Skip main navigation

Centering people at the heart of what we do

Watch this video to see how Marketing works strategically to tackle complex problems

Care needs to be taken when embarking for the first time on change. To deliver lasting change we need to understand how a problem has come to exist and we need to know how the people, at the heart of the problem, experience it.

The need for quick fixes and expert thinking dominates change practice, creating divides in our community. To achieve change you need people to “buy in” to reach a common goal. Many approaches to change push people away. A lot of approaches to change do not offer something that people value. Other approaches to changes avoid taking on the longer term structural changes needed to support people at the heart of the problem.

Many experts operate by drawing on years of training, their own experience and the experiences of those closest to them. A consequence of this practice is that experts think they know best.

For the people

Too often people at the heart of the problem are not included in the project teams who are given funding to solve the problem. This creates a narrow view. By not including the people at the heart of the problem, programs and services are designed by experts, without an understanding of whether people at the heart of the problem would, or would not, use the strategy that is designed.

People working together

We call this designing for the people rather than with the people at the heart of the problem.

Without living the day to day experiences of the people at the centre of the problem we can never know what is really needed to solve the problem.

Marketers know this and rather than planning for people, they work together in community to develop a deep understanding. Marketing thinking works to:

  • understand what products and services are meeting needs
  • identify barriers preventing change
  • learn where the blind spots in planning and thinking systems are
  • see what gaps exist and
  • so much more.

Working in partnership

In order to apply marketing thinking we must understand how and why stakeholders currently act. Marketers work to understand how people’s and organisation’s interests can be aligned with their own aims and goals. We call this mutual benefit.

Marketers also work to understand what they are competing against because direct competition, and real and perceived barriers for all stakeholders, will limit change. It is this understanding that enables marketers to identify why change isn’t occurring. By gaining a deep understanding of the people and organisations involved marketers can identify how change can be achieved.

Delivering change requires more than a nudge

When tasked with a problem marketers work to gain a deep understanding of the current system, which includes people, processes, and organisations, to learn how to effect lasting change.

To start, marketers identify the people and organisations at the heart of the problem; the ones who know best. These people and organisations are then involved in the design and implementation of the program. This inclusive practice allows marketers to better identify barriers that have prevented change from occurring.

Don’t let experts dominate

For too long we have let experts dominate. Experts lead us to believe that individuals, or people, at the heart of the problem are the ones that need to change. If expert approaches were working we wouldn’t be faced with wicked problems like obesity, climate change and social inequalities.

People experiencing the problems everyday are best placed to identify why change isn’t occurring and they can work with others to create lasting solutions that deliver change.

Your task

Tell us how you would try to understand the people at the heart of the problem that you care about? Post a comment to get feedback on your thinking.

This article is from the free online

Social Change: How Can Marketing Help?

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now