R. Craig Lefebvre, Ph.D., is an internationally known designer of public health and social change programs. He is chief maven of On Social Marketing and Social Change,” has been ongoing since 2005. He is the author of On Social Marketing and Social Change: Selected Readings 2005-2009 and a forthcoming textbook on Social Marketing (Jossey-Bass, 2013). The interview was conducted by Don Akchin, a principal of and a frequent contributor to the MKCREATIVE blog., a consulting practice, and is a Research Professor at the . His blog,
MKC: You got into blogging back in 2005. You must have been one of the first ones.
CRAIG: I was in there pretty early.
MKC: Does the blog get much response? Is there a conversation going on?
CRAIG: I would say there are periodic conversations going on. In the neighborhood of 4,000 people a day are coming on to it. It’s a long way from six years ago, when we were getting readers by the ones and twos!
MKC: What was your original purpose in blogging?
CRAIG: There were two things. One was to have a place for me to keep notes and keep track of things I was coming across on the web − almost a diary of ideas. Then quickly that evolved into something that could be a resource for others who were also looking for ideas, and some evidence on how to go about solving different types of problems they were faced with.
MKC: Has it worked out as you expected?
CRAIG: I don’t think I had a lot of expectations, except that a few people might want to read it. I’ve been surprised by how many people and from how many hundreds of countries have been on the site. The blog tends to show really well in searches now, so people who are looking at marketing and social change and social-entrepreneurship questions get directed to me as well. It has turned into one of those beacons or resources for ideas, which has been gratifying as well.
MKC: You commented recently that it was a great time to be a social marketer. Can you elaborate on that?
CRAIG: Social marketing is the application of marketing for doing good in the world. What we’re seeing is a lot of government attention − not necessarily in the US, a lot of attention from nonprofits, and a lot of attention from businesses on how we can apply marketing to analyzing some of these complex social puzzles or wicked problems that we have. The governments of Australia and the UK have set in their health promotion policy guidelines that they want to see more social marketing applications for solving issues like smoking and childhood obesity. When you go to Bangladesh and the developing world, they are looking at marketing as a way of addressing significant systemic problems they are facing as they move from a developing to a middle-income or developed economy. I think there are more people looking at marketing as a resource for improving the world as opposed to what commercial marketers do for profit.
MKC: One of the problems of success is getting social marketing confused with social media.
CRAIG: I’m not sure it’s a sign of success, but of confusion.
MKC: Okay, but aren’t there examples where social media is used in social marketing?
CRAIG: Oh yes. I write about using social media in social marketing programs pretty regularly. One example is the social network that has developed for women seeking family-planning services. Social media and social networks become effective ways to reach out to friends and other women who aren’t yet involved in the program. It creates their own kind of support system that ensures that they are taking their birth control regularly. Also in breast cancer communities we’re seeing networks of women reminding each other to do their monthly self-exams. You’ve got social-network sites all over the Internet about treatment adherence and of ways of coping with a disease that are well beyond the individual/clinical encounter that we’re used to.
MKC: What are you seeing are the next frontiers for social marketing?
CRAIG: I can think of three things we will see. One is that we’re moving beyond using marketing just to try to change individual behavior. We’re looking at ways to influence organizational practices and public policies. For example, I’m involved with a project at the University of South Florida about how you can use the social marketing approach to help communities develop and pass evidence-based public policies that combat childhood obesity. How can social marketing serve to create a larger voice?
Second, marketers are getting much more interested in what are called the macro-marketing issues. How do we deal with some of these wicked problems like overconsumption? deforestation? pollution of all sorts? We’re seeing more interest and discussion around the idea of what has been called ‘de-marketing’ − using marketing to reduce consumption rather than the traditional/commercial ideal that all marketing is meant to increase consumption.
The third thing is about using marketing to create innovative solutions that are more effective, more efficient, more sustainable, and more equitable for people. As an approach to social problems or as an approach to social entrepreneurship or social design, I think the marketing approach can bring a lot of extra energy and some alternative ways to thinking of problem definition and problem solutions.
MKC: You seem to be making a good case for thinking about problems from a marketing perspective, even if you’re not a social marketer.
CRAIG: I think the marketing approach can bring a systematic perspective for thinking about how we start to solve some of these problems that we see set up for ourselves, and can help us work through that process. That’s certainly why many of us got involved in social marketing. I started off wondering how do you reduce heart disease risk factors in an entire community? Not sitting in a patient education clinic! You have to think about changes at scale, and that’s what marketers and marketing as a discipline is really all about. People who are looking to change society or change their corner of their neighborhood can find a lot of inspiration in what marketing has to offer.
You can follow Craig on his blog.
Guest blogger Don Akchin writes frequently about marketing and philanthropy at donakchin.com.
This interview series is produced with the generous support of the Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising Zone.
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