Like most people, I love being right. It might even be a small part of why I got into the field of Communications and PR. There’s no right or wrong in Communications, you can be right all the time as long as you think about what people want and need to hear, and what they will respond to.

I remember when I was about 12 my mother told me that not everything was black and white. I knew that, but back then I just wanted everyone to come around to my way of thinking! My version of life’s right and wrongs.

But as I grew older, and definitely wiser, I stopped thinking so much about being like everyone else and more about why people think and act differently.

Why what I say about an issue to one person might really resonate, but to another it’s complete nonsense.

This is the challenge of communicating about social policy issues, about decisions and actions that affect, at some point in time, everyone’s life. We can’t craft a message that will work for everybody. We can’t explain the intricacies of a decision, the ins and outs of how a public program works, or the reasons for more or less funding in one set of Talking Points.

Most social policies are in place to help someone, but it doesn’t mean that everyone will agree with them. It’s not that black and white. And do we really want to bring everyone around to the exact same thinking?

But how diverse we are in the way we think and react also applies in the same way to our own behaviours. In society there are all types. Take the current problems with alcohol-fueled violence. In a black and white world you would reason that no one thinks having a punch up while binge drinking is okay. But that’s not the case. In fact many young adults believe this is part of some social expectation; that you should expect to see some level of violence out at a nightspot late at night. And for some, luckily only a very few idiots, it’s a behaviour they condone, promote and want to hang on to.

It takes only a few who won’t change their behaviour to ruin a night for many. So while we want to maintain diversity in our society around how people think, react and act, there’s a certain level of behaviour change required to make sure our communities are safe, happy and healthy.

When it comes to social marketing or behaviour change, we can’t expect that our message for one group will work for another. Or the campaign tactic, the viral video attempt or billboard will have the same exposure or level of influence on everyone.

For this reason one of the most important parts of effective social marketing and behaviour change campaigns is segmenting your audience. A reference on this is University of Wollongong’s research paper into using market segmentation theory to select target markets for sun protection campaigns. Specifically, the paper talks about the importance of applying marketing knowledge, including focusing on a consumer-centered approach, to social marketing.

Just as we don’t expect people’s product and buying choices to be the same, we don’t expect all people’s behaviours – social, health or environmental – to be the same.

When marketing agencies want to sell a product, they use techniques that are targeted at particular segments of their market. When we want to change behaviours we also need to use techniques targeted at different sectors of society and at different demographics. This includes the knowledge that what might be a barrier for change in one community may be completely different in another.

Segmenting your audience and deciding on the best approaches for each segment is a little extra work, but it’s worth it, and will likely make your social marketing strategy a thousand times more effective in the long run.

Side note: The Social Deck is currently working on a model that will assist organisations such as Local Councils to achieve behaviour change using a ‘lean’, social marketing approach. If you’re a Local Council or local Community Organisation and are interested in finding out more, or even piloting it in your area, please contact [email protected].

photo credit: DashDano