Learning from Nike: How Social Marketing Can Be Used to Sell Healthy Behaviors

In this season of buying (and giving), SurroundHealth member and Guest Blogger, Katherine A. Margolis, PhD reminds us to use power of social marketing to sell healthy behaviors.  To access additional resources and insights on behavior change strategies, check out SurroundHealth — a free online community for health professionals.


You may have heard the words “social marketing” thrown around. Since the 1970s social marketing has been a buzz phrase for an effective way to persuade people to engage in healthy or pro-social behaviors. But what exactly is it? Social marketing is “the use of commercial marketing principles and techniques to promote the adoption of a behavior that will improve the health or well-being of the target audience or of society as a whole.”(Weinrich, p. 4, 2011). This means, that a social marketer may borrow techniques that Nike used to sell a pair of sneakers to get people to quit smoking or to recycle their plastic containers.  In order to do this, social marketing relies on the 4 traditional Ps of marketing (product, price, place and promotion) as well as the additional Ps of social marketing (publics, partnership, policy, purse strings).

As a health communication professor, I often get asked but how exactly do you do this? One of the best resources I have found for students and practitioners alike is a workbook entitled “Hands-On Social Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide to Designing Change for Good” by Weinrich (2011).  This book is can be very helpful to a practitioner because it breaks down the social marketing process into steps while providing thought-provoking questions to stimulate thinking.  According to Weinrich (2011) the 6 main steps of social marketing are:

  1. analysis,
  2. strategy development,
  3. program and communication design,
  4. pretesting,
  5. implementation and
  6. evaluation and feedback.

Weinrich’s book provides more information on each of these steps. But one of the keys to social marketing that I always stress is research with analysis (Step 1) and measurement (evaluation and feedback in Step 6).  A successful social marketing campaign should plan and budget for several rounds of research. The first time research will be conducted is before the campaign is even started. During the analysis stage, formative research should be conducted about the target audience and the problem. It is helpful to ask questions such as “who am I focusing on at this point and what are their needs?”

During the pretesting phase, it is crucial that materials and messages be pretested. Often due to time or budgetary constraints people want to skip this step. But this step can make the difference between a social marketing campaign that succeeds and one that fails. Here you may find out that people prefer a printed brochure instead of a website. Or you may find that the message you planned to use doesn’t resonate with your audience. It is much better to gather these insights at this point in the process when you can still make changes. In fact, in the end pretesting will save you a lot of time and money.

The last phase of measurement occurs when an evaluation is conducted of the overall campaign.  Again with shrinking budgets and limited staff people want to cut out evaluation. But a well-planned social marketing campaign should have a plan for evaluation. Evaluation can not only provide valuable feedback to stakeholders and suggest modifications for future campaigns, but it also helps you to learn and grow as a social marketer. If you are overwhelmed by evaluation and need help, check out the Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention’s evaluation framework

Social marketing is a great strategy and tool for engaging in health education and promotion. It has grown even more popular with digital channels such as websites and social media sites. However, it is important to remember that conducting research in step 1 will lead you to which channel your audience prefers.

Here’s how you can find helpful resources:

Weinrich, N.K. (2011). Hands-on social marketing : a step-by-step guide to designing change for good. (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Gateway to Health Communication and Social Marketing

This blog was authored by SurroundHealth member and Guest Blogger, Katherine A. Margolis, PhD


About Susan Collins, MS, CHES, RD, SurroundHealth Blogger

I am Community Leader for SurroundHealth (www.surroundhealth.net), a social network where health professionals from different backgrounds come together to learn from one another's expertise and to share knowledge and resources. We share a passion for improving the health and well-being of communities and individuals. I am also a registered dietitian and certified health education specialist.
This entry was posted in Miscellaneous. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s