics. The structure and interviewing style are less rigid than in quantitative, interviewer-administered surveys.
Indicator A single, specific measure of a general concept. For example, “number of days that you smoked during the last 30 days” is an indicator of smoking behavior. Researchers often use several indicators to represent a complex concept such as behavior.
Influencing (or secondary) audience

A group(s) of individuals that can help reach or influence the primary target audience (See Primary target audience) and is not considered part of the problem. Secondary audience(s) should be identified through profiles created for the primary audience(s). They are indirectly affected by a health problem (e.g., employers who lose money because of workplace injuries) and/or those able to affect causal factors or influence target audience members. "Influentials" can be family members, teachers, peer opinion leaders, policy makers, etc.

Interpersonal channel A communication channel that involves dissemination of messages through one-on-one communication (e.g., mentor to student, friend to friend, pharmacist to customer).
Intervention activities Methods used to influence, facilitate or promote behavior change (e.g., holding training classes to help seniors start their own walking clubs, developing a website to promote drug-free activities to youth, expanding clinic hours to improve working mothers’ access to HIV testing).




Key informants Persons or organizations whose opinions can be seen as representative of a community or target audience because of their experience or expertise with the target audience.


Start date for the public portion of a health communication effort, after the internal, preparatory work is complete, that often includes an announcement or event such as a news conference, health fair publicity, or program registration drive.





Market research

Research designed to enhance your understanding of the target audience’s characteristics, attitudes, beliefs, values, behaviors, determinants, benefits and barriers (See Determinants of behavior, Benefits and Barriers) to behavior change in order to create a strategy for social marketing programs. Also called consumer or audience research.

Market strategy A guiding plan of action for your entire social marketing program. Market strategy encompasses the specific target audience segment(s) (See Target audience), the specific desired behavior change goal, the benefits you will offer, and the interventions (See Product, Price, Place, and Promotion) that will influence or support behavior change.  Also known as the "marketing mix."
Mass-reach media channel A channel in which messages are disseminated to a large number of people simultaneously using various media (e.g., radio, TV, newspapers, billboards).
Materials Tangible products that contain the message to be delivered to the target audience (e.g., a brochure, a PSA tape, or a script for an oral presentation).
Media advocacy Using the mass media strategically to advance a social or policy initiative. Initially, the goal of media advocacy must be determined. Then a story needs to be developed based on facts and values and made meaningful to a clearly defined target audience so that it can attract attention and precipitate specific action.
Media kit A package (usually a folder) that includes items explaining a program or health issue, which is given to the media. May include such items as pamphlets, press releases, contact information, and/or camera-ready copies of materials.
Media relations The management of communication between an organization and its publics primarily through mass media outlets.
Media tracking The monitoring of radio, television, and print media over a specified period of time for a specific topic or message. Data gathered can be analyzed for content or trends in amount of coverage.
Medium Any media class used to convey a message to the public (e.g., billboards, neighborhood publications, point-of-purchase displays).
Message The memorable, explanatory words or images that capture a health communication concept. Messages are the actual words or images that communicate what you want people to know, feel, or do.
Message source The person or entity to whom a message is attributed.
Message variables Message qualities (i.e., style, tone, type of appeal, and message source) that can best facilitate change for the target audience in the settings that have been identified.
Moderator's guide A set of questions, probes, and discussion points used by a focus group moderator to help him/her facilitate the group. A guide can also contain reminders of which questions are most important to the research to help the moderator use discussion time effectively.
Monitoring and feedback The process of tracking program implementation and audience response. Includes assessments of whether materials are being distributed to the right people and in the correct quantities, the extent to which program activities are being carried out as planned and modified if needed, and other measures of how and how well the program is working. Also measures the extent to which members of the target audience are exposed to program components. Also measures the audience’s response to the program, including their feelings and perceptions about it, and whether they attended and understood an activity or message.
Morbidity Rate of disease, infirmity, or disability.
Mortality Rate of death.
Motivators Factors that help prompt or sustain knowledge, attitudes, or behaviors for a target audience.
Multivariate psychographic characteristics A set of variables that describes an individual in terms of overall approach to life, including personality traits, values, beliefs, preferences, habits, and behaviors. Psychographics are not usually related to health-specific issues, but more commonly to consumer- or purchase-specific behaviors, beliefs, values, etc.


Negative appeal A message that is focused on negative consequences rather than rewards or benefits.

Nonrecurring costs

Costs associated with planning, implementing, and evaluating a health communication effort that are due once (e.g., speaker's fee for a one-time presentation).




Statements describing the intended results of the program and the manner in which these results will be achieved. Objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.
Observational study A study where individuals are observed in a natural setting with minimal observer interaction (e.g., observing shoppers in a grocery store to see if they are reading posted nutritional charts)
Op-ed A letter, statement, or short essay submitted to a newspaper editor by a reader or representative of an organization. These pieces are featured opposite the editorial page, hence the name "op-ed."
Open-ended questions Questions worded to allow an individual to respond freely in his or her own words.
Organizational channel A communication channel in which messages are disseminated at the organizational level (e.g., corporate newsletters, cafeteria bulletin boards).
Outcome evaluation See Effects evaluation.




Individuals or organizations/agencies that contribute to the efforts initiated by a leader or head organization/agency. Partners can have a variety of roles (e.g., contribute research data, share evaluation experience, help to spread the health message).

Pilot-testing Implementing and evaluating the program or program components in a limited area for a limited amount of time at a point when you can still make program adjustments based on the pilot experience.
Place One of the 4 Ps of marketing. Place is where and when the target audience 1) will perform the desired behavior, 2) will access program products/services or 3) is thinking about your health or safety issue.
Positioning How your audience perceives and feels about the behavior change and associated benefits, products and services you are offering in relation to competing behaviors, products and services. You want your audience to view the behavior change as more beneficial, with less barriers, and done by more people they care about—more “fun, easy, and popular”—than competing behaviors. You do this by simplifying and organizing the benefits of your behavior change or product/service in a way that is powerful and memorable to the target audience. Positioning is made tangible through the “brand.” (See Branding)
Positive appeal A message that is focused on benefits or rewards rather than negative consequences.
Pretesting A type of formative research that involves systematically gathering target audience reactions to messages and materials before they are produced in final form.
Prevalence A measure of the extent of a disease or health problem in a population based on the number of cases (old and new) existing in the population at a given time.
Price One of the 4 Ps of marketing. Price refers to the financial, emotional, psychological, or time investment costs or barriers (See Barriers) the audience members face in making the desired behavior change.
Primary research The process of collecting one’s own data about the audience and health problem, from designing the method of data collection through analysis and reporting on the new information.
Primary target audience The group(s) of individuals that your social marketing program seeks to reach and influence. This group is a selected portion (or segment) of a larger population that is directly affected by the health problem.
Product One of the 4 Ps of marketing.  Some social marketing programs offer tangible products or services that facilitate behavior change.  In others, a bundle of intangible benefits is offered to the audience in exchange for doing the desired behavior.  From a broader perspective, the behavior change itself can be viewed as the product of the social marketing intervention.
Promotion One of the 4 Ps of marketing. Includes the communication messages, materials, channels (See Channels) and activities that will effectively reach your audience to promote the benefits of the behavior change, as well as to describe the Product, Price and Place features of your program.
PSA Acronym for Public Service Announcement. PSAs are typically aired or published without charge by the media. Can be in print, audio, or video form.
Psychographics See multivariate psychographic characteristics.
Public domain Materials or text that are not under copyright to any person or entity. These materials and text can be reproduced and used without obtaining permission from the producer or paying fees or royalties. Items produced by the federal government are frequently considered to be in the public domain.
Public relations The methods and activities employed in persuading the public to understand and regard favorably a person, business, or institution.


Qualitative research Research that collects data that appear in words rather than numbers. Useful for collecting information about feelings and impressions. Focus groups and in-depth personal interviews are common types of qualitative research.

Quantitative research

Research designed to count and measure knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Yields numerical data that are analyzed statistically. Surveys are a common type of quantitative research.



Random sample

A sample of respondents in which every individual in the population has an equal chance of being included in the sample.

Readability testing Applying a formula to written materials to predict the approximate reading grade level a person must have achieved in order to understand the material.
Recall The extent to which respondents remember seeing or hearing a message that was shown in a competitive media environment; usually centers on main idea or copy recall.
Recurring costs Costs for planning, implementing, and evaluating your program that occur at regular intervals (e.g., salaries, utility bills, rent, etc.).


Saturation Achievement of a message gaining wide coverage and high frequency designed to achieve maximum impact.
Screener An instrument containing short-answer questions used in the recruitment process for research methods such as focus groups and central location intercept interviews. Interviewees' answers to the questions determine who is and who is not eligible to participate in the research.
Secondary audience See Influencing audience
Secondary research Research that involves obtaining, synthesizing, and analyzing existing data about the problem and/or population.
Segmentation The process of dividing a target population group into homogeneous subsets of audience segments based on some common factors related to the problem, usually risk, behaviors and behavioral determinants (See Determinants of behavior). Psychographic factors (See Multivariate psychographic characteristics) and demographics help define a segment as well.
Self-administered questionnaires Questionnaires that are filled out by respondents. These can be distributed by mail, handed out in person, or programmed into a computer enabling respondents to enter answers electronically.
Setting A location or environment where the target audience can be reached with an intervention activity or message (e.g., a grocery store is a setting where audience members can be reached with a new product like a healthy recipe cookbook, a beauty salon is a setting where audience members can be reached with peer education; the workplace is a setting where audience members can participate in exercise activities).
Sigma encoding A process in which an electronic device is attached to each videotape copy of a public service announcement sent to television stations. When the PSA is aired, a signal is sent to a central location where records are kept on when, where, and how often the PSA appears.
Small group channel A communication channel in which messages are disseminated at the small-group level (e.g., meetings on health topics, cooking demonstrations, group counseling, etc.).
Social Determinants of Health Social determinants of health (SDOH) are factors and resources essential to the health of communities and individuals. These include income, shelter, education, access to nutritious food, services, community norms and cohesion, and social justice.
Social marketing The application of commercial marketing technologies to the analysis, planning, execution, and evaluation of programs designed to influence the voluntary behavior of target audiences (See Target audience) in order to improve their personal welfare and that of their society. Social marketing-driven programs, which incorporate more than messages (See Message), include components commonly referred to as the "4 Ps"-product, price, place, and promotion (See 4 Ps, Product, Price, Place and Promotion).
Stratify To arrange the population at large into population groups that can be targeted for an intervention.
Style A message quality that can be tailored to one's target audience(s). This is a general term that refers to such issues as presenting cartoon figures vs. detailed graphs, or using flowery, embellished text vs. short or pithy text.
Summative evaluation See effects evaluation.
Sunk costs Costs for planning, implementing, and evaluating your program that have already been expended and cannot be recovered.
Surveillance The continuous or routine monitoring of health- and safety-related beliefs, attitudes, behaviors and health outcomes at regular intervals over time.



Talking points

Prepared notes used by a speaker to guide his or her presentation.

Target audience

The group(s) of individuals that your social marketing (See Social marketing)  program seeks to reach and influence. This group is a selected portion (or segment) of a larger population that is directly affected by the health problem.

The primary audience is group who you want to see make behavior changes.  The secondary audience consists of individuals who can exert influence on the primary audience.  Your interventions may target one or both audiences.

Theater testing A research method in which a large group (60-100, sometimes up to 300) is gathered in a theater-style setting to view and respond to audiovisual materials such as commercials or PSAs. Control audiovisual materials are also shown to lend realism and help check how memorable the materials being tested are in comparison.
Theory-based evaluation Evaluation that shows how each specific program activity is linked to a corresponding program effect.
Tone A message quality that can be tailored to one's target audience(s). This term refers to the manner in which a message is expressed (e.g., a fatherly tone, an alarming tone, a friendly tone).




Variable A characteristic of an object of measurement that can take on a range of values. Examples of variables are height, test scores, and gender.

Variable costs

Costs for planning, implementing, and evaluating your program that change with the size of the program (e.g., printing costs vary by the size of the order.).










End of Definitions