Key Social Marketing Concepts
[Contents: Barriers ~ Benefits ~ Competition ~ Determinants of behavior ~ Exchange ~ 4 Ps of marketing ~ Market research ~ Market strategy ~ Place ~ Price ~ Product ~ Promotion ~ Target audience]


Hindrances to desired behavior change that are identified by the audience. These may be factors 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.).


Advantages that the audience identifies which may or may not be directly associated with a behavior. These can be framed as the positive results, feelings, attributes, etc. the audience will obtain from the desired behavior change. Benefits are what you offer to the audience in exchange for the new behavior. (See Exchange) It’s “what’s in it for them.”

For example, mothers (audience) will create a loving bond with their newborns (benefit) when they breastfeed for at least 6 weeks (behavior).

Competition The behaviors and related benefits (See Benefits) that the target audience are accustomed to or may prefer over the behavior you are promoting (e.g., using the elevator competes with taking the stairs because of ease and quickness, having potato chips with lunch competes with including a fruit and vegetable at each meal because of taste and low cost; formula feeding competes with breastfeeding because of convenience and participation by other family members). Competition also encompasses the organizations and persons who offer or promote alternatives to the desired behavior (e.g., fast food restaurants offer less healthy food choices, infant formula makers promote their products to new mothers, friends may encourage a college student to drink until drunk).
Determinants of behavior

Factors (either internal or external to the individual) that influence an individual’s actions or behaviors. Behavioral science theories and models list various determinants.

For example, "degree of readiness to change" is a determinant within the Transtheoretical or Stages of Change model.

Examples of determinants from other theories/models include locus of control, self- efficacy, perceived risk, etc.


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. Exchange provides a way for you to understand the costs and benefits a target audience (See Target audience) associates with a desired behavior change. Apply this concept by offering to the audience benefits they want in return for making the desired behavior change.

For example, you give them a sense of being cool, “in,” and accepted by their peers if they give you themselves as drug-free adolescents. (Programs also receive benefits, such as improved health status, increased immunization rates, or recognition and funding from the audience performing the behavior.)

4 Ps of marketing Four domains of influence to consider when planning intervention activities for reaching a target audience from multiple perspectives – Product, Price, Place, Promotion. (See Product, Price, Place and Promotion)

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 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) and influencing audiences (See Target audience), the specific desired behavior change goal, the benefits you will offer (See Benefits), and the interventions that will influence or support behavior change.

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. Leads you to offer services or products in a location and manner that it is convenient and pleasant for the target audience. Leads you to offer information when and where the audience is already thinking about your issue.

For example, interventions may include offering immunizations in a neighborhood or mobile clinic; offering nutritional information on a restaurant menu or grocery store food shelf; or placing condom vending machines in club or bar bathrooms.


One of the 4 Ps of marketing. Price refers to the costs (financial, emotional, psychological, or time costs) or barriers (See Barriers) the audience members face in making the desired behavior change. Leads you to plan interventions that reduce the costs of the desired behavior or increase the costs of the competing risk behavior.

For example: training mothers in techniques for reducing embarrassment about breastfeeding in public, like pumping breast milk before going out; offering a lunch-time walking “club” at work to address barriers of lack of time and convenience; or raising cigarette taxes to increase the financial costs of smoking.


One of the 4 Ps of marketing. Product refers to: 1) the desired behavior and associated benefits you are asking the audience to do; 2) tangible objects or services that support or facilitate behavior change.

Examples of the first include: receiving a winter flu vaccine, with the benefit that you are more likely to be able to spend holidays with your family rather than in the hospital; exercising a certain amount, with the benefit that you feel more energetic and more in control of your life.

Examples of the second include a journal to plan and track weekly exercise activities or a hotline that parents can call with questions about drugs.

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 the Product, Price and Place features of your program. Messages may be delivered through public relations, advertising, print materials, small-group or one-on-one activities (mentoring, counseling, workshops, demonstrations, presentations) and other media. Leads you to consider the type of media your target audience attends to, when and where they will attend to your messages, and the characteristics of the communication. (See Appeal, Tone, Style, Message source)
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.