The Social Strategist Part XXXVI: Georgetown University’s Alan Andreasen and the Hard Work of Behavior Change for Social Benefit

Social marketing and the name Alan Andreasen go hand-in-hand.

He’s without question a pioneer in the field of behavior change communication and it’s a privilege to feature him on the Social Strategist Project.

Social strategist Alan Andreasen is a professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and an expert on social marketing.

An internationally known professor at Georgetown University, Alan is also the author of countless books and articles and a visionary on how to use communication and marketing principles to address social problems.

Nearly 50 years after his start in the field, why is Alan still so passionate about the work that he does?

“I suppose the simplest answer is that I feel the concepts and tools that I’ve learned over the years are making the world a better place,” he says. “I get more satisfaction from using that same portfolio of [corporate marketing] skills to get people to do things where the benefit is making their lives better or to make the world a lot better.”

“I feel the concepts and tools that I’ve learned over the years are making the world a better place,” Alan says of his work.

Here’s a preview of Alan’s take on the principles of successful social marketing:

  • You must be in the fight for the long haul. Changing or solidifying people’s behaviors is hard work and takes time. Sometimes it takes a really long time. Alan puts it this way: “The challenge for a lot of the social marketing applications is that the behaviors practitioners are trying to influence are rather deeply held ones in the people they’re trying to influence. Many social marketing programs have to take a very long perspective.” Not seeing immediate results is often the main reason funders stop financing behavior change projects. A long-term investment is imperative for robust results. Long-term funding for malaria eradication, for example, has helped achieve tangible results.
  • Identifying the (proper) audience is everything. Spending time getting to know target audiences is time well spent. “I always emphasize that the target audience is the one that holds the key to success and everything you do has to start with them rather than with you and what you think,” Alan explains. “If people aren’t doing something you want them do it’s because you haven’t found the triggers or connections that will link what you think is in societies or the individual’s best interest to something major.” To put it another way, it makes no sense to have a campaign for everyone. 
  • The importance of creativity. “How do you overcome that inertia and automatic rejection of attempts to influence target audiences?” questions Alan. Creativity. Just as commercial marketing is often successful through bold and unique approaches, the same goes when trying to influence behavior for social issues. Taglines, logos, cool spokespeople and clever branding can not only sell products but change people’s behaviors around HIV/AIDS, human trafficking and a host of other social issues facing the world.   

Listen to my interview with social strategist Alan Andresen to learn more about the evolving field of social marketing and how behavior change communication is improving lives around the world.


(Streaming audio requires QuickTime. Download the free player.)

About the Author:

John Trybus is a research fellow at the Center for Social Impact Communication and an alumnus of Georgetown University’s Public Relations and Corporate Communications master’s degree program. In his day job, he advises a number of nonprofits, foundations and responsible businesses as a member of Waggener Edstrom Worldwide’s social innovation practice. Previously, John served as an aide to UN Messenger of Peace Jane Goodall at the Jane Goodall Institute where he was responsible for the strategic planning and implementation of the environmental rock star’s perpetual 300-day-per-year global speaking tour. During his tenure, John traveled with Goodall to 40 U.S. states on a world tour that reached more than 130,000 people in person annually. He was named to PRNews’ 15-to-Watch list in 2010 and has also been honored with awards from PRSA, IABC and the Arthur W. Page Society. John would love to keep the conversation going: find him on LinkedIn , follow him @johndtrybus on Twitter or send him an email.

About The Social Strategist Project:

The Social Strategist Project is an award-winning multimedia series created by CSIC Fellow John Trybus.The year-long project aims to create a dialogue on effective cause-based communication with 60 of the most innovative thinkers and doers who frequently work in untraditional ways to evoke social impact. From Jane Goodall to Beth Kanter and everyone in between, the series proves that a social strategist is not your typical nonprofit PR director but rather a member of an elite group of leaders from which we can all learn. Phase two of the project, to be released in the Winter of 2012, will result in the findings from a survey among the social strategists and the publication of key lessons learned.

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