There’s no use talking about the problem unless you talk about the solution.

Betty Williams

If a behavior change program is to be effective, careful consideration needs to be given to strategy development. As noted previously, too often behavioral change programs are based on hunches rather than solid information regarding the barriers and benefits to a behavior. Furthermore, the methods that are utilized in these progams are frequently not based on best knowledge from the social sciences regarding how to facilitate changes in behavior. When programs are not based on a solid foundation, there is a much higher likelihood that either they will not change behavior or that changes that do occur are not as substantial as they might have been.

This chapter will briefly introduce how to design a community-based social marketing strategy. It is followed by seven chapters that introduce behavior change tools that you can incorporate into your programs. It is premature at this point to introduce how to use these tools, as they have not yet been presented. Instead, this chapter will provide an overview of how to design effective strategies. Following the behavior change tool chapters, we will revisit developing strategies and clarify how to use these tools effectively.


As the graphic below indicates, developing a community-based social marketing strategy involves addressing two behaviors simultaneously: 1) the behavior to be encouraged; and 2) the behavior to be discouraged. We want to reduce barriers and increase benefits for the behavior to be encouraged, while doing the reverse for the opposing behavior. Too frequently, environmental program planners focus solely on the behavior they wish to encourage without giving adequate thought to the opposing behavior. By also addressing the behavior to be discouraged, we can make the desired action more attractive in contrast. Two examples will clarify the importance of this two-pronged approach.

Imagine that you are creating a program to encourage bicycling as a means of commuting to work. If we were to focus just on encouraging biking, as many organizations do, we might create bike lanes to make biking safer, encourage having shower facilities at work places, and ensure that there are adequate locations for securely locking bikes. While each of these approaches reduces the barriers to biking, nevertheless many commuters might still see driving as more convenient. To alter these perceptions, we need to increase the barriers and reduce the benefits of driving. This might be accomplished in several ways, such as placing a carbon tax on gasoline, reducing available parking, increasing parking rates, altering the layout of streets to slow traffic, and introducing congestion charges as London, England has done. Each of these approaches discourages driving and makes bicycling, in contrast, more attractive.

A similar approach can be used for increasing the adoption of lawn-care practices that do not involve pesticide use. The traditional approach has been to educate householders about these alternative practices. While some residents will adopt these practices simply based on learning about them, much higher levels of adoption can be reached if we simultaneously address the alternative behavior that we wish to discourage, pesticide use. As with car driving, there are multiple approaches that might be used. These include passing a law that individuals purchasing pesticides for residential use must have taken a course on their safe use, or requiring that manufacturers add a dye to pesticides which turns a lawn bright red until the pesticide is no longer present. Once again, by simultaneously focusing on both the behaviors to be encouraged and discouraged, we have a much higher probability of seeing the desired behavior adopted.

Developing strategy Principles

Developing an effective community-based social marketing strategy is predicated on first having carefully selected an end-state, non-divisible behavior, and then having identified and prioritized its barriers and benefits. By following the methods outlined in the previous chapter, not only will you have identified a number of barriers and benefits, but will likely also know which of these barriers and benefits are most important. Knowing which barriers and benefits are most important will allow you to focus your limited resources.

  1. Select Tools based on barriers and benefits: To design an effective strategy, select tools that are tailored to the barriers and benefits you identify. For example, if lack of motivation is a barrier, you might consider the use of commitment, social norms or incentives—each of which are described in the following chapters.
  2. Scrutinize your Design with Focus Groups: Prior to piloting your strategy, conduct focus groups to receive feedback on your proposed strategy. If the strategy receives positive reviews, you are ready to pilot. If not, you will want to make further refinements.
  3. Pilot Test your Strategy: In the pilot, you test the effectiveness of the strategy with a limited number of people. Essentially, you want to know, before committing to using the strategy throughout a community, that it will work effectively. If the pilot is successful, you can be much more confident of success when you broadly implement the strategy. If the pilot is unsuccessful, then you need to make further revisions, and pilot again before broad-scale implementation and evaluation.

As can be seen above, the design of a community-based social marketing strategy is pragmatic; each step builds on those that precede it. Effective design will not only help ensure the success of a program, but can also serve one other important purpose; cementing funding support. Increasingly, funding agencies are demanding that projects have a solid research foundation and are piloted before being implemented. The process briefly introduced in this chapter, and expanded upon following the behavior change chapters, can help you to persuade agencies that your initiative is worth supporting.

Next Chapter » Commitment: From Good Intentions to Action