Social marketers are set apart by their quest for evidence-based approaches. We want to know that our time and energy working for social change makes a difference. We channel the desire to “do something” through a knowledge base that requires us to “do something that works”. That’s why it was so exciting to see “Social Marketing: Systematic Review of Research 1998-2012” published in the March 2014, 20th anniversary edition of Social Marketing Quarterly.
Some of the key findings, from the abstract:
The article indicates that social marketing has captured increasing research attention, as evidenced by the growing number of articles published. U.S.- and U.K.-based researchers and institutions have contributed significantly to shaping knowledge in the field. Public health has predominantly been the research topic and hence more articles have been published in health-related journals than in marketing-related journals. Substantial research has focused on downstream social marketing, while the upstream and critical dimension has been given limited attention. Behavior change theories underlying social marketing studies were not always reported, leading to difficulties in identifying common factors in effective interventions. Social marketing research has been dominated by qualitative methods, although both quantitative and mixed methods are gaining prominence. Limitations to the article are discussed and gaps for further research indicated.
Where the article outlines areas for future research, it cautions that a large number of social marketing studies have been qualitative in nature, and that more attention needs to be paid to quantitative and mixed methods. It also suggests that there have been few truly critical articles demonstrating failures and practices we ought to avoid. (Those are just two among several other incredibly valuable suggestions.)
What we have seen as the field matures is that the depth and impact of truly rigorous research is powerful. The stricter we are with ourselves in our program and research design, the better. The issues we face are pressing, so we really don’t want to waste our time (or anyone’s) on ineffective projects. So I see this as a call to action — to get better at sharing more succinctly what works, what doesn’t, and why.