Learn the art of social marketing for conservation behaviour change

As conservation practitioners we all sooner or later come up against the same barrier to achieving our desired impacts: human behaviour. I believe human behaviour change is the ultimate pathway to conservation success. Interested? Read on!
Learn the art of social marketing for conservation behaviour change
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Humans act irrationally

We all know that the biggest challenge to the natural world is humans. Human behaviour to be precise. Taking a closer look, we see that humans do what they do based on many factors that may be psychological, social, economical, or cultural, to name the few most important that come to mind. Breaking things down a bit further, we see interesting patterns start to emerge, for example, that humans make decisions based on emotion rather than rational thought.  People everywhere also are above all interested in what's in it for them. There are other surprising things about the way people make decisions. 

The stick, or the carrot?

Human motivation and practice is so complex that simplistic approaches like law enforcement, while impactful in some cases, can often prove counterproductive. Sure, we can threaten hunters or fishers with legal action if they transgress the protected area's core zone, but more often than not this threat will fall upon deaf ears, be annulled by some form of corruption, or - worst case scenario - incite resentment and suspicion in the local communities. I have come across this often, and I am sure you have too. 

Bottom line, we can use the 'stick' approach to try to force behaviour change - and this works fine in some cases like for public health for example - but wouldn't it be great, wouldn't it be so much better, if we could get the right people to change their behaviour because they simply get it? A farmer who understands the importance of preserving the upper watershed forest that regulates water quality and flow for the rest of the watershed will be more likely to shift his attitude and practice to embracing novel forms of farming (e.g. agroforestry) that both benefit him directly, as well as the natural environment around him. This is especially the case when - cherry on the cake - we go out of our way to make that change pathway easy, and added bonus - socially acceptable.

People are not stupid: when they clearly see the benefits to doing things a certain way, they'll go ahead and do things that way. 

Knowledge is not enough

However, another key principle of human behaviour is that knowledge alone is not enough to incite change. We all know a lot about stuff that we do nothing to fix. It's a human trait. No, it's much more complicated than this. There needs to be a strategy that moves a specific target audience through successive stages of behaviour change. To do this requires first understanding that audience: who are they, what they do and why do they do it? What do they aspire to? What do they believe in? What do they fear? Why do they not do things differently? Who do they trust? Who are they influenced by? Where do they hang out? 

Thanks to extensive social research we are able to answer these questions and others. When we get inside our target audience's heads and hearts and identify what it will take to make their path to behaviour change easy, true and lasting change starts to look a lot more likely. 

Get in touch

I could go on for hours, but you get the idea. If you are interested in learning more about how social marketing could help you or your organisation achieve it's conservation goals, head on over to this link where you can find more information. And of course, just drop me a message right here in WildHub if you have any questions, want to set up an exploratory chat, or whatever. 

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Go to the profile of Thirza Loffeld
5 months ago

Thanks for sharing Alan, hope you are well and great to see you back & active in our community! 

Would you perhaps be able to share about an interesting case study in your next lessons learned post that puts your above insights into context? I would love to learn more from you and I think others members would like to too :) 

Go to the profile of Alan J. Hesse
5 months ago

Thanks Thirza! It is good to be back. I will gladly do as you ask. Let me give it some thought. 

Go to the profile of Thirza Loffeld
5 months ago

Wonderful! Thanks Alan!