Policymakers and managers are increasingly looking to marketing
Over the last few decades, there has been an increase in media and communications, allowing marketing to become a much more useful tool in the influencing of public behaviour and opinion. Marketing in now seen to be a hugely important device in engaging people, directing how they live, what they buy and what they see as necessities to the way they live.
Recently the concept of demarketing has led to new and innovative options in how businesses and the public sector could influence the public, and importantly within the public sector it could offer new scope in regulating the usage of public services by citizens for the benefit of government and the people. This essays aims to begin by defining the concept of marketing and how it could be exploited by organisations in manipulating people.
It will then continue to explain how this underlies the roots of demarketing and how it differs from conventional marketing while indicating why it is useful. Finally it will show how demarketing could be used in practice for rationing public services, and the benefits and problems that could arise. There is no universal agreement on the actual definition of marketing, however it is clear about it is it does not occur unless there are two or more parties, each with something to exchange, and both able to carry out communications and distribution.
It is this exchange which allows for another conception of marketing to be postulated, that of marketing management. Marketing management examines the wants, attitudes, and behaviour of potential customers, which could aid in designing a desired product and in merchandising, promoting, and distributing it successfully. Effectively, this means that to actively exploit marketing as a tool an organisation would have to discover the wants of a target audience and then create the goods and services accordingly to satisfy them.
This concept is traditionally thought to illustrate the significance of marketing and it is with the use of this definition that this essay will examine social marketing and demarketing as a tool for service rationing within the public sector (Kotler, 1983). Distinguishing social marketing from conventional ‘business’ marketing is also essential in understanding the roots of demarketing and where many of its key elements lie.
Unlike ‘business’ marketing, where sellers study the needs and wants of target audiences and design appropriate products, social marketers have to be concerned with how they should market social ideas that may occur with their provision of services. Their target audience may be made to find these ideas desirable and be willing to except them. This makes the whole ordeal much more complicated because rather than catering to public thought the organisation is trying to shape, influence and sometimes even change how they behave contrary to what they believe to be good for them.
In Kotler and Zaltmans’ reading on social marketing it is defined as, ‘the design, implementation, and control of programs calculated to influence the acceptability of social ideas and involving considerations of product planning , pricing, communication, distribution, and marketing research. ‘ (Kotler, P. , 1983, Pg. 327) This illustrates huge differences with traditional ‘business’ marketing, sometimes to the extent where governments may even have to except unpopularity when trying to implement social change by advocating provision, which may be better for government and the majority of people but desires concessions from the public.
In fact the way the public is perceived as a single entity demonstrates the difference between social and business marketing. It may be the business clichi?? that ‘the customer is always right,’ but in the public sector it is widely understood that the customer is fundamentally not always right. For the government to promote certain ideals such as ‘no smoking’ or ‘drinking without driving’, they must often market against the natural tendencies of the public (Barrow, 1994, sited in Leavitt, 2002)
The concept of Demarketing originated from Philip Kotler and Levy in 1971 as a means for persuading customers not to use services allowing for equal, fair and efficient distribution. This new idea set in motion the outline for the possibility of rationing, both intentionally and unintentionally, in areas of public provision and services, which were abused or over used. This meant that government could use the concept of demarketing to decrease demand for services which were mounting throughout the whole population or without actually reducing the supply to people who truly needed the service.
Kotler and Levy identified four different types of demarketing when they conceived it: General demarketing, Selective demarketing, Ostensible demarketing and unintentional demarketing (Lawther et al. 1997): General marketing is used as a tool for shrinking total demand of a service or product. Therefore, in practice if for example the government felt the public used to much water at home they would use general demarketing techniques to shrink total demand.
General demarketing could also be used if an organisation felt that their products are exclusive and that scarcity contributes to their quality image and the over-popularity of their product could undermine this view. The other reason for using General demarketing would be if an organisation intended to replace an old product and reduce the use of it to allow an improved version to be accepted, like VHS and DVDs. Selective demarketing is concerned with reducing demand amongst specific types of consumers.
Thus the government could use selective demarketing to target the youth in an attempt to reduce usage of NHS in the future from smoking related illnesses. The basis for segmentation could be age, gender, occupation, residence location, income, and lifestyle variables (Lovelock et al, 1987, sited in Leavitt, 2002). However, as Kotler points out this could lead to the classification of customers as ‘desirable’ or ‘undesirable’ which may raise ethical questions and can be interpreted, in some cases, as discrimination (the issue of ethics will be discussed later in this essay).
Ostensible demarketing involves the appearance of trying to discourage demand as a device for actually increasing it. This could be a method for implying quality of a service by making it more difficult for people to obtain it. Yet this method of demarketing also raises ethical questions and in addition cans sometimes lead to unexpected (and usually unwanted) outcomes which will also be discussed later in detail. Finally, Unintentional demarketing occurs when attempts to increase demand actually result in driving customers away.
Again the NHS allows for a good illustration of where long waiting lists could lead to patients partially recovering from their ailment without intervention. The different models in the last section show how demarketing can be implemented but it is important to understand why government may want to ration services. Public services are intended to be provisions equally distributed and accessible by those who need it. Yet it is the question of ‘need’ which is the cause of so much frustration amongst government policy makers. Sheaff et al. 2002) describe need as ‘rational demands’ from the individual. Yet it would be feasible to question this assumption on the premise that sometimes peoples’ demands are not always rational. In fact it is the irrational, and sometimes simply selfish, tendencies of people that lead to policymakers and leaders turning to concepts such as demarketing as a means of controlling these individuals. A very clear example of citizen self interest can be demonstrated in times of water shortages. During these periods policy makers will clearly try to persuade the public to use less water.
This could include the restriction of using water to ‘water’ plants or wash cars. Nevertheless, numerous individuals will still try to make use of water when it is clearly going to cause the rest of their community or in some cases the whole country, some form of damage. Demarketing can be a strong strategy in curbing some of these tendencies if used properly and in allowing for people who don’t abuse the system to have constant access when they need without having to worry about ‘free riders’ pilfering all the resources.
Additionally, the use of rationing may just become a necessity because demand is simply too high across the board. Chronic over-popularity, as Kotler describes it, can exist effortlessly within the public sector because much of the provision comes at no charge. It is the fact that public services should be universal and therefore free which can cause this problem. Unlike private services where a price mechanism can be used to regulate consumption, the public sector has no such tool, and this leads to situation where individuals happily over use and abuse the system knowing it will cost them nothing.
Yet, of course nothing is free, and this kid of excessive exploitation costs the government dearly. In the past some organisations have concentrated on reducing supply as a method for reducing demand. So within the NHS the amounts of beds have been reduced by 34 percent since 1981 (Marl & Elliott, 1997) and evidence from 12 European countries has also confirmed that Health care costs have been contained by regulating supply rather than demand (Abel Smith, 1992, sited in Mark & Elliott, 1997). However this brings up issues lack of service delivery to the people who may really need it.
Demarketing allows for the government to acquire its reduced demand without the possibility of not being able to give services to those who really do need it. Knowledge of what needs rationing is not always a key indicator of how demarketing can be implemented. There are numerous factors which underscore how to approach the issue of social demarketing. The best description of the key variables in the marketing mix has been named the four P’s by McCarthy: Product, Promotion, Place and Price. Product refers to the need for the creation of products which help illustrate the reduce usage of a provision.
So giving rewards to people who used especially low amounts of water of restriction periods would be one such product. Promotion indicates a need for successful communication and distribution of ideals to the public. In this area it is important to demonstrate why the campaign is of such importance, and ensure the public understand a need for rationing the service or resource. Place, this is concerned with providing adequate and compatible distribution and response channels. Thus, it means arranging accessible outlets which permit the translation of motivations into actions.
Planning in this area entails selecting or developing appropriate outlets, deciding on their number, average size, and locations, and giving them proper motivation to perform their part of the job (this specific issue is discussed further later in the essay). Price refers to the cost on the buyer or, in the case of public services, the consumer. This is especially important in public provision because, unlike in ‘business’ markets where the cost is generally monetary, in the delivery of public services the cost of not material but related costs such as ‘time and hassle’.
So clearly the problem with utilizing demarketing as a tool in the public sector is convincing the people who lose out initially as not only why the are being discriminated against, but also convincing them that the alternatives provided other equal opportunity for provision. In practise demarketing could clearly be beneficial in providing the public with services more efficiently, fairly and with greater direction. Two areas which are interactive and provide a basis for this approach are recognised as requiring methods to manage increases in demand are; accident and emergency utilization, and GP night calls.
Between the years of 1961 to 1991 demand for accident and emergency services increased from 100,000 to around 240,000 people, and demand for night visits by GPs increased from just 5,000 to almost 35,000 between 1965 to 1995. This is clearly not an indication that the public are twice as likely to become ill or require these services, but that somewhere along the long the public perception of what constitutes being ill, or requiring medical attention, has changed. Mark and Elliott interestingly point out that, it is possible to feel ill without having a disease and to have a disease without feeling ill, but both circumstances will materially affect demand for health care. ‘ (Mark & Elliott, Pg. 304, 1997) Therefore, success in demarketing such dysfunctional behaviour will fail unless an understanding of individual values, beliefs and attitudes of these consumers is sought to determine an appropriate demarketing strategy. It is essentially in campaigns of this nature to make intentions clear.
When a promotional campaign involves paid television and/or radio advertising, public tax monies are usually involved. Demarketers must overcome the possible impression by members of the public that their taxes are being spent for non-essential reasons (Coffman, 1996, as sited in Leavitt, 2002) One of the more difficult challenges facing demarketing campaigns is the fact that many targets of it do not necessarily see themselves as a cause or part of the problem. This is apparent in some elderly peoples’ usage of GP night calls.
Some elderly people have been known to call their GP for mere coughs, and in London some 10% of London respondents said they would phone for an ambulance if suffering from flu-like symptoms (London Ambulance service, 2003). Re-education may be required: for example there is some evidence that patients dysfunctionally using accident and emergency wards may being increasingly encouraged through the use of inappropriate interventions when they get there, which leads to increased feeling in their perception of a need to attend (Dale 1995, sited in Mark & Elliott, 1997)
One of the basic principles of demarketing would be to provide appropriate alternatives to the services being rationed. So in the case of rationing the usage of accident and emergency wards and GP night calls, there are strategies to manage the increase in demand for access to ‘out-of-hours’ services through the development of primary health care centres. These health care centres aim to provide emergency health care for minor health problems which need immediate attention.
However the BMA (British Medical Association) indicated there was a reluctance to utilize primary care centres because of a lack of sufficient evidence or evaluation to support it. However the recent development of research based on normative solutions to the problem of increased requests for ‘ out-of-hours’ home visits by family doctors is now being pursued (Harmoni, 1997). This has led to use of Nurse triages over the phone to identify what would be the most appropriate alternative for a patient.
Evidence from districts implementing the system, numbering four so far, suggests a reduction in the number of GP visits by up to 80 percent (Mark & Elliott, 1997, Pg. 308). Although this is only a small example of demarketing success in practise, it is still an example of how services could rationed using demarketing as a framework. However it is important to note that the success of this demarketing campaign was only possible after proper evidence-gathering and evaluating.
Demarketing campaigns work best when mass media-oriented communication is supplemented by face-to-face communication, and customer survey research forms a basic foundation for the success of any demarketing campaign since it provides an essential understanding of the public’s expectations and desires for service (Kotler and Roberto, 1989). It is therefore apparent that demarketing requires extensive preliminary work before implementation if it is to be successful. Even the placing of the health care centres would be hugely influential in the success in demonstration an alternative provision for the public.
For demarketing to prove practical the policymakers must also have a firm grasp of the ethical issues involved demarketing public services. The segmentation of some groups could be seen to implicate discrimination. This is an especially sensitive isues bearing in mind public services are supposedly universal and should be accessible by all. There is also the issue of labelling people ‘irrational’ or not fit to make decisions, which have huge insinuations if the selected segments haven’t been fully research and someone ends up being excluded for racial, economic or age reasons.
In conclusion this essay intends to have given a clear definition of social marketing and demarketing, and how these concepts and processes can be instrumental in the framework of public policy. That demarketing can be a subtle approach to the problem of rationing services and enables a reduction in demand without reducing supply. This is achieved by allowing alternatives to publicized and made easily accessible by the public at the same time as educating and persuading dysfunctional behaviour over the usage of provisions.
It is important for policy makes to note that demarketing campaigns tend to be disruptive to the normal business of targeted individuals (opposed to additive affect of business marketing). Subsequently this means that they will not be able to say with any certainty how they will react to a demarketing campaign, and the new choices or lack of choices being imposed on them. Understanding this fundamental difference is the key to formulated a successful campaign, and if implemented correctly could prove to be an invaluable framework for the rationing of public services and provisions.
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