Quit Smoking and Lock Your Doors: Social Marketing 101 with Nancy Lee

???? Episode 104 of Yes, and Marketing


As marketers, we have tremendous power to influence public behaviors. How do we make sure we’re using that power for good?

That’s what we talked about with Nancy Lee on episode 104 of Yes, and Marketing. Nancy is the industry’s leading expert on social marketing, a discipline focused on using our powers of persuasion for the public good. Since 1993, her consulting firm Social Marketing Services has partnered with various government agencies and organizations to help develop campaigns for social causes ranging from improving public health to protecting the environment.

Nancy is an industry powerhouse, and we were excited to learn from her on all things social marketing:

  • How social marketing differs from other types of marketing
  • Some of the most interesting campaigns she’s worked on
  • The ingredients of a successful social marketing campaign

Listen to the full interview above or read on for our highlights from the conversation. You can also view excerpts from all our episodes on our show page.


???? Who is Nancy Lee?

Name: Nancy Lee

What she does: Author, associate professor at the University of Washington, and social marketing consultant.

Find Nancy on the web: Social Marketing Services | LinkedIn | Email

Get smart: “Market research is the key to marketing success.”


???? Episode Highlights

Read verbatim excerpts from our interview with Nancy Lee.

Social marketing vs. social media

“Social marketing is behavior change for social good. We have a really tough time distinguishing it from social media, so we try to do a very, very careful job of explaining social marketing. Social media is just one of the tools that we use. In fact, it’s an attachment to the promotional tool. We have so many other tools that we use to get people to change behaviors. Words alone do not knock down barriers to behaviors, or provide the benefits.

… I talked to [Professor Philip] Kotler about this a few years ago, and he said he wishes actually that he had called it social good marketing, that that might’ve helped distinguish it for what it is.”

How social marketing is different from commercial marketing

“Social marketing is different from commercial marketing because we use the same process, but we’re selling behaviors instead of some tangible good or service. And these are behaviors that are good for the individual, as well as our world.

It’s things like, ‘Eat five fruits and vegetables,’ ‘Wear a bike helmet,’ ‘Get your COVID vaccine,’ ‘Put food waste in a composter,’ and ‘Vote.’ We have the same tools in our toolbox—product, price, place, and promotion that are talked about in marketing, same exact tools—but we’re using them to influence a behavior versus purchase of something.”

What public health officials need to do to be better marketers

“Conduct research with your audience and find out what would motivate them. Unless you are that audience, you really don’t know, and so we need to find out from them. 

And it’s going to vary by whether we’re talking about parents getting their kids immunized or whether we’re talking about seniors in nursing homes getting immunized—we need to find out and do market research on what are their barriers to doing this and what would motivate them to do it? Who would they listen to? Who would be credible in their mind? And how would they like to find out about this?”

How the anti-smoking campaign worked

“They focused on what we call in social marketing the ‘help me’ group. They’re people that think that behavior that you would like them to do—stop smoking—is a good idea, but they’ve got problems. They’ve got barriers. They’re not against the idea, but they have concerns. That’s who social marketers jump in and help. And what they did with tobacco—what it turned out would really help—was a quit line. 

That was the answer. It wasn’t about telling them that two-thirds of people will die, because this group—72% at that time—already wanted to quit when this got started. And so they already knew they wanted to quit. They needed help quitting.”

It’s not all about the slogan

“The first thing you do is you figure out, what’s the purpose of this? ‘Oh, we want to reduce heroin overdose.’ 

What are you going to focus on? ‘We’re going to focus on people who want to quit, but don’t have the resources.’ 

So you’ve got a purpose and a focus, and then you go to the audience and you get a profile of the audience that, if they were to change their behavior, it would contribute to your purpose. 

Then you go to a specific behavior: ‘Come into the Sheriff’s station.’ It isn’t about ‘Stop using your drugs.’ It’s about a specific behavior that would be a step towards the end state that you want. 

So that linear process—purpose, focus, audience, behavior—and then after that comes the audience research regarding that specific behavior, and then the marketing intervention.

If we go straight to, ‘What’s our slogan going to be for a campaign?’ that’s not a good idea because it may not at all be right for what it is we’re trying to accomplish.”


????️ Nancy Lee Quotes

“Market research is the key to marketing success.”

“Social marketing is behavior change for social good.”

“It takes more than words to change behaviors.”


???? Learn More

Wondering which of her books to start with? Nancy recommends Social Marketing: Behavior Change for Social Good.

Nancy has co-written eleven books with Professor Kotler, whom we interviewed in the fall of 2021.

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