Professor Sharyn Rundle-Thiele (Founding Director of Social Marketing at Griffith University)

June 2021

Professor Sharyn Rundle-Thiele is a social marketer and behavioural scientist. She is the Founding Director of Social Marketing at Griffith University, Queensland, Australia, which is the largest university-based group of social marketers in the world.

She is Founding Co-Editor of the Journal of Social Marketing, has led projects that have changed behaviours for 10,000’s of people in areas including health, the environment and for complex social issues, has published more than 150 books and been awarded The Philip Kotler Social Marketing Distinguished Service Award.

Differences between marketing & social marketing

Sharyn begins this episode by explaining how marketing can be applied across commercial and social outcomes, but also applied to ideas and social issues. She grew into the decision to move away from being a commercial marketer to a social one which has led her to be even more creative in order to change behaviours for the long term.

How to sell more wine, to more people, more often

Starting her career marketing consumer goods, Sharyn liked the art of what she was doing but wanted to learn more, so went back to University to do a Masters and then on to do a PhD. Her PhD became famously, how to sell more wine to more people more often!

Having enjoyed the educational setting of her time at University, Sharyn went on to teach social marketing focusing predominantly on social, health and environmental issues and founded the Journal of Social Marketing to create more space for researchers to publish work.

Social marketing is much more than social media

Sharyn goes on to explain that a natural misconception is that social marketing relates simply to social media. It is instead the idea of marketing in a social space. There is a branding issue behind what social marketing is, and is not.

She discusses how when you're working in the space of social change and your programme isn't getting the uptake, it's because you're selling the wrong thing. And we need to take a step back and look at selling people something that they really want. That's where the real work begins.

Coca Cola sell lifestyle, not product

In reference to selling a lifestyle rather than just a product, Sharyn talks about how Coca Cola has done an effective job of building the associations in our minds that Coca Cola is family, fun and good times, giving links that go way beyond a beverage quenching a thirst.

In relation to the health industry, she talks about whether messaging focuses too much on the health issue and we're getting the whole 'sell' wrong, needing to review what will really move and motivate people in order to stop missing the mark.

Recent projects

Sharyn moves on to highlight some of her projects; a social marketing pilot campaign to keep leaves out of waterways to improve water quality, the Leave it campaign working to reduce koala and dog interactions given that dog attacks are the third most common cause of death amongst Koalas and the Blurred Minds project, changing the way adolescents feel about alcohol.

Takeaway Advice

Drawing on her marketing experience, Sharyn talks about the magic combination of listening well and giving people what they want. And keep doing it until you get it right.

Data is great, but it's only looking backwards. It's the intuition and learning how to find what should happen next that is key.

Behaviour change means you can't do what you've always done. It takes courage.