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Marketing social marketing theory to practitioners


Social marketing (SM) literature stresses the importance of a strong theoretical foundation for successful communication and campaign building. SM theories accumulate massive amounts of evidence about human behaviour and how to change it, however, only a small percentage of SM campaigns advocating changes in behaviour such as quitting smoking, losing weight, and avoiding texting while driving currently rely on findings from previous research, theories or models. This indicates a need for more dynamic knowledge translation between academics and practitioners and more actionable guidelines for practitioners on how to find and use prior relevant research, theories and models, and make use of them in their work. We argue for the practicality and usefulness of theory at all the stages of SM campaign development. Our method relies on mapping past research, SM theory literature and practical illustrations onto the recommended components of the effective SM campaign. We explain why theory is important and discuss how the appropriate theory for a given SM context and audience can guide in setting communication and campaign objectives, segmentation and targeting, and Product, Price, Promotion, and Place strategies. Our analysis is followed by general recommendations for practitioners on how to make the best use of research findings, theories, and models. We also provide recommendations for researchers on how to make theoretical knowledge more accessible and promote dialogue with practitioners. Our goal is to encourage more SM initiatives grounded in research, theory, and models.

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Correspondence to Magdalena Cismaru.

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Levit, T., Cismaru, M. Marketing social marketing theory to practitioners. Int Rev Public Nonprofit Mark (2020).

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  • Social marketing
  • Research
  • Theory
  • Models
  • Practitioners