How to Use Theory to Solve Social Problems

Despite the importance of theory as a driving framework, many social marketers either fail to explicitly use theory as the basis of designing social marketing interventions or default to familiar theories which may not accurately reflect the nature of the behavioural issue.

The Social Marketing Theory-Based (SMT) Approach is proposed as a four-step process, and can be used to design social marketing interventions, campaigns or tools.


Service Thinking for Social Problems draws on multi-disciplinary theories with an emphasis on services marketing and consumer behaviour.  The theories presented here are rigorous and well-developed frameworks that provide a rich source of information to guide interventions, programs and campaigns to solve social problems.

Choosing the right theory to use for your program is made easy as you are able to browse through the different theories. We will provide plain English explanations and diagrams for each theory along with links to scholarly evidence.

Service scholars know that a specific services exist within a broader eco-system. Like the biological eco-system where organisms interact with other organisms and non-organic matter and operate as a system, services do the same. If you think about a service such as a food bank which offers fresh produce to vulnerable consumers, they interact with food retailers, farmers, warehouses, charities and numerous other organisations as part of the food relief ecosystem. If something affects one of these organisations, then all organisations and people in the system are affected.

Within the service ecosystem there are three levels; micro, meso and macro. Each of these levels has distinct properties and influence on the services that are designed and delivered. The micro level refers to the consumer (characteristics, needs, attitudes and behaviours), the meso level refers to the middle range (peer and social groups, community industries, organisations) and the macro level (societal, cultural, national and global organisations). On our website we have used these three levels to classify the theoretical frameworks used in each project.

The theories used can also be classified based on the domain of human responses that is the focus of the theory; cognitive, emotional, behavioural, social and contextual. Cognitive theories are those that deal with psychological processes such as attitudes or self-efficacy. Emotional theories relate to feelings and moods, behavioural relates to actions, social focusses on the interactions with other people and contextual is the environment in which a social problem occurs.

These theories are just snap-shots and give a brief overview, to gain a deeper understanding of the theories and how they work requires delving into scholarly works or books.


Macro, Meso and Micro Theory Classification


Cognitive, Emotional and Behavioural Theory Classification