The Difference between Behavioral Science and Social Marketing

A group of college students seated at a table.
These people embody social marketing more than behavioral science, due to their informality. Image by StockSnap from Pixabay.

Conservation often involves changing people’s behavior, ideally in ways that help both them and wildlife. There are many disciplines that provide strategies for how to initiate behavior change, and two of the overarching “flavors” are behavioral science and social marketing. This blog post by Sara Isaac of Marketing for Change does a good job of explaining the differences between the two approaches.

As Isaac explains, behavioral science has traditionally been more academic than social marketing. It encompasses fields like psychology and economics that rely on empirical evidence, and many of the leading behavioral scientists are college professors.

Most of the studies I’ve shared on this blog would fall into the behavioral science category. While not all of them have been experimental per se (meaning they designed their own experiments, complete with control groups), they’ve all been based off of theories that have been tested experimentally.

Isaac describes social marketing as being more hip than behavioral science. It evolved from commercial marketing techniques rather than formal science, and thus has the potential to be less rigorous than behavioral science – although marketing is becoming increasingly data-driven. However, social marketing theory is grounded in the real-world behavior of actual people, rather the world’s most privileged college students.

As opposed to commercial marketing, social marketing is all about getting people to act in ways that are beneficial for them, their neighbors, and the environment. Rare is an example of a conservation group that explicitly uses social marketing, and they seem to have obtained good results.

I don’t want to reveal too many spoilers, so please read Sara Isaac’s original post! It contains lots of good information, and is easy to read.

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