The eternal question in social marketing is how to go about selecting the audience segment your program will address. The most common approach is to select one of two groups: (1) the people who most need the intervention, who are most at risk for a particular problem or (2) the people who are ready to change and just need a little nudge in the right direction.
The first group is usually the audience that the program was funded for in the first place. We generally want to make a big impact on the problem, and often assume that will happen by reaching those who are most likely to suffer from it. The problem is that for many issues that have been around for a while — whether it relates to eating healthy food, quitting smoking, flossing teeth, recycling — the people who were most likely to adopt positive behaviors have already done so. The rest of the people may be those who either don’t want to change or have tried and decided it wasn’t for them — not easy groups to make significant inroads with (though not necessarily impossible). They may be the late majority or laggards at the end of the diffusion of innovations curve.
The second group — those who are ready to make a change but haven’t done so yet (in the preparation phase of the stages of change model) — may not be as large a group as the first, and may not necessarily be at high risk for the problem. But they may just need a little help, such as teaching them a skill they don’t have or showing them how to work the behavior into their lives, and they will take it and run with it. The benefit to addressing this group is that you can get positive results relatively quickly, even if they are not a large segment, and getting the ball of change rolling within a community can have a snowball effect. The momentum you generate may help to get those in the “at risk” category to see that their friends and family have made the change, so maybe they should as well.
So, should you try to reach the golden apple at the very top of the tree, or should you pick the low-hanging fruit? The answer depends on many things — the goals of your program, the amount of funding you have, the issue you are addressing. It’s often a judgment call, without one clear right or wrong answer, and it doesn’t have to be a mutually exclusive choice. But you do need to think through this question and have a good reason for which way you go with it.
We will be talking more about this issue and many others at Social Marketing University in September. The early registration deadline is coming up at the end of this month, so register by July 31st to get $100 off the regular price. And if you have more than one person from your organization attending, the additional registrants get a discount of $50 more off of the price. We already have people coming from all over the U.S. Hope to see you there too!