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Increasing social marketing efficacy with micro-targeting and normative appeals


Metcalf, A. L., Angle, J. W., Phelan, C. N., Muth, B. A., & Finley, J. C. (2019). More “bank” for the buck: microtargeting and normative appeals to increase social marketing efficiency. Social Marketing Quarterly, 25(1), 26-39. 10.1177/1524500418818063

In a nutshell: By employing tools from social marketing, specifically micro-targeting and normative appeals, private land conservation programs and other conservation initiatives can increase their efficiency and uptake.

Social marketing (also known as Community-Based Social Marketing) is increasingly used to encourage pro-conservation behaviors. If you need a refresher on social marketing in conservation check out this recently published book chapter by Bob Smith and others.

Research by Metcalf et al. (2019) sought to test the effectiveness of social marketing to increase the uptake of private land conservation, specifically investment and engagement in riparian restoration, among landowners in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. They tested two tools from social marketing: 1) micro-targeting- using demographic, behavioral and psychological data to tailor a messaging campaign specific to targeted groups; and 2) a normative appeal- messaging that promotes social conformity.

The campaign consisted of a direct mail brochure with a mail-back survey. To micro-target landowners the authors used an algorithm to identify individuals with the strongest likelihood of participation. The social norm messaging consisted of the statement “Most landowners like you invest in riparian buffers“.

They partitioned 5,000 landowners into four groups:

  • Group 1: Random sample of landowners without any treatment
  • Group 2: Normative messaging
  • Group 3: Micro-targeted group
  • Group 4: Micro-targeted group and normative message

Both tools were effective:

  • Micro-targeting landowners increased response by 66% over the control group
  • Normative message increased response by 23%
  • Normative messaging within the micro-targeted group did not increase response rates. This is may be a result of targeting an highly engaged group and reaching a threshold of interest from landowners

Increasing the efficiency of conservation behavior change interventions requires pretesting and evaluation. The two social markting tools the authors employ have strong potential to assist in engendering pro-conservation behaviors. Appealing to social norms has long been demonstrated to be a powerful driver for conservation engagement. Micro-targeting, on the other hand, is a relatively new conservation tool. While micro-targeting, may increase the efficiency, it can be expensive to acquire the level of data sufficient for micro-targeting and further investigation is needed to assess its cost-efficiency.

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