As you may have noticed, it has been awhile since I last blogged. My time has been taken teaching a wonderful course on Marketing Public Health at the UNC-CH Gillings School of Global Public Health. During this time I have also had the opportunity to conduct a number of trainings and to consult with a range of erstwhile social marketing endeavors. One thing that has stuck out to me in all of these situations is how often people tend to focus on one intervention strategy as the panacea for the social ill they are trying to make better. "We need to raise awareness." "If we just change the policy." "We have GOT to develop our brand [i.e., usually a logo]." "Let's have a community health fair." "We need to organize the community." People are seeking that one silver bullet that will that will slay the beast of the problem they are attacking. Well, my fellow change agents, we need more!
Bill Novelli, a very early adopter of social marketing and one of the founding principals of Porter-Novelli, one of the first social marketing firms in the US, is fond of quoting this line attributed to Danish inventor and poet Piet Hein: "Problems worthy of attack, prove their worth by hitting back." Most of the problems we seek to ameliorate are huge. They have existed for some time. And they have multiple determinants. My friends, we are fighting monsters and they can bite back! Like the monster hunters of old, we need not only a silver bullet, we need wooden stakes and garlic, too! (And yes, fire and swords and pitchforks!) We need a Mix of interventions!
The social marketing process, when followed correctly in best practice fashion, provides a wonderful antidote to the tendency toward single interventions. Formative research that includes an environmental scan, a review of successful and promising practices, and that seeks insight into our audiences can provide a 360 degree view of the both the determinants of a problem and potential solutions. The focus on reducing barriers to behavior and increasing benefits or facilitators for that behavior is almost disappointingly simple, but opens one up to a variety of interventions. The idea of the marketing mix (of the traditional marketing strategies of product, price, place and promotion) provides a discipline for planning that emphasizes the synergistic power of coming at a problem from several angles. (Ever hear of the principle from general systems theory that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?) Social marketing can lead us to the mix of solutions most likely to make a positive difference for our problem.
When you are fixing a salad to solve the "problem" of personal hunger sure, you may just go for the wedge of lettuce. But more than likely, you are going to add carrots and broccoli and tomatoes for taste and color and vitamins, you are going to throw on cumbled blue cheese and chicken or ham for flavor and for the protein to keep you satisfied for several hours. And you are going to top it off with a dressing (low-fat, of course) to help it go down so smooth, croutons for a satisfying crunch, and some fruit on the side for a sweet finish.
Do the same when you are planning your interventions. Go for the whole salad bar, not the just the lettuce. Quit looking for the one silver bullet, get the stakes and garlic out too, and light a bonfire. We are fighting monsters--and for the sake of our audiences and our communities, we need to use the right tools. You do want to win, right?!