Thinking outside the baby box

baby boxes

Recently I read a BBC article about Finnish baby boxes and thought the program genius. It shows the power of using a marketing mindset, and a design approach, to solving a pressing social problem.

During the global Great Depression of the 1930s, Finland was a poor country with a high infant mortality rate of 65 deaths per 1,000 births. In 1938, Finland instituted a program of support for low-income mothers. The program provided for prenatal check ups and a box of infant supplies including diapers, bodysuits, clothes, bathing supplies, coats and hats, even a picture book and a teething ring.

The box itself doubled as a crib and also included a little mattress and bedding. For many Finnish babies, it was their first and only crib.

The combination of prenatal care and post-natal support worked. Infant mortality rates began to come down. The program worked so well, in fact, that in the 1940s Finland extended the program to all mothers. The program is still running today.

The contents of baby boxes have changed over the years. Initially it contained cloth for mothers to sew their baby clothes, as was the habit in the 1930s. The box started with cloth diapers, switched to disposables when those became available, and then in 2006 switched back to cloth for environmental concerns. Government officials also removed baby bottles from the box to encourage more women to breastfeed.

Marketing Infant Well-being

How did the Finnish apply marketing in this situation?

  • They defined a clear market goal (improved infant mortality).
  • They developed an appropriate and affordable product to meet that need (pre-natal health plus post-natal support).
  • They priced the product to meet their goals and the budget of their target market (initially free to low-income mothers).
  • They built the necessary distribution network (nationwide and easily accessible to low-income mothers).
  • They found appropriate channels to promote the product (through pediatricians).
  • They measured the program against their market goals (decreasing mortality).
  • Based on measurements, they expanded the program to additional segments (all mothers).

Finland now has an infant mortality rate of 3.38 deaths per 1,000 births. By comparison, the rate in the United States is 5.9 per 1,000.

Mothers can opt for cash grants in lieu of baby boxes. A few do, often because they can reuse the contents of a previous child’s box. The cash grant is currently set at 140 euros, or about $180. Ninety-five percent take the box because the contents is much more valuable to them.

With the current costs of U.S. health care, it takes very few pediatrician visits to quickly exceed $180. A box of prevention and a little market thought can be worth many dollars of cure.

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and used under Creative Commons license.)

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