The Press, March 2013

Marketing is about getting a group of people to change their perceptions and actions, but often the biggest change actually needs to come from the marketer themself.

As anyone who has children knows, getting people to change is very difficult. No matter how often I tell my 11 year old son to pick up his clothes off the floor it simply doesn’t happen.

Fundamental to achieving change in people is first understanding that they don’t really want to. They are comfortable with the way things are and resist any attempt to deviate from that unless there is a compelling reason.

In The Press recently Christchurch City Councillor Aaron Keown showed frustration at this resistance, as the Council was considering an investment of $69 million in cycle lanes.

‘‘People are so lazy now, and so entrenched in using their cars, that you could give them an armed escort all the way to work and they still wouldn’t bike. We need to start thinking of cycling as being cool,” said Cr Keown.

If my son is anything to go by, calling people lazy is not an effective way to motivate change.

In fact cycling has actually undergone explosive growth in recent decades. According to the Cycling Advocacy Network, between the 1970s and 2006 the number of cyclists in New Zealand jumped from around 200,000 to over 1.2 million.

As evidenced by the colourful groups of road cyclists I see every weekend, and the bands of mountain bikers evident in the hills, people are biking for fun or fitness. They are not lazy at all.

What didn’t increase over the same time period was the number of cycling commuters i.e. people travelling to work, in fact they declined slightly.

If you are ‘marketing’ cycle commuting, what would you do? As with any marketing, the answer always lies with the customer.

The average person simply wants to solve the problem of getting to work, and there are many solutions, of which cycling is only one. They want an option that is easy, cheap, safe and cool, and for many cycle commuting doesn’t deliver.

Councils have chosen not to invest enough in roading networks that are bike-friendly, with limited number of cycle lanes and few other bike oriented features. Cars get clear priority anywhere in the city, and especially in central business districts, and there is often a lack of secure areas for people to park their bikes.

Compare this to the city of Portland, Oregon in the USA. It has highest proportion of cycle commuters in that country, having grown rapidly since 2001. 6% of commuters’ cycle in Portland, the highest rate in the car crazy US, more than 10 times the national average.

Portland has implemented a number of measures to encourage cycling to make it easier and safer, such as street markings, signs, and better signals for crossing busy intersections. Bike lanes are painted blue, and they have installed special bike boxes that allow cyclists to go ahead of other traffic at lights. Covered parking is also offered in popular areas.

The promoters of cycle commuting in Portland have understood that the first job of a marketer is to understand the customer well enough to ensure the product satisfies their needs.

People want functional benefits (easier, faster, convenient), financial benefits (value for money, sustainable) and emotional benefits (I am cool, I’m having fun, I’m fit, I’m green etc). Your product needs to offer all of these to be successful.

If the product fits then the marketers role is smoothly shepherding a potential customer through the process of becoming aware of the product, learning about its features and appreciating the benefits, working out how to access it, buy it and then use it successfully.

Councils and other agencies have done a good job of the second part, running all manner of promotions and events to extol the virtues of cycling to work. Still the commuting rate remains flat while other areas of cycling explode.

That’s because while Council tell us how great cycle commuting is for us and for the environment, the experience for the actual cyclist is that the roading system is for cars and they are second class citizens that must do their best to fit in (and not be run over).

Instead of blaming people, who are cycling like crazy in other areas of their life, for not ‘consuming’ this method of transport, it is the Council that needs to change. Unless the product is improved people won’t make the choice to cycle.

For any organisations this can be a tough realisation, that it is not the customer that needs to be ‘educated’ or ‘motivated’ to change, it is the organisation itself that must shift to better meet their needs.

As I have learnt with my son and his room, it was me that needed to change. Instead of harassment I tried to understand the world of an 11 year old boy, and opted for bribery. It worked.

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