Social Marketing Definition
Written by Winthrop Morgan   

The following definition was endorsed by the Boards of the International Social Marketing Association, European Social Marketing Association, and Australian Association of Social Marketing. 

"Social Marketing seeks to develop and integrate marketing concepts with other approaches to influence behaviours that benefit individuals and communities for the greater social good.Social Marketing practice is guided by ethical principles. It seeks to integrate research, best practice, theory, audience and partnership insight, to inform the delivery of competition sensitive and segmented social change programmes that are effective, efficient, equitable and sustainable."

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 The Process of Developing the Consensus Definition

In developing a consensus definition of Social Marketing iSMA, ESMA and AASMworking group acknowledged the dynamic and contested nature of elements of Social Marketing theory and practice as a strength and manifestation of the sophisticated nature of the Social Marketing field. In developing a consensus definition the intention was not to close down the helpful and inevitable on-going debate about the nature and focus of Social Marketing. The aim was to help build a common narrative that could be used by the supporting associations to promote Social Marketing as a valuable core component of social programmes aimed at improving the human condition.  

In February 2012 iSMA and ESMA began an iterative and inclusive process to develop a consensus definition of Social Marketing. A working group was formed to lead this work on behalf of iSMA and ESMA[2]. In April 2013 the AASM agreed to participate and contribute to this process. 

The process consisted of a membership trawl to develop a set of agreed principles of Social Marketing to underpin the definition. The process also included an online members vote on these principles; a summary of the survey results is set out in annex two. All members of the participating associations were given opportunities to see the developing definition, comment and make suggestions for improvements. The definition was further refined through an iterative process of drafting and comment by the working group and input from the Boards of the supporting associations. Five considerations were taken into account when developing the definition:

  1. It was recognised that the definition would be a consensus statement; it would not seek to limit or curtail debate about the nature of Social Marketing. The consensus definitions purpose would be to enable the supporting associations to develop a common narrative about the nature of Social Marketing that would assist in furthering their collective aim of capturing and spreading good practice.
  2. The definition should focus on both the purpose and nature of Social Marketing practice.
  3. It should be as short and succinct as possible.
  4. The definition should be as unambiguous as possible and it should be capable of translation into languages other than English without loss of its substantive meaning.
  5. The definition should be subject to on-going refinement to reflect the dynamic and developing nature of Social Marketing theory and practice.


Following Board meetings of the three associations over the summer of 2013the consensus definition was endorsed by the governing Boards of the iSMA, ESMA and AASM. The Boards have also approved additional work to refine and further develop supporting guidance linked to the consensus definition. This work will include:

  1. Further work to refine the key principles agreed by members and set these out as an accompanying document to the consensus definition.
  2. Subsequent to the development of an agreed set of key principles work will begin to develop a code of conduct to guide effective and ethical practice in Social Marketing.
  3. A review, refinement and updating exercise of the definition and supporting principles will be undertaken in 2017 among members of all the current supporting associations and any new national or regional Social Marketing associations that are in existence at that time. This exercise should aim to test the definition against member’s opinion of good practice at that time and make any necessary changes.



Annexe 1: Working Group Members:

A Tapp, R Brophy  , M Carausan, J Carruthers, S Peattie, S Revill, M Chamberlain , N Lee, S Sherif , T Beall,  W Morgan , C Lellig, S Suggs, J French.

Annexe 2:  Summary of Social Marketing principles rated as ‘essential’ or ‘important’ by 167 respondents to the iSMA and ESMA Key Principles & Definitions Survey



Essential + Important (% total responses)


KP 2

Set and measure behavioural objectives



KP 3

Uses audience insight and research



KP 1

Focus on the production of social good



KP 5

Use audience segmentation to understand and target interventions



KP 13

Apply data, research, evidence and behavioural theory in developing programmes



KP 22

Rigorous evaluation and reporting of short-term impacts, ROI and longer-term outcomes



KP 6

Use systematic planning and marketing management methodology



KP 4

Undertake competition analysis and develop competitor intervention strategies



KP 20

Apply and be guided by an ethical analysis and standards



KP 21

Apply commercial marketing theory and practice to social challenges



KP 7

Focus on up-stream, mid-stream and down-stream audiences



KP 17

Analyse communication channels & other forms of influence



KP 8

Inform and shape the total social policy intervention mix



KP 11

Focus on creating value for citizens and civil society through valued negative exchanges



KP 10

Focus on creating value for citizens and civil society through valued voluntary exchange



KP 12

Undertake stakeholder analysis and apply relationship management strategies



KP 16

Consider applying the 4Cs tool box (Lauterborne)



KP 9

Understand and use forms of influences that draw on rational choice & rapid cognition



KP 14

Design programmes that aim to increase social equity



KP 19

Analyse the potential costs and benefits of supporting and/or partnering with private

sector organisations



KP 15

Consider applying the 4P&rsquo tool box (McCarthy) in the intervention



KP 18

Understand and make known the social consequences of commercial sector marketing




[1] iSMA: International Social Marketing Association. ESMA : European Social Marketing Association. AASM: Australian Association of Social Marketing.

[2] See annexe one for a list of the members of the group.

Last Updated on Tuesday, November 07, 2017 02:36 PM