This week I attended the Change Conference 2018 in Brisbane that focused on social marketing and behavioural change, organised by Griffith Social@Marketing from our Business School.

Social marketing is (and yes I had to google this…) “the use of marketing theory, skills and practices to achieve social change”.

The conference featured a great line up of speakers who all had practical experience in creating and developing social marketing campaigns.

It was their shared insights in particular about how some of the campaigns did not work, what did work, and how they learned through that process to become more effective communicators and creators of social change.


Busting assumptions is crucial

Many of the speakers again and again pressed the need to bust our assumptions.

Most ad campaigns and social marketing initiatives start with a brief that includes a set of assumptions as to why particular behaviour is occurring.

Those assumptions then guide much of the design and execution process as to how that behaviour can and should be changed.

Yet, if these assumptions turn out to be wrong, then much of the effort (and money) are simply wasted.

One of the most rememberable keynotes for me was Penny Burke, the director of Essence Communications.

She gave us many examples of where marketing had used wrong assumptions to try to improve sales.

One was Harley Davidson and how two CEOs had very different assumptions as to how to increase sales.

When the bike sales were low, the previous CEO argued that it was about low quality that was stalling the sales, and set $2 million-dollar budget to improve the quality of the different bike parts.

That financial year, no one bought more Harley Davidsons.

The next CEO however did not see the improving of the bikes as the goal but simply constituted that “Harley Davidson is not a vehicle manufacturer but a lifestyle choice”.

It’s about enabling people to acquire a particular identity rather than a highly performing bike (sorry for all motorbike enthusiasts, am not weighing in on bike discussion here).

So it is very much about what our founding assumptions are about a particular product, how it should be marketed and sold, and what that means then for designing and executing campaigns.

Another speaker told us about several different campaigns where she and her team had to revise their founding assumptions about what the actual problematic behaviour and the target group were even during the marketing campaign.

The message here is that the founding assumptions play a massive role what approach you take in your social marketing.

If those are false, there is very little chance that you achieve the outcome you aim for.


Logan Together: Innovative example of collaboration

A good example is a project “Logan Together” where there is a highly multicultural community and where messages need to be understood by various culture and language groups.

The team came up with using ducks in the pictures rather than people as most pictures would have acquired a child from each ethnic group to be “inclusive” and to be politically correct.

The project has been a great engaging exercise as it focused on creating value to the community members first by finding out what they value and then focusing on supporting those values and outcomes.

Rather than going from “these behaviours need to be fixed”, the project has embraced a mindset of “how can we support the community to exercise those behaviours that in their eyes add value”.

The key concern has been childhood wellbeing and education opportunities and capacity in the community and so the project has really looked at how to improve children’s and families’ overall wellbeing through a range of initiatives.

It is an intergenerational anti-poverty project (10-year!), which is such a cool framing as it also engages the whole community and all other stakeholders who are contributing to the outcome and process.

The project has been funded by local, state and Federal government and other partners, which is rare as most projects only have one government funding source at community level.


Not everything can be online

And now something more random… my ultimate favourite ad campaign that was featured was Emma.

It is about toilet paper.

I am obviously all in favour of the woman who loves reading books (actual books, not a tablet) and likes putting sticky notes up, and teach her child to play.

But what this ad does is in so many ways to question about our society and how we can’t have everything just on digital mediums.

Some basic needs won’t be met by looking something up online, probably ever.

I bet the husband was thankful in the end that they still had some real paper around.

Although there are some many reasons why we need to use less paper in general (and there are companies like Who gives a crap that only use recycled paper in their products), it is a great reminder that not everything needs to be changed just because it is the “old way” of doing things.

It also made the point that there are so many ways to communicate a particular idea, and that humour needs to be amongst those if you want to reach people.


IPCC and social marketing

To my surprise, the very first keynote raised a number of ethical concerns and featured also the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Professor Gerard Hastings from University of Sterling spoke about our consumer culture, what it means to sell ideas and brands, and how our society and consumer culture are often good at ignoring the inherent problems in our systems and values.

The IPCC 1.5 report featured strongly in his presentation: both as a sign of where things are at (bad) and how this could be an opportunity for social marketing to make a difference (for the better).

Professor Hastings stressed how the new report should really be seen as an opportunity for all social marketers to design campaigns and research that could enable people to change their behaviours but also the broader global societal system that we are all part of.

As an IPCC author, I was very impressed to see that other fields, such as social marketing, are really thinking about our climate issues as well, and I see so many linkages and potential for collaborations with this area of research.

But this is also a question for organisations like IPCC: how do we find meaningful ways to communicate our messages that are often heavy on the scientific knowledge?

What are the best and most effective means in actually reaching people, and how do we tap into and focus on values rather than just trying to enforce behavioural change.

Scientific organisations can do so much more in using the tools, methods and theories that are embedded in social marketing, and learn from the tested ways of translating knowledge into meaningful messages that make people think, and hopefully in the end also to act.

This blog post by no means makes justice to the all amazing presentations during those two days, so much more to discuss and discover.

Bottomline for me is that there are so many methods, theories and tools out there that could be highly beneficial also in my own field and I’ll continue looking into some of the (to me new) frameworks and tools and how these could be useful for climate adaptation, and also for personal branding.