We all know that there is room to develop more effective and efficient service delivery. In the past citizens have not always been seen as key drivers for such improvement; rather, they have often been viewed passive and dependent recipients of services of what experts have decided they should receive. This model is no longer tenable in a world driven by consumer expectation, with increasingly sceptical and empowered citizens.
The 'value to citizen 'model
It is becoming increasingly clear that the people with many of the answers to the big challenges we face in public service delivery are the same people who experience, and contribute to, the generation of the problems – citizens. As we seek to modernise service delivery we need to address the fundamental nature of the contract, responsibilities and power shared between state, communities and individuals, as well as the private sector and not-for-profit organisations.
Part of this realignment of the relationship between the state and citizens is the need for a true partnership in tackling big social challenges. This realignment in power is based on the need to redefine the 'value' of services in terms of what the user of the services believes are the benefits and subsequent value of the service. The old saying 'The operation was a success but the patient died' is apt here. The 'value to citizen' model that we need to develop puts citizen assessment at the heart of measuring success and developing service processes: 'social marketing'.
What is social marketing?
Social marketing is a process that can help in shifting the power balance by developing better informed, planned, executed and evaluated interventions and also by ensuring that all service provision is designed around the needs of citizens. Social marketing is not social advertising or smarter media campaigns to tell people what to do. Social marketing is a process that starts with developing a deep understanding of a social issue, and the people it impacts on, and then crafting interventions that will result in individuals and communities being able to make the changes that will improve their life experience and that of the broader community. Social marketing is a planned process of understanding, developing, testing, applying and evaluating programmes of action that produce social good.
The customer triangle model is an easy device for depicting the key features of the social marketing approach:
People at the centre
The main aim is to ensure all interventions are based around and directly respond to the needs and wants of the person, rather than the person having to fit around the needs of the service or intervention. Social marketing always starts with seeking to understand 'where the person is at now', rather than 'where someone might think they are or should be'.
Clear 'behavioural goals'
Social marketing is driven by a concern to achieve measurable impacts on what people actually do not just their knowledge, awareness or beliefs about an issue. Establishing 'behavioural goals' requires going beyond the traditional focus on 'behaviour change' to recognise the dynamic nature of behaviour within a whole population.
Social marketing is driven by 'actionable insights' about what will and will not help people to change. To develop such insight means moving beyond traditional information and intelligence (for example demographic or epidemiological data) to looking much more closely at why people behave in the way that they do
Social marketing puts a strong emphasis on understanding what is to be 'offered' to the intended audience, based upon what they value. It also requires an appreciation of the 'full cost' to the audience of accepting the 'offer', which may include money, time, effort, and social consequences.
Social marketing uses the concept of 'competition' to examine all the factors that compete for people's ability to adopt a specific behaviour and develops strategies to tackle the 'competition'.
'Segmentation' goes beyond traditional 'targeting' that uses geodemographic data to select priority groups. Segmentation also uses deeply-held beliefs and attitudes and actual behaviours to group people that share these attributes, which can then help to define interventions intended to address their specific needs.
'Intervention mix' and 'marketing mix'
In any given situation, there are probably a range of intervention options that could be used to achieve a particular goal. Social marketing focuses on ensuring a deep understanding of the target audience is used to inform the identification and selection of appropriate intervention methods and approaches that are mutually supportive.
Operational social marketing is not enough
When considering how social marketing might be able to make its contribution to the achievement of positive social goals, it is useful to make the distinction between strategic and operational social marketing. Social marketing can be used to inform and assist policy and strategy development, and to guide as well as the delivery of specific interventions. Used in this strategic and operational way social marketing should represent an attractive approach to local government to tackling behavioural issues. Social marketing sets out a transparent, planned approach to citizen-driven change based on evidence and insight which is subsequently tracked, evaluated and modified as required.
Social marketing just like marketing is not a black box but a transparent evidence and data driven approach to adding value. Social marketing is also attractive because success is measured on hard, bottom line changes in behaviour and also in terms of return on investment.
We still have some way to go, however, to embed social marketing into the heart of public policy-making and delivery. Social marketing needs to be viewed in the same way that marketing is viewed in many successful for profit and not-for-profit organisations, as the driver of the business and not a second order technical adjunct to the important business of policy and strategy development. To achieve this, the public sector needs to develop its understanding of social marketing principles if it is truly determined to put citizens at the heart of public sector delivery.
Professor Jeff French is Chief Executive of Strategic Social Marketing Ltd and Senior Vice President of the not-for-profit European Social Marketing Centre. He has over 30 years' experience at the interface between government, public, private and not-for-profit sectors. He is a visiting professor Brunel University and a fellow at King's College London.