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At a time when the economy is stressed and budgets are strained, some municipalities are seeing an increase in their approval rates for budget requests and grant applications. They are also building trust and “buy-in” from their customers while also seeing a real change in behavior for the good of their communities. How is this possible?

Community Based Social Marketing is defined as inspiring behavior change for the greater social good. It is a tool box of techniques designed to measure behavior change and ensure your outreach programs and materials are truly effective and, ultimately, a responsible use of public funds. When you tackle water conservation, stormwater pollution, energy efficiency or FOG (fats, oils and grease), social marketing will allow you to take your outreach programs to the next level — giving an upper hand in your next budget planning session!

So why aren’t all municipalities using social marketing to develop their outreach programs?

The benefits might seem obvious, but for those new to social marketing the process can seem overwhelming, time-consuming, and cumbersome. In basic terms — it requires outreach that breaks from the past. Traditionally, municipal outreach program goals include sharing as much information as possible with as many people as possible, using as few pieces as possible. This allowed municipalities to check many public outreach projects off their list in a very cost effective manner. Social marketing, on the other hand, is centered on bringing laser focus to specific target audiences and specific target behaviors. Using social marketing, municipalities tend to reach smaller audiences, yet have a higher likelihood of achieving true and lasting behavior changes from that smaller audience.

Training your brain to think a little differently is not an easy task. Below you will find the basic framework for implementing social marketing techniques for your next project. Once familiar with the basic steps, and with a little practice, you will start gaining the clarity and confidence necessary to take social marketing by storm in your jurisdiction!

1) Choose the target audience. In the past, your target audience may have included the “general public”, but social marketing and the “general public” are like oil and water. You want to choose a target audience that will provide you with the greatest impact. Let’s say you want to address overwatering the lawn, then choose an audience that is more likely to overwater their lawn. This is a little bit of an educated guessing game, but the next steps will help you define that audience. Think of your target audience as a single person, and be specific. For example: a married male homeowner in a subdivision with strict covenants, in his 30s, with children, who works out of the home full time, and is on the upper end of the middle class.

2) Defining the target audience. The further you can define and truly understand your target audience, the higher the likelihood for a successful project. Using the target audience example from above, here are a few things you might want to try to obtain from your target audience to define them:

1) How they prefer to receive communication about yard care.

2) Their beliefs surrounding the target behavior of using less water on the lawn.

3) Barriers and benefits to using less water on their lawn.

There are various market research tools to help you successfully define your specific target audience. Each situation will have different needs, so you will want to consider the end goals, your target audience, and your budget before selecting a method that is right for your project. Here are a few of the most popular market research methods:

> Internal brainstorming workgroups. Typically this is the lowest cost option, but consider the pros and cons of internal workgroups first. Internal workgroups can be helpful if you are able to select members who closely match your target audience, but risky if you really need statistically significant research results. You will likely get viewpoints from only a few people, which could be spot on or really skewed — there is no way to tell until the project is over and all the money is spent!

> Online Surveys. Telephone surveys are becoming a thing of the past. With dwindling home phones, large generational gaps in the users, and the “do not call list”, it is becoming more and more expensive to successfully conduct telephone surveys. Online surveys are fairly inexpensive to conduct and links to the survey can be shared on websites, social media sites and via email. This method can be very successful, but the process must be thought out, incentives offered for completing the survey (gift cards or drawings) and be well advertised.

> Focus Groups. Focus groups can be very expensive to conduct, but typically provide you with very in-depth qualitative or conversational data. Typically, they require a facilitator, members from your target audience (compensated with gift cards, cash, or other appealing items), and an interview to pull insights about their actions, beliefs and thoughts surrounding the target behavior.

3) Setting goals and objectives. Goals without objectives are nearly impossible to accomplish. Objectives without goals may never allow you to see true behavior change. The difference between goals and objectives are often overlooked. A GOAL is a broad principle that guides your project (typically not measurable), where OBJECTIVES are specific, measurable steps that you would take to meet your goal.

4) Identifying Barriers & Benefits. The more barriers to a change in behavior overcome and the more benefits you can put out in front of your target audience — the higher the likelihood for success. Barriers and benefits do not necessarily need to be complicated, or even difficult to address. Often this step is pulled from the work you completed during your market research after defining your target audience. From our example above, a barrier to reduce water used on a lawn might be that the target audience simply does not know how much is too much. A benefit might be that they would be able to reduce their water bill by using less water and still having a healthy lawn.

5) Writing a positioning statement. Simple, but incredibly important, this one sentence will provide focus and clarity when the project starts to feel overwhelming or gets off track, giving back the confidence you need to keep moving and reach the project goals and objectives — measurable behavior change. Write your positioning statement similar to the following (fill in your project information in the parentheses):“We want (Target audience) to see (target behavior) as (describe the benefits that the target audience would encounter)”From our example above:

“We want homeowners in subdivisions to see reducing their water use for lawn watering as an easy way to reduce their water bill, protect the groundwater supplies and still have a nice lush lawn.”

6) Developing a Marketing Strategy. Though it may sound intimidating, once the target audience has been defined, goals and objectives are set and barriers and benefits are identified, a marketing strategy will pull it all together in a creative way! This is where you want to decide which outreach tools, materials or products will inspire the change in behavior you want to see. From our example above, the marketing strategy might include incentives or reminders like an automatic shut-off hose timers (given freely to a resident), a postcard with a handy “suggested watering schedule” that could hang on a fridge or maybe a reminder sticker that they could stick on their hose reel.Consider hiring a consultant to help you with the marketing strategy. This is a great way to save you time and gain creative marketing insight from the professionals. A consultant can also help you prioritize your “outreach toolkit” by providing estimated budgets for the development portion of the project.

7) Developing an Evaluation Plan. Evaluation is another very important aspect of social marketing but takes time and careful thought. The results of evaluating a social marketing project are often needed in order to gain approval for future budget requests and win grants. Frankly, the results from a successful social marketing project are hard to compete with. Evaluation requires you to really think about how the materials will be designed and distributed, followed by how you will actually measure a change in behavior. From our example, you may want to start with a pilot group of people from one neighborhood. Then monitor their water use/water bills in the months following project implementation. Hiring a consultant to help develop an evaluation plan can also be a good use of resources if you have limited time or just feel the need for a few new ideas!


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