Social marketing
Social marketing

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Social marketing

2 Understanding the nature of social marketing

2.1 Definitions of marketing

Before we focus on ‘social marketing’ we should clarify the nature of ‘marketing’ as both an academic discipline and a management practice.

Kotler and Armstrong (2008, p. 5) define marketing as follows:

Marketing is human activity directed at satisfying needs and wants through exchange processes.

Two key issues are highlighted by this definition:

  • i. Exchange – most explicitly noted in Kotler and Armstrong's definition is the core element of exchange. In commercial marketing the nature of the exchange is usually clear, i.e. a product or service for money. Although a closer analysis often reveals that even here things are not so simple, for example the price can be considered to include time spent in obtaining the product.

  • ii. Customer satisfaction – The pivotal construct in marketing is that of customer satisfaction. Commercial marketers aim to satisfy customers to a greater extent than the competition. Satisfaction is considered to lead to behaviour such as positive word of mouth, repeat purchase and ultimately profitability. In this definition, this is illustrated by reference to needs and wants.

Other fundamental elements of ‘marketing’ are:

  • iii. Goals and objectives – Marketing exchange takes place so as to achieve the goals of the buyer and the seller. For commercial marketers these goals may be profit, market share, etc.; for the individual the goals may be the self-esteem achieved by buying an expensive car. A major difference between commercial and social marketing lies in the difference in the nature of the goals and objectives. Here the goals are society's goals.

  • iv. Process – Many other definitions of ‘marketing’ emphasise the processes which the marketer must undertake. Customer needs and requirements must be identified, i.e. through a process of market research, and then supplied through the development of a product which is supplied at the right price, through appropriate channels and with effective promotion.

  • v. The product – The focus of the exchange. Goods, services, ideas, people, etc. may be exchanged. This is a more comprehensive approach than the typical commercial focus on only goods and services. A key issue for social marketers is to define the nature of their product, i.e. exactly what are people buying when they adopt new behaviours such as recycling or stopping smoking?


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