The coronavirus outbreak has had its toll on every continent of the world. As such, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a pandemic last year in March. Upon declaration, several behaviour-related facts were emphasised to minimise the spread of the deadly virus.

The deadly virus is easily spread by close contact between people without a mask on, as well as droplets from infected people through coughing, sneezing or even talking. Another way one may catch Covid-19 is by touching a contaminated surface and then their face, nose, ears or mouth.

The World Health Organization (WHO) strongly encouraged certain behavioural change like the frequent washing of hands for at least, twenty (20) seconds, the wearing of a mask, eating fruits and vegetables, exercising and importantly, keeping a social distance to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

In view of these directives, particularly in Ghana, government sectors, corporate institutions, non-for-profit organisations and the mass media took it as a responsibility to engage in various campaigns to help prevent the spread of the disease. However, the campaigns seem to produce no satisfactory impact on the change in behaviour of the general public as the number of active cases in Ghana keep rising.

The behavioural change proposed for the general public of Ghana is quite different from our usual way of life before the outbreak of the virus and it competes with already existing lifestyles. It is very difficult for individuals to change from a particular pattern or trait all of a sudden by just giving them information and expecting them to simply comply by it. Unless, there is a voluntary behaviour change by individual, positive outcome is quite challenging to achieve.

However, changing behaviour patterns voluntarily is also very much complex as it entails an understanding of the changed behaviour and under what circumstance such behaviour is desired. With this situation in place, having an in-depth knowledge of Social Marketing which spans across sociology, psychology, economics and anthropology can help in the understanding of individuals’ behavioural change.

Through the application of Social Marketing, many countries have successfully implemented social marketing techniques to achieve various social objectives through behavioural change intervention programmes of smoking cessation, road safety, disease prevention and screening, physical activities and environmental issues.

Social marketing is a systematic process of influencing behaviour change of different target market segments by utilizing a planning process that applies marketing principles and tactics to deliver positive societal benefits. Thus, the primary objective of Social Marketing is not to sell goods and services rather to influence targeted markets to adopt a desired behaviour.

An individual’s behaviour can be influenced in one of the four ways, firstly to accepting a new behaviour, for instance, wearing a mask; rejecting an undesirable behaviour such as overcrowding; modifying a current behaviour like washing of hands frequently and abandoning an old undesirable behaviour of coughing here and there.

In applying the concept of Social Marketing in eliminating the spread of the pandemic in Ghana, at least four broad aspects must be emphasized: first, a clear definition of the problem at hand; second, a thorough environmental scan to segment the entire market and analyse the target audiences characteristics to influence their behaviours through the right message circulated at the right media and location; third, an analysis of social norms, potential barriers and competitions toward the desired behaviours and fourth, establish the monitoring policies and criteria for evaluating the intervention programme.

As it stands now, many countries are now experiencing what could possibly be a second wave. Therefore, it is high time for the authorities to understand the underpinning attitudes and beliefs held by the general public in Ghana regarding the WHO prescribed desired behaviours. Gaining information on the current status of people’s new behavioural acceptance can provide insights on the reasons behind the compliance and non-compliance of the desired behaviours. Understanding the difficulty in changing to desired behaviours through environmental scanning demands a clear segmentation or division of communities before communicating the message of behavioural change in Ghana.

This could be done by dividing the entire populace based on geographic (according to cities, neighbourhood), demographic (according to age, education level, gender) and psychographic (according to attitude, beliefs, values, social norms, needs). Each segment is unique and thus may respond differently to campaign elements, therefore, different techniques must be utilized to reach and motivate the different segments. The creativity of the message, use of words, images and its explanation should be tailored to a particular segment’s characteristics to get maximum reach of the target audience.

With the attainment of the division of segments and its different communication techniques achieved, the next step is to understand the existing social norms, potential barriers of behavioural change and competing behaviours (which are the behaviours that the general public would prefer to do). It is important to make the desired behaviours attractive as possible to adopt, by emphasizing on the dangers and risk one may go through because of the disregard of the preventive measures put in place.

There is also a need for consistent and continuous monitoring to minimize the spread of the virus. Specific criteria-based evaluation of intervention programme at a specific interval can also yield actionable insights about what worked well and what did not. The risk of infection is still prevalent and therefore, there is no other alternative than to adopt these new and desired behaviours to combat the spread in Ghana.

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The writer is a lecturer with the Kumasi Technical University, Department of Marketing.