We all know the importance of regular hand-washing, especially during a pandemic. But have you ever stopped to think about the message itself, how it was developed and why?

That lifesaving message doesn’t happen by accident – it’s carefully crafted by people like Jennifer Dooley, PhD, social marketer extraordinaire.

Dr. Jennifer Dooley, who teaches Health Services Management 5320 – Marketing in Health Services, spends her days thinking about how to positively affect people’s behaviour so they can make healthier choices.

“A common misunderstanding is that marketing can only be used to sell commercial goods or services. However, marketing principles play a key role in helping to resolve social issues and problems.”
~ Dr. Jennifer Dooley

Social marketing plays a fundamental role in health

Dooley says social marketing in particular can play a fundamental role in everything from combating health problems and preventing injuries to protecting the environment.

When it comes to health care, the prevalence of social marketing – and its complexities – often goes unnoticed. While a campaign encouraging breast cancer screening is what the end-user sees, social marketing encompasses a systematic process that’s grounded in research and includes behaviour change theory, audience-centred benefits and a combination of activities to encourage people to achieve the desired action.

“For individuals who work in the fields of health and social issue behaviour management, training in applying marketing principles to social change can leave them better equipped.”

The 2020/21 cohort of students is in the fortunate position of not only learning from groundbreaking case studies, such as reducing Aids in the USA, dealing with a shortage of clean water in Kenya, tackling heart disease in the USA, and encouraging blood donation in Canada, but also from examining what’s happening in real time.

“My course was only offered for the first time right after COVID-19 hit, so a big part of the learning is to apply the materials to today’s health care landscape and to suggest approaches relevant to the current pandemic,” says Dooley. “A vast majority of the students I teach work in health care and many on the front lines of COVID-19, so it’s really interesting to watch them learn how to apply behaviour change and marketing principles to prevent and reduce instances of diseases.”

A practical, how-to approach

The course, which takes a practical, how-to approach to applying social marketing to public health strategies, is often students’ first introduction to social marketing. That newly-acquired knowledge, combined with their experience in health care, offers students a fresh outlook on keeping people healthy.

“Social marketers spend a lot of time researching and listening to the end-user to help determine who their influencers are, what behaviours can be influenced, what barriers to behaviour change exist and ultimately what incentives are appealing to them,” she says.

“It’s about letting go of what we know and seeing other perspectives, being clear about what we want the priority audience to do and offering a behaviour change solution that outweighs the costs or barriers of the alternative, less healthy behaviour.”

A critical skill-set for health care professionals

Amid a global pandemic, helping individuals, organizations and societies adopt or maintain health-promoting behaviour is a critical skill-set for health care professionals – one that students have embraced.

“Now more than ever, we need approaches to manage health situations that truly get into the hearts and minds of our priority audiences,” says Dooley.

“It’s exciting to see a bottoms-up empowering approach come to life when the students work together on group projects and combine their new learnings with the wealth of knowledge they came to the course with!”

Dooley holds a PhD in Social Marketing, specializing in digital media from the University of Wollongong, Australia, a MSc in Health Promotion Studies from the University of Alberta, a BA in Psychology and Media Studies from Western University, and has completed MSc training at the University of Stirling in Scotland in the area of Social Marketing. In addition to teaching, she is the founder of a consulting firm that provides strategic planning, research and digital marketing strategies to clients globally.

Learn from Dooley and other stellar instructors like her. Enroll in the ULethbridge Master of Health Services Management program.