Social Marketing Messaging, Materials, and Channel Selection

Social Marketing Messaging, Materials, and Channel Selection

Developing messages, designing materials, and selecting channels are vital to the success of a social marketing campaign.

This article is the second in a series of articles on social marketing. To begin at the beginning, click here to read the first article.

As with any marketing campaign, the right messaging, materials, and tactics for implementation are essential to the success of a social marketing campaign. Similar to selling a product or service, social marketing uses commercial marketing techniques to promote the adoption of behaviors that will improve the health or well-being of a specific target audience.

After spending months collecting and analyzing the formative research and segmenting your target audience, you’ll be eager to get to this next stage. Using the results of your quantitative and qualitative research and analysis, you’ll develop compelling messages, create eye-catching materials, and select the most appropriate channels to develop a campaign that motivates your target audience to adopt the healthier behavior.

Social Marketing Channels

There are an unlimited number of channels that you can use to disseminate your message and campaign, and it is important to select the most effective and efficient methods of reaching each segment of your target audience. Using television commercials to reach a small target audience, such as parents of fifth graders in one school district, would be overkill. Direct mail would be more effective and efficient.

Traditionally, social marketing campaigns have successfully reached their audiences by using targeted mass media and strategically placed outdoor ads in coordination with community-based events and outreach to distribute print materials. Today, social marketing campaigns are taking advantage of social media, viral videos, mobile apps, and other technology to reach targeted niche populations.

In addition to selecting channels, social marketing campaigns should determine specific outlets within each channel. To reach college students using print ads, you would choose the weekly school paper over the local city-wide newspaper. To reach urban youth on the radio, a media buy on the local hip-hop station would work better than the oldies station.

The formats you choose are also important. You may choose to supplement the print ads in the school newspaper by sponsoring the college football team, distributing flyers at the student union, or hosting a speaking event on campus. You may negotiate the radio-buy to include a guest appearance on the station’s talk show or a remote broadcast from your community event.

Messaging for Social Marketing

Hey, hey, what do you say? Creating the right messages is crucial to the success of a social marketing campaign. If you want to change people’s behavior, you’ll need a strong call to action and to offer the audience a reward for their changed behavior. Anti-smoking campaigns have encouraged users to stop smoking so that their second-hand smoke doesn’t cause asthma in their children. To help develop messaging, use the analysis of the quantitative and qualitative research to answer the following six questions:

  1. Who are the target audience and segmented subgroups and what are they like?
  2. What action should the target consumer take as a direct result of the campaign?
  3. What reward should the message promise the target consumer?
  4. How can the promise be made credible?
  5. What are the best methods (channels, outlets, and formats) to reach the target consumer?
  6. What images or graphic elements will connect the target audience to the message?

Changing an individual’s behavior is not easy, but it’s a cornerstone conundrum in all marketing, not just social marketing. However, because personal behavior-change involves complex emotional and intellectual thought processes and adopting healthy behaviors in exchange for old habits, many people are resistant to changing behaviors.

Social scientists have studied behavior change for decades and have developed several behavior-change theories, including the Health Belief Model and the Stages of Change Theory. Understanding these theories and using them to guide your messaging will help make your campaign more successful at reaching your target audience.

Developing Effective Social Marketing Materials

The most creative part of the process is materials development. Whether it’s a print campaign with ads, posters, billboards, and push cards or a series of online videos and a website, the visual part of your campaign should be eye-catching and attention-grabbing, and, most importantly, it should carry your message.

The design you choose for social-marketing materials should be influenced by what you’ve learned about your target audience through your research and should consider the capabilities and limitations of the channels and formats you’ve selected. A birth control campaign to college-aged women might need to include a high-quality, professionally produced series of posters and push cards distributed on college campuses, at bars and nightclubs, and at beauty or nail salons. On the other hand, campaign materials encouraging homeless drug addicts to get tested for Hepatitis C may not need to be high-quality; simple flyers passed out at shelter or a testing referral list for case managers may do perfectly well for one of your tactics.

Graphic elements should be chosen carefully and tie-in with the messaging. Whether you chose stock photographs, illustrations, or your own videos, be sure these images are appealing to your target audience and do not inadvertently offend them. Again, using the research to help guide this process is critical, yet it is also essential to pretest the materials with the target audience—which we’ll cover in the next article in this series.

This is the second article in a series on social marketing. Read our first article in the series on social marketing by clicking here. Our next article is on pretesting materials, campaign dissemination, and post-campaign impact evaluation. Read it here. Want to get these articles as they come out? Sign up for our monthly news bites e-mails.

Image courtesy of sumetho/

Posted: Jul 16, 2015
Updated: Oct 09, 2019
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