Using Marketing to Combat Loneliness

Our social nature is serious business. We are social animals by nature and nurture; we don’t survive alone. Loneliness kills and needs to be addressed like any social health hazard. How do you combat loneliness with a marketing mindset? The way the U.K. is doing it.

Loneliness Kills

We’re increasingly living in urban megaregions, so it seems ironic that loneliness is a major problem. Still, a growing number of us feel isolated: the elderly, disabled, unemployed, sick, caregivers, parents, new to town, newly divorced.

Loneliness is now classified as a public health issue. The National Institutes of Health says that “negative health outcomes linked to loneliness included high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, disability, cognitive declines, and depression.” Depression, substance abuse and suicide together cost the United States approximately $950 billion annually.

The Cost of Loneliness project reports that loneliness increases the odds of premature death by 26 percent.

In one previous post, I wrote about how social isolation is as unhealthy as obesity. In another, I talk about how social connection helps us fight viruses.

We talk about physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. What about social health? We’re social beings after all. Neglect this aspect of our make-up and we suffer.

Marketing to Combat Loneliness

As described in this New York Times story, the United Kingdom has appointed a national minister of loneliness. Those working in the UK to combat loneliness are pursuing a systems thinking approach to understanding and improving loneliness and social health. The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness created a marketing approach to loneliness which the UK government is adopting as a roadmap.

The report includes starting a nationwide strategy to combat loneliness in all age groups and demographics. The strategy relies in part on market research, promotion, and design–classic marketing practices.

Market research: Measuring the problem of loneliness

The commission has done their research about the impact of the problem. For instance:

  • 9 million people in the UK report that they are often or always lonely.
  • Communities lacking social connection could be costing the UK economy up to 32 million pounds a year.
  • 24 percent of surveyed parents reported feeling often or always lonely.
  • One-third of people over 75 surveyed said that feelings of loneliness were out of their control.

In addition, the commission is establishing metrics related to loneliness to measure progress. One metric provides a national indicator on loneliness across all ages. Another effort calls for including measures of loneliness in other, relevant national studies.

Market research and metrics in turn support annual reporting on the impact of loneliness and progress in combating it.

Promotion: Telling the story of loneliness

In the 1940s the British pioneered identifying and attacking the five villains of the social good: idleness, illness, ignorance, want, and squalor. Loneliness is want–a lack of people and opportunity for social activity. In turn, this want leads to idleness and illness, which impact health costs.

Naming Loneliness the villain makes it easier to rally people to take action. The Jo Cox report contains case studies of specific actions communities have taken, supported by easy-to-understand messages. One group distributed free “Happy to Chat” buttons that people could wear. The city of Norfolk developed an integrated campaign of promotion and events. This drove citizens to recognize the problem and join in the effort.

Another group in Liverpool used loneliness heat maps to identify communities most in need of social support. Then, volunteers started knocking on doors in those areas. Because someone knocked on the door and asked, lonely people received referrals for services. Others started attended local lunch clubs and community organizations.

Design: Creating solutions to combat loneliness

The Jo Cox report also proposes a program to develop the evidence around what works in tackling loneliness. This type of research creates a foundation of knowledge for designing products and services.

Designs are paired with various funding mechanisms. In one example in Worcestershire, a program used a Social Impact Bond where investors would be paid if loneliness decreased.

Even a confirmed introvert like me must admit that we truly are better together. It’s time we applied our social good marketing tools to making communities that support our social needs.

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