For anyone working in behavior change communications and social marketing, there was no better place to be last week than the annual World Social Marketing Conference. Held in Washington D.C. the event was an opportunity to learn and share with other global thought leaders and practitioners working to promote a healthier world. This year, it was encouraging to see seven different presentations that featured cooking and household air pollution. The conference also served as a great opportunity to learn about some of the challenges and opportunities in changing behaviors in other sectors.

Here are five quick takeaways from last week’s conference:

1. Build demand around people, not issues

The most effective brands and campaigns focus their efforts around what factors motivate their target audiences, not what program and marketing managers understand to be the benefits of a product or behavior.  Emotions drive purchases and behavioral change as much (or more than) functional considerations. 

2. Segmentation is critical to success. 

Trying to reach a wide group of people who have varying needs and motivations with the same messages and the same approaches generally does not work.  That said, tailoring can be costly and time consuming, and makes reaching scale more difficult, so finding the right balance is key. 

3. Be creative about how you segment your audience. 

Word of mouth is often the most preferred way for people to get information, and we hear this again and again in the clean cooking sector.  People trust the advice of people they know and consider to be “like them” because they share the same values and experiences.  Segmenting by “peer crowds” is commonly used to target adolescents (think jocks, smart kids, etc.), but should also be considered for other audiences as well. 

4. Consider how your product or behavior fits into your target’s “life journey”

This idea came out as especially relevant for clean cooking since a cookstove is a must have component of any home, and one of the first items people consider when setting up a new home after a major life event like marriage.  Associating a new product and/or behavior with a major milestone in one’s life, such as a wedding, could be an effective way of establishing a new social norm around this life event.   

5. Social marketing is a continually evolving field. 

We’re still learning what does and does not change behaviors in the clean cooking sector, and the same is true for practitioners working in other fields. New challenges will constantly arise, and we must be ready and willing to learn from each other.