Social Marketing: Using marketing principles and techniques to improve contraceptive access, choice, and use

Social marketing seeks to leverage marketing concepts to influence behaviors that benefit individuals and communities for the greater social good. It uses behavior change theory, market research, and consumer insight to inform the delivery of health information, products, and services that are attuned to client’s needs, values, and preferences. To do so, social marketing defines its program objectives and utilizes the following four foundational elements of marketing (i.e., the 4 Ps: product, price, promotion, and place) to develop strategies to achieve them. There is growing recognition of the importance of policy in supporting the 4Ps. The 4Ps plus policy can be defined as follows:

  • Product: a good or service offered to a specific market segment or priority group.
  • Price: clients’ willingness or ability to pay, considering financial and opportunity costs and competition with other similar products.
  • Promotion: communication and/or advertising about the product or service targeted to the market segment or priority group.
  • Place: availability and distribution channels to reach the target market segment, linked to promotion channels.
  • Policy: policy revision, adoption, and/or guidance to ensure a healthy market.

Social marketing success is ultimately about creating sustained behavior change, which goes beyond changing knowledge and attitudes around family planning. What distinguishes social marketing from other behavior change approaches is the notion of value exchange, or the idea that the target audience will adopt or select—a contraceptive method, product, or service—in exchange for perceived benefits.

This notion is rooted in commercial marketing and is evidenced by the many daily consumer behavior decisions we make to purchase one product/service/brand over another due to perceived benefits such as efficacy, value for money, brand status, and improved health. Marketing offers a useful lens through which program designers can leverage the cost/benefit, risk/reward, and incentive/disincentive calculations made by consumers in everyday decision making as they design family planning strategies that create value in the mind of the client and reduce barriers to access.

In addition to promoting behavior change, social marketing programs are also designed to expand the range of contraceptive options available and/or increase when, how, and from whom clients can obtain methods and services (for further information of related HIP briefs to increase access, see: Community Health WorkersDrug Shops and PharmaciesSocial Franchising HIP briefs). Social marketing can serve as a bridge to developing a commercial market in a nascent context where family planning use is relatively low or where the public sector is the dominant source for family planning products and services. Social marketing programs can also work in harmony with an existing commercial market if strategies (e.g., for target market segments and pricing), plans, and relevant stakeholders are coordinated. An ideal family planning marketplace includes a range of actors offering consumers choices of high-quality family planning products at different price points and locations. Such a marketplace can reduce the burden on the public sector by shifting clients who can pay commercial or subsidized prices to private sector sources of family planning. When governments support and invest in strengthening and diversifying the market that comprises the health system, they facilitate opportunities for greater resilience of family planning access and method choice. Governments should provide stewardship—through supportive policies, leadership, and coordination—to ensure that public sector, social marketing, and commercial actors are respectively reaching the desired targeted segments of the population and are able to succeed in the market and meet users’ needs.