“What Do You Do?”

Aug 11

When you meet someone for the first time (friend of a friend, parent of a friend, someone random on the street who starts talking to you), you are inevitably compelled to make conversation.  Sometimes it’s small talk.  Sometimes it’s more substantial.  But always…always…the question comes up.  “What do you do?”

When I first started at Ogilvy, I used to say “Social Marketing.”  But then the endless amount questions followed.  How do you explain something so complex to a person you hardly know?  They may have little understanding of communications and marketing, never mind the intricacies of behavior change principals we employ on a daily basis.  After a few months of looking at confused faces as I tried to articulate myself around the concept of social marketing, I changed my answer.

“What do you do?” they would ask.  And I began say “Cause Marketing.”  With this answer, people immediately understood that my job involves marketing for the ‘good’ of society.  People got it.  Well…kind of.  Cause marketing technically involves for-profit businesses helping out non-profit cause(s) in one way or another, whether it is through corporate giving, or through collaboration on other cause-related programming.  But I also personally work on behalf of two public Federal agencies.  So my answer “Cause Marketing” wasn’t really accurate across all of my accounts.

Social marketing involves the application of consumer marketing principles to the promotion of ideas and practices to create awareness and change attitudes and behaviors regarding social issues.   Public safety, violence reduction, environmental sustainability, the promotion of volunteerism, and health and well-being are all social marketing topics, just to name a few.   Social marketing can be used to change intentions around perception of risk and social norms, and can additionally provide skills needed to carry out specific behaviors to improve the health and safety of individuals, or of a population, or even of an ecosystem.  (Imagine saying this at a dinner party…)

My conclusion: There is sometimes an overlap between social marketing and cause marketing.  For example, one project I work on involves a corporate organization that aims to advance education.  We apply behavior change tactics to encourage people to give back to their local educational communities, reward teachers for hard work, and volunteer in their local school systems.   Social marketing. The project also involves corporate giving to educational non-profits through corporate social responsibility.  And with this, the program promotes consumer purchasing behavior.  Cause marketing.

“What do you do?” I now have it down to just a few short and sweet sentences:

“I work in social marketing.  I use traditional communications principals and apply them to help others change their behaviors for the ‘social good.’ It’s kind of like cause marketing—making a difference.”

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 11th, 2010 at 10:07 am and is filed under Behavior Change, Social Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

5 Responses to ““What Do You Do?””

  1. Allie says:

    Oh! Now I get it! Thanks for a well written description of your field. Sounds fascinating and for the good of all people! Great video too.

  2. I’ve been struggling with this for over 15 years, and it’s only more complicated now because as soon as you say “social marketing,” people think you’re talking about social media marketing.

    I usually say something like…”I work in a field called social marketing, which uses commercial marketing techniques to help people become healthier or adopt other behaviors that help them or society in some way. It’s things like keeping kids from starting to smoke or getting people to take care of the environment.” …at which point people usually get it and start feeling very jealous of my awesome job.

    I like your phrase “to help others change their behaviors for the social good.” Careful though not to limit social marketing to communications, because it’s much more than that!

  3. Michaela Thayer says:

    Thanks Allie. It is quite fascinating! And Nedra, thanks so much for your comment. I like your description of “what you do” as well. It’s interesting because social marketing programming often involves social media as a channel to reach target audiences, but it is completely different. Good point on the fact that social marketing is more than communications…partnerhip development and maintenance, engaging local communities, managing grantees, planning national-scale events…prior to joining Ogilvy, I never dreamed I would be involved in the amount elements that are a part of our field. It’s pretty exciting :).

  4. Sarah O'Farrell says:

    Social Marketing is a passion of mine, and trying to explain it to people has turned into an artform! I’m not to sure how sucessful I have been, but most people I know seem to get it after I give them my little blurb (or at least they act like they get it!), which runs something like this:

    Social marketing involves applying commerical marketing techniques to solving societal problems. For instance, marketers combine and use knowledge from a whole range of fields as diverse as psychology (especailly motivational theory, identity construction and learning), sociology, anthropology, behavioural economics, neuroscience and innovation studies, to cause consumers to act in a particular way – ultimately, to buy their product. Marketing is not simply advertsing, rather it encompasses a profoundly intelligent fundamental understanding of human behaviour, which is used to get certain types of people to act in certain ways, i.e. drink lots of brown sugar water, buy clothes that may not suit us, take out loans for cars we cant afford, and even do good stuff, like getting us to donate to charity or buy organic food. Advertising is but a tiny, albeit hugely visible, element of this whole behaviour determining process. It is not unlike icing.

    Marketers have proven themselves experts at influencing and eliciting specific behaviours through the judicious application of resaerch, insight and analysis, and indeed have been responsbile for creating many behavoural epidemics. Their power and competence is evident in the very fact that every capitalist society has become a consumer society.

    Being experts in human behaviour, and how to ‘manipulate’ it, marketers are increasingly becoming aware of their power to effect mass scale, pro-social change, using the very tools and insights that have traditionally been applied to incresing consumption behaviours. The possibilities to use this expertise for good are limitless and phenomenally exciting – by knowing how to shape behaviour, we have the ability to tackle, and even solve, such profound man-made problems as climate change, health epidemics, criminality and gang culture, education deficits and poverty.

    Great marketers understand how and why people do what they do better than they understnad themselves. Social marketing leverages this to create mass behaviour change that is of benefit to everyone society.

  5. Michaela Thayer says:

    I like your analogy comparing advertising to icing. Advertising works…if you truly know your audience. And it is often a part of social marketing campaigns, particularly in the form of public service announcements. But it is also simply a PIECE of a larger effort to reach humans and influence their behavior in a meaningful way.