Improving health outcomes with social marketing interventions. | MOBE

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Improving Health Outcomes With Social Marketing Interventions

Social marketing interventions play a pivotal role in changing health behaviors across populations. In public health, social marketing—sometimes called behavior change marketing—has long been a crucial part of the mix. Since the early 90s, social marketing interventions have been part of many major public health initiatives. Examples of these include campaigns aimed at:

  • Boosting vaccination rates
  • Encouraging breastfeeding
  • Reducing obesity
  • Increasing physical activity among seniors

A compelling reason for health plans and employers to consider social marketing interventions is that they excel at reaching people who are typically disengaged from health initiatives.

By making health behavior changes small and manageable, these interventions can create entry points for individuals who might otherwise remain uninvolved.

Social marketing interventions can gradually increase the selected population’s engagement by creating a series of positive, non-coercive touchpoints and demonstrating the benefits of certain behaviors. This leads to sustained behavior change and long-term health benefits, particularly for disease prevention and health promotion. Social marketing intervention uses marketing strategies and tactics to design and implement programs to promote socially beneficial behavior change.

While traditional marketing often focuses on selling products, social marketing seeks to influence specific human behaviors that benefit health and well-being. Informed by an in-depth understanding of the selected population’s motivations, barriers, and triggers, social marketing interventions craft messages and campaigns that resonate deeply to encourage positive health behavior in the short and long term.

The truth campaign.

There are many examples of how social marketing has been used to motivate individuals toward healthier actions. One of the best-known initiatives to use these tactics is truth®, the largest national youth smoking campaign in the U.S. The objective of the campaign was to increase awareness of the dangers of smoking and reduce overall smoking rates among young people. Emotional, psychological, and cost-based interventions were distributed to meet their young audience within popular channels, including social media and television.

The results of the truth campaign have been extraordinary.

The truth campaign and others demonstrate that social marketing has proven tremendously effective for health improvement initiatives, especially those focused on health issues affecting large populations. By fostering small yet meaningful behavioral changes across selected populations, these interventions can contribute to a gradual but significant and sustained improvement in health outcomes.

Implications of social marketing intervention for health plans and employers.

Based on the successes of public health campaigns, many health plans and employers are considering incorporating social marketing intervention strategies to improve health outcomes and reduce costs for specific member and employer population segments.

A major benefit of these interventions is they are not only effective for targeting people directly engaged with health programs. Social marketing interventions show tremendous promise for reaching people who remain unengaged in those programs and services. In other words, they can reach a broader audience that may be passive or indifferent to current health promotion efforts.

Internal data analysis by MOBE’s health engagement experts demonstrates how health improvements are realized—even without direct engagement. As shown by the truth campaign and others, health outcomes are often influenced by raising awareness and increasing knowledge about relevant health issues. Through carefully designed messages and strategic placement across various media, social marketing interventions motivate individuals toward healthier choices, improve health outcomes, and reduce costs, even for individuals who remain unengaged with current health programs. 

The social marketing intervention mix.

A specific intervention “mix” within this practice delivers a powerful, multifaceted approach. That mix typically contains a combination of two or more of the following elements:

  • Informing raises awareness about the health issue and the desired behavior change.
  • Education goes a step further, usually to teach new skills and provide the rationale for behavior change.
  • Service ensures that the facilities and programs necessary to support the behavior change are accessible.
  • Design focuses on creating products, services, or environments that encourage the desired behavior.
  • Control encompasses policies and regulations that guide or mandate behaviors, such as tobacco control laws or regulations requiring menu calorie counts.

For health plans and employers, the intervention mix usually contains methods for increasing awareness of healthy behavior while educating people on the potential impacts of failing to make these changes. This could mean focusing on medication management or implementing lifestyle changes, for example. This may also mean introducing more personal supports like guides that coach people as they seek to change their behavior

The importance of nudges and actionable content.

In the fall of 2023, analysis of a large sample set evaluating the effectiveness of the Apple Watch’s simple nudge to “stand up” showed remarkable results, especially in older populations. For the more than 23,000 users in the study, this simple nudge increased the standing rate by about 75% in the first six months, even when the user had no engagement with the nudge itself.

While existing health programs often focus on rewards and incentives to initiate and sustain engagement, nudging is integral to social media interventions. Nudges are also a major contributor to the success of social marketing when attempting to influence the behavior of people who are unengaged. In the context of social marketing intervention, nudging involves designing messaging and simple tactics that make it easier for people to adopt healthier behaviors, without being coercive.

Advancements in technology present the opportunity to promote desired behavior with powerful, actionable content via channels personalized to each person’s communication preferences. This can be in the form of nudges, and also effective messaging tailored to the user’s context and timing, offering simple, actionable steps and positive reinforcement.

Digital technology is only one reason social marketing interventions are increasingly considered part of an overall strategy to improve health outcomes. Typically, they offer a host of advantages for plan and benefits strategies such as:

  • Social marketing interventions typically focus on preventative measures and behavior improvements that reduce long-term care costs.
  • They can be tailored for diverse populations across various health behaviors.
  • Data analytics offers the ability to provide increasingly personalized interventions that deliver relevant messages at the right time and through the right channel.

Social marketing as part of an overall health engagement strategy.

To initiate social marketing interventions, plans and employers should engage in marketing practices that align with their selected population’s unique values, behaviors, and characteristics. This can include:

  • Using data analytics to understand the audience’s demographics, behaviors, and preferences and tailor personalized messages that resonate
  • Seeking specific insights (through data and survey methods) into groups that remain unengaged to uncover hidden barriers and motivations
  • Selecting messaging channels based on the preferences of individuals and populations, using a mix of traditional and digital media
  • Establishing a framework of regular feedback mechanisms and metrics to determine how well nudges and other intervention tactics are working

Social marketing interventions represent a powerful and practical approach to creating positive health behavior changes across diverse populations.

Even without direct engagement, these interventions can foster trust and rapport by showing a commitment to each person’s well-being. By leveraging marketing strategies to influence health-related behaviors, social marketing interventions have demonstrated significant potential for reducing health care costs, increasing engagement among unengaged populations, and fostering sustainable health improvements.

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