Wednesday, February 25, 2009

influencing and changing behavior - a case in cloth diapers

A few weeks ago I attended a BCAMA breakfast to hear Jim Nelson, Senior Manager of Marketing from BC Hydro speak. Jim oversees the PowerSmart brand and I found his presentation on changing and influencing behavior through social marketing very interesting. Several weeks later it is still resonating with me, in particular making me think how I came to be a cloth diaper advocate.

I can easily be described as a city girl. I started in advertising in Toronto in the early 90s when Melrose Place was the 'best' example of my profession. No my skirts were never that short, no I didn't switch from an account person to a writer to an art director in a single episode and no I never tried to drown anyone in the pool in the center of my apartment complex. But I did live a hard working, fun living, disposable lifestyle. That changed somewhat after I moved to Vancouver. But I was still very focused on my work and my social life. When I met my husband I was travelling a lot for work, dropped my laundry off at the laundromat to be cleaned, dried and folded for me and I had a cleaning lady twice a month. Not the type of person you'd expect to get excited about her diapers drying on the clothes line in the backyard.

So what happened? How was I influenced to change? Certainly mainstream media had an effect on my thinking about my disposable lifestyle. It always really bugged me that diapers live pretty much forever in our land fills. And while the cloth diaper movement is growing is it certainly not mainstream and there are no large marketers pushing their virtues. This is a case of social change through word of mouth.

At the breakfast session Jim gave us a little exercise to discuss amongst your table a behaviour you'd like to change - discuss the excuses you'd give not to change, actual reasons not the change and the reasons to change. (and he reminded us that real and perceived issues were equally valid)

Well the excuses not to try is pretty obvious - the fear of poo and the need to stay as far away from it as possible. Some valid reasons for not trying them is the upfront cost of buying them, the extra steps required when your baby is wiggling away on the diaper table and the extra laundry (and the additional hydro cost that goes with that). The reasons to try are primarily environmental, but also cost.

So I was commited to the idea that I would try cloth diapering part time. Use them at home and then switch to disposable when out and about. It seemed like a nice little step to try and reduce the amount of diapers I would send to the landfill.

I was one of the last of my friends to have kids, so I asked my friends. The reactions were
  • "hahahahahahaha I give it a week"
  • "you are a better woman than me"
  • "I tried it but my husband wasn't on board so I gave it up"
  • "there were too many extra steps - diapers, snaps, liners, covers - so we gave it up".
So word of mouth was certainly NOT influencing me to change my behavior. But I had one good friend who was cloth diapering - she had three kids so I figured if she could do it the least I could do it give it a try. So we took the advice of a colleague and started with a diaper service.

Then it was like we fell into a rabbit hole - of the marketing kind. Cloth diapering itself was easy. Figuring out the shopping process was NOT. My friend with the 3 kids (who lives in Toronto by the way) was my life line to all things cloth diapering. Cloth diapering seem to be a great business opportunity for Work at Home Moms (WAHM). And the internet is just stuffed FULL of diaper options. But I spends hours and hours and hours reviewing websites and scouring to read reviews. No wonder people don't want to change and try something different... it is overwhelming. More overwhelming than buying a stroller!

The diaper service was great advice as it gave me a few months to get used to my little man and his diapering needs and then buy a couple of samples to see what worked for him and us. I then bought the diapers we liked on craigslist (the good diapers like mother-ease really hold their value and I expect I'll be able to resell them when we are finished with them OR give them to a friend).

In the end, we found the times when we used disposable diapers we had more messes and that resulted in more laundry than washing diapers. So we became full time cloth diaper parents. And somewhere along the line I've become pretty passionate about it. I've posted reviews on, I've passionately advocated to poor pregnant women wondering what it is all about, I've purchased wet bags (btw the best are from - expensive but worth it) so I can travel with cloth diapers and I obsess about those 6 disposable diapers a week that get used on my son while he is in daycare.

So how did I get here from those Melrose Place days????? Word of mouth worked against me, there were no negative consequences or social pressure, I knew no advocates..... I guess it just came down to my belief that the social norm was NOT acceptable to me and the help of ONE good friend.

So what no... well I'm trying to do my darnest to influence other people's behaviour by advocating my experience. It only took one friend to help me change. And it really it isn't that hard - once you get over the intial shopping experience. Now if we could just convince a large marketer that money could be made here then we'd have a lot more power behind our cloth diaper revolution.

No comments:

Post a Comment