Posts Tagged ‘bop’

Market Segmentation in the Informal Economy

This table is from “How to profit from Africa’s different consumer groups” and the research is from NKC Independent Economists group. There is something lacking in understanding the patterns of purchasing power when segmentation methodology from the formal economy are applied ad hoc to markets which are primarily informal.

As mentioned at the end of the previous post, an alternate method of segmenting the mass majority markets across Sub Sahara might be to cluster by volatility of cash flow. Farmers, for example, will tend to have cash 2 or 3 times a year, based on their crop and their geography, and some of these will be earmarked ahead for farm inputs.

Then, depending on which segment one is targeting and the proportion in that bracket earning a living from a variety of sources rather than a fixed salaried job, one can assess how much adaptation would existing business models and payment plans require for reaching the majority of the target audience.
 This will differ from product to product, the articles breathlessly divulging all about this suddenly recognized African consumer market are still focusing on the creamy layer at the top of the income pyramid with their mentions of ice cream and caviar.

The old way focused on amounts of periodic cash flow, that is, income, as a means to segment people by disposable income available for consumption. The new way might have to look at their basket of groceries and then decide based on purchasing patterns.

The challenge arises when obsolete methods from a wholly different operating environment are applied out of context and the results interpreted in the same way as though there are no fundamental differences in the population and their mindset. There must be a reason why 96% of the hundreds of millions of mobile phone users across the continent are on prepaid or pay as you go plans.

Sampling uncertainty

This drawing was made by Jeroen Meijer of JAM visual design, Amsterdam, earlier this week during the workshop we held on Monday, November 26th, 2012.

Its a visualization of the chart I use to show how participants were sampled for the prepaid economy project. The axes represent the individual’s ability to accurately predict either timing or amount of their cash flow status, and thus, their ability to plan. By all rights, this should be on the Prepaid Economy blog where this topic has been an ongoing matter for discussion but I wanted to share the communication potential of this format.

Its also a way to segment the undifferentiated masses in the informal economy, where traditional means to segment a population demographic such as income level or education may not be relevant or skew results leading to misinterpretation. What if one could cluster by patterns of cash flow, and thus, consumer behaviour?

“Life is Hard” – Original slides with written speech, BxD 2008

This is more or less the written version of my Life is Hard presentation (slides,video, reference) as first given in October 2008 in Providence, Rhode Island at the Better World by Design conference held at Brown University. Some of the details have become more nuanced since then, some parts have spun off into blogs, projects, grant funded research and more. But the fundamentals remain. Of that I’m glad, as it implies that the basic principles are sound while additional observations in numerous countries since then have only fleshed out the details even more. This is original work and the slides have never been shared previously outside of a presentation environment. Note: This talk has primarily addressed audiences living and working in the first world’s mainstream consumer culture and is given  from that frame of reference.

Life is Hard. 

Without systems that work, inadequate infrastructure, little or no social security or welfare, and general chaos, life is hard at the bottom of the social and economic pyramid in developing countries. If you have survived to functional adulthood while growing up in the slums and shanties of Africa or South Asia, you’ve come of age experiencing life as adversity and challenge.

The only certainty is uncertainty.

Natural disasters or random riots, anything can happen at any time. Planning for the future, much less tomorrow, can be challenging and a sudden shock can spiral the whole family into destitution.

Uncertainty of time and uncertainty of money. 

Uncertain Incomes

Not knowing how many shoes you will shine today or whether you’ll have a call for daily wage labour means you have no way to predict or plan based on your cash flow. You rarely know how much you make each month, and are more likely to be living hand to mouth, getting by with the cash you earned that day.

Inadequate Infrastructure

When systems are lacking or insufficient, they add to inability to plan. You’re waiting for water, or a shared toilet, you’re walking two hours to catch a bus, there’s not enough light or the power is out – it all adds up to uncertainty of time. And is out of your control.

A different worldview

So this life of adversity and uncertainty, surviving (and thriving) in challenging conditions of scarcity, leads to a different worldview than what we’re familiar with. Buyer behaviour and purchasing patterns on irregular incomes are very different, as is the mindset and what is value.

There is daily juggling of income versus expenses, a complex processing of whom to pay for what, and when and for how much. People are familiar with all the financial tools of loans, barter, credit, debit, trade and interest rates, though they may not always call it the same names or be aware of sophisticated financial terminology or use tools like ATMs, credit cards and banks.

The BoP as Customers are strategic money managers

Every decision to spend money – with the exception of an impulse buy of sweets or a newspaper when there is some change available – made by those who manage on uncertain incomes at the base of the pyramid could be said to be analogous to making an investment. Usually in their future, in some way or the other. Whether the decision is a tradeoff between purchasing shoes for a school going child and meat for a meal or choosing to buy some airtime instead of a meal, each of these is an investment – in the child’s future, in future income if work is dependent on being accessible by phone or simply, the next meal.

 How best do we optimize the return on our investment in this single shopping basket with this amount of money available today?

Trade offs are a fact of life.

Purchasing patterns on irregular and unpredictable incomes

When income is irregular and unpredictable, both in amount and frequency, such as it is for the majority at the bottom of the pyramid, buying behavior is not quite the same as for mainstream consumers. At least four patterns emerge based on a combination of need and money available.

  1. Bought in bulk – Usually food staples or something you cannot live without would be purchased in this manner, either when there is a sudden influx of cash or a payment at the end of manual labour or if managing on a fixed amount each month such as remittances from abroad. This ensures that there is something to eat even if money runs out before the next payment might be due. If its a sudden influx of cash for someone not on a pension or remittance then these are the funds that often go towards a consumer durable purchase or big ticket item of some kind.
  2. Paid for in advance – Usually a service which can be used or consumed over time can be purchased in advance when funds are available and then made to last as long as possible. The best known example of course is prepaid airtime.
  3. Sachets or single portions – A form of on demand purchase. Interestingly, I came across this working paper by Anand Kumar Jaiswal at IIM, saying that sales results in rural India seemed to imply that only shampoos and razor blades were more successful in sachet form, whereas things like milkpowder, jam etc sold more in the larger size. The author cautions against assuming all sachets will sell. I believe it could be based on the usage pattern of the product in question or its nature – what if you packaged a perishable item in single servings that didn’t need refrigeration until opened?
  4. On demand or daily purchase – mostly perishables like bread, eggs, fresh vegetables purchased for the day’s needs. Partly cultural but also influenced by availability of cash in hand. Cigarettes sold loose or two slices of bread and an egg are some examples we’ve seen. Indian vegetable vendors are also willing to sell you a small portion of a larger vegetable either by weight or by price. You can buy 50p worth of cabbage for a single meal. Minimizes wastage whether you’re cooking for one or have no fridge. This is also the most common pattern if you earn small amounts daily, like the vegetable vendor, shelling out what you have for what you need and then if there’s some change, debating what do with it.

What is the buyer behaviour observed among BoP “consumers”? 

  1. Maximizing the return on their investment – When you have a limited amount to spend, usually at the end of each day, you’re seeking to minimize risk and maximize the value of your investment. From our observations in the field, we have seen some core values emerge in the pattern of buyer behaviour at the BoP in the way they think about and use their possessions or the products and brands they choose to buy.
  2. Repair and renew – Limited incomes mean there is no wriggle room for the easy convenience so beloved of consumer product manufacturers of ‘just throwaway and replace’. Products must be durable and are treated as such – whether its renewing the old mobile phone with a new keyboard after the numbers fade from prolonged use or continued repair of 20 year old cars using spare parts that may not be new themselves.
  3. Maintain and extend – How long will this bar of soap last me? I’m willing to pay a little more if this bar will wash more clothes for my family than that cheaper bar that quickly dissolves into a puddle of soapy goo. Let me tape some plastic sheeting over the television that occupies the pride of place in our one room shack, it will last much longer and still look shiny and new. Cobblers repair sandals with bits of tires and small nails while someone will offer to make like new the grinding stone worn too smooth from constant use.
  4. Recycle and reuse – Nothing ever goes to waste, not even old plastic bottles dug up from rubbish heaps. But even those who are not rag pickers think twice about throwing away something that could be used elsewhere or put to another purpose.

A different mindset, a different worldview

All of these qualities are part of the BoP consumer’s mindset, although many seem obvious or familiar to us. The critical difference, imho, is that while we have the wriggle room for experimenting with the ‘new and improved’ or rather then untried and unproven, those at the BoP cannot take the risk. Proof of performance over time is what establishes the brand’s reputation and trustworthiness. And this influences the messaging that resonates with their values when responding to information about products and services. This is where the ‘sensitive bullshit meter’; the skepticism about marketer’s claims comes into play. The ‘tried and true’ carries weight as Coca Cola, Toyota or Tata can tell you.

We may find that a soap lasts a long time after we’ve purchased it and its advertising message maybe based on nuanced lifestyle messaging, usually a beauty queen lathering up in the shower and then shown on the arm of a rockstar or some such. But when targeting the market at the BoP, these qualities must become easy to confirm and identify, they form the core values which are at the foundation of every purchase decision. What’s on sale must be not only be easy to use but also easy to choose.

(smile at draft)

Why so much “BoP” marketing fails in the developing world

Consumer electronics stall in informal market, Nairobi Kenya 23 January 2012

Increasingly I have been getting the sense that there are some fundamental issues with the way BoP focused organizations are developing, creating and implementing their market entry strategies.  Here are four of the most obvious errors that I’m seeing:

Assuming there’s no competition

Most of these firms, particularly those coming in from the outside and seeking to serve the ‘poor’ in the developing world seem to be operating in a vacuum. Observing their market entry actions point to an underlying assumption that they are entering a virgin market where  no competing solutions for their product or service exist.  If this fundamental premise is mistaken then every element of their marketing, communication, distribution and pricing strategy will naturally suffer.

A caveat here is that it might indeed be a virgin market for branded international solutions in the formal market but this is where overlooking the informal markets and existing practices in user behaviour can be far more dangerous since this is where the competition will come from in the form of substitutes or alternate solutions.

Because of the above assumption, little effort is made to uncover information about the customer, the market or competition or the operating environment. Whether this is due to a vacuum of information on BoP markets or the developing world, or this subject simply not being taken into consideration, the fact remains that this oversight then gives rise to a series of errors (like the domino effect) – those in marketing strategy viz., marketing communications, value propositions and positioning not to mention pricing.

Conflating company mission with marketing strategy

While this is most commonly found among well meaning social enterprises entering these markets for the first time with their life saving products for the poor, large multinationals with previous experience in the developing world are not immune the minute they choose to focus particularly on the BoP (or poor) market.

Tata Nano is the most obvious example of this although here one wonders how much of this had to do with their actual marketing communications and advertising for the Nano and how much to do with all the media hype around the car being specially for the ‘common man’? All the positioning and branding in the world through formal advertising and communication channels could not overcome the public perception of the ‘poor man’s car’ created by every other article – from engineering news to international styling – on the Nano.

Similarly, if all the marketing communications, press reports and online information is geared towards the ‘poverty alleviating” mission of the company then this lack of clear focus or understanding of who the target audience is will come through in the positioning and branding of the product in the marketplace.  And no one will aspire to buy the ‘poor man’s product’ if it means a clear signal of having failed to succeed or admitting defeat among their friends and neighbours.

Confusing value proposition with need

This lack of clarity and understanding about the target audience for a product or service and thus, its marketing communications and messaging then snowballs into incorrect positioning of the product or incorrectly identifying the value proposition for the end user.

The end result might be the same – the customer choosing to buy your product – but the pain points may differ tremendously across geographies and regions, not to mention socioeconomic strata. An example is water saving flush toilet mechanisms being sold in Nairobi as a sustainable, greener alternative – that is, the same positioning and value proposition as that used in the eco-conscious parts of the Northern European continent. Sales are sluggish. But when you take into consideration that there is a water shortage or that many communities need to purchase water in tankers to fill their household storage tanks, a simple shift in positioning to “Spend less money flushing down the toilet” or some such clever quip could in fact make a more sensible approach in this situation for the very same product.

This gets more obvious the lower down the income stream you go – Mama Mboga with her vegetable stand may not have the same priorities nor relate to the same value propositions that social impact investors do.

Overestimating the ability of a faceless brand to communicate value

There is probably a snappier sentence to capture this aspect but at this stage of understanding the BoP markets and their challenges its perhaps better to be clear than pithy.  Some have called this issue one of Trust and in the past, I’ve referred to it as Commitment but the fact remains that this aspect is the most challenging and difficult to overcome as a barrier to acceptance.

Even megabrands accustomed to instant global recognition such as Google may find that not only is their brand unknown and unheard of in these new and emerging markets but others may have gotten there before them.  Which, in a way, brings us back to the first point in the assumptions made at the very beginning of considering market entry strategies in the rising global middle class.

The multifunctionality of livestock in rural Kenya

This is an interesting research paper from Purdue’s Agricultural Economics department published in 2008. Titled Traits Affecting Household Livestock Marketing Decisions in Rural Kenya (pdf), it’s abstract informs us that:

While many contemporary development programs with regard to Sub-Saharan Africa’s pastoralists promote improved livestock marketing as a way out of poverty, they also fail to take into account the multi-functionality of livestock within these communities, and thus are doomed to failure. While livestock are a main source of income for the pastoralist household, they also serve a purpose as a store of wealth, food source, and status symbol. Furthermore, cattle and smallstock (sheep and goats) fulfill each function to a different degree. Since livestock are so multi-functional, marketing projects could better achieve their objectives if they had a more accurate picture of what motivates household livestock sale decisions.

The findings from the first phase of my fieldwork in rural Philippines and India identified the tendency for livestock purchases to be perceived as investments, maturing at different times over the course of the natural year. A piglet, for example, could be used as an investment – to be sold when adult for 2 or 3 times its original cost or as a cushion against shock – to be eaten as food or sold in times of need. Whereas it was rice or wheat that tended to be used as a store of wealth by the Filipino and Indian farmers, this paper demonstrates that rural Kenya pastoralists display the same behaviour, only changing the form of the stored wealth from grain to livestock.

We cannot look at any rural marketing strategies without first understanding household financial behaviour (or consumer behaviour as traditional marketers are wont to call it, though that can be misleading) and many of the traits so displayed offer a challenge to conventional business practices and market entry strategy.

Here’s a lovely paragraph from their research paper which echoes my findings, giving me confidence that my findings from the upcoming rural Kenyan fieldwork will only underscore the basic patterns of rural financial household management already seen elsewhere.

Given the emphasis placed on the multi-functionality of livestock in the literature, the implication is that households will treat livestock similarly to a savings account or stock portfolio and typically (and perhaps reluctantly) only sell livestock to cover cash shortfalls when certain necessary expenditures arise. Depending upon the household liquidity of livestock, animal sales may take place frequently to cover living expenditures or infrequently to cover lumpy expenses such as school fees, tuitions, and uniforms. Additionally, pastoralist households likely hold livestock as a buffer against future uncertainties and obligations that cannot be completely foreseen.

Lack of liquidity among rural households has often led those evaluating the so called “base of the pyramid” households to inaccurately assess purchasing power based on availability or spending patterns of cash money whereas in actuality cash money is rarely held onto and rapidly converted into tangible goods as a form of investment in a diversified portfolio.

If interested in comparisons, my second link above ‘findings’ is the final paper I’d submitted to the iBoP Asia project in 2009 on the ‘Prepaid Economy’ research.

Human centered design: Surprising insights from rural Kenya

One of the most surprising things that struck me over the past couple days of running around doing recce visits for our upcoming rural research was just how rapidly and how well the concept of the user centered design (UCD) process and thus, the human centered approach to research and development was not only understood by our rural hosts but how much it was appreciated. As others in the field know, it can often be a challenge to explain to clients why user research is critical and what kind of difference it can make, more so in the former rich world.

Even the local councilor’s political protege beamed when he heard that it was critical to understand ‘his’ people first and their daily life before coming up with any product, service or plan. In fact it makes me wonder whether his little part of the world is in for any changes?

Mind you, we were extremely blessed during our visit to Makueni district – one of the more challenged parts of Kenya, where the arid landscape can suffer from insecurity of such essentials such as food and water.  Our contact there introduced us to his old friend, who was in between contracts, and Rafael (whom I’m sure I’ll be mentioning more in future posts) turned out to be an experienced expert in poverty alleviation programs and a trained anthropologist to boot.  Our initial meeting rapidly turned into a project planning session.

But that’s a welcome side note. I started this post because as we were discussing the methodology and approach that I intended to use for our consumer insights research, I found that not only was the UCD process grasped rapidly by all the others at our table, its value was also appreciated and understood.

As our local businessman friend explained, too often products for their market were simply direct imports or secondhand and shoddy goods “sent to Africa”. The fact that their community’s lifestyle and daily challenges were considered important enough to be understood first before the development of any strategy or device was felt to be a mark of respect.

It makes me ponder whether we do the economically or infrastructurally challenged a disservice to continue to think of them as the BoP – no one, if asked, would ever consider themselves the base or bottom of anything.  And I wonder if that’s why so many of these socially beneficial products or poverty alleviation products and programs fail because to embrace them would imply to one’s peers and community members that one was ‘beyond hope’ or ‘poor’ regardless of one’s one economic challenges?

Low Income Household consumer research in rural Kenya

Roadside clothing shop, somewhere between Emali and Wote, Kenya Nov 2011

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be starting a whole new set of fieldwork in rural Kenya.  This time we’re doing something closer to the better known applications of our human centered design approach for increasing our understanding of people. It will be among rural ‘BoP’ households on behalf of a consumer product that’s retailed in leading supermarkets. While our previous client project allowed us to delve deeply into a topic that interests us both – mobiles, internets and cyber cafes – I’m looking forward to the opportunity being made available to me to finally be able to do something approaching the ‘prepaid economy project‘ from two years ago.

That is, I’ll have the chance to find out how those on irregular income streams manage their household finances and share this openly on the blog. Since it is also a rural location, it maps on almost exactly to the criteria of the previous locations in The Philippines and in India thus permitting an excellent opportunity for contrast and comparison. What’s exciting me however is that this will be in Kenya, home of the mPesa mobile money transfer system, and I want to see if it will be mentioned by any of the respondents in their answers to the same set of questions I’d used previously.

That is, without any mention of it from my side, I want to see if MPesa has made any difference to the way rural folk deal with emergencies or planned expenses or any other aspect of their daily life.  If there’s anything of note, my hope is to be able to write a comparitive paper on it and extend the findings from the previous research. Of course, our current client will also receive what they have asked us to find out for them – its just that its all under an NDA.

This series will be categorized under the Project category titled “Prepaid Kenya series” and I’ll be using “prepaidkenya” as a tag to all relevant posts, if you’d like to follow along.

Pondering a new prepaid research focus

Ever since I completed the first Prepaid Economy study which looked at how those on irregular income streams managed their household finances – focusing on rural Philippines and India – I’ve been curious about rural Kenya. I’ve long wanted to delve into the impact, if any, of the mobile money systems that have rapidly gained popularity in the country.

My thinking goes that if I were to ask the same set of questions as I did in Philippines and India (and as John Lumbe did for me remotely in Malawi) without any prompting, then if services like MPESA et al had indeed made any signficant social or economic impact in the ways people deal with and manage emergencies, loans and planning for large future expenses, it would emerge spontaneously in the answers given.

Now it looks as though I may just get my chance to follow through with this dream in at least two rural locations, early in the new year. Lets keep our fingers crossed.

Questioning the value of the term Base or Bottom of the Pyramid aka the BoP

Siim Esko wrote a short piece on his blog BoP Strategies after a conversation we recently had. Since much of his work focuses on the BoP in India and I’d just returned from the Kenyan tour, it was but natural for us to compare and contrast the challenges and the conditions of the lower income demographic in both these countries.  He refers to recent posts on NextBillion.net when he starts:

Ashoka is targeting the top of the BoP with their Housing for All project, but they can still say they are targeting the base of the pyramid – those who can’t afford current housing solution, but who are not the poorest of the poor. But Aneel Karnani talks about the destitute poor and how the BoP is misconstrued. It’s apples and oranges.

Its apples and oranges indeed but by only referring to them as fruit, that is, the BoP, one tends to forget that this acronym actually refers to the more than 4 if not 5 billion of the entire planet’s population. And they are not all alike in any way, shape or form.  And that’s why I told him that I’m increasingly concerned about unqualified use of the general term BoP for this market.  Siim continues in his post:

There is much use for there being one definition for what we used to call the poor segment. But it seems like people get confused by the ‘bottom’ in ‘bottom of the pyramid’. In fact, it’s a rabbit hole and the rabbit hole goes deep.

We don’t take the whole World and consider that our market. You will never get VC funding with an idea like that. We zoom in on the continent, which can be divided into countries, which divide into regions, into areas. The people in different micromarkets have different buying behaviour, different wants and aspirations. And catering to those wants and needs is different. Selling snow mobiles in Helsinki is different than selling them in the north of Finland where Santa Claus lives. For one, it is entertainment, for the other, about survival. We know that. Think of the BoP in the same way – divided into tiny segments all over. Some marketing strategies are replicable across areas, income segments and sexes, but many are not.

And maybe the use of the term by an Ashoka in their own context of what they are trying to achieve – affordable housing or by Karnani in what he’s attempting to say may work but in the context of the entire global community of people who are increasingly focused on this space (that is, for example, the audience of a site such as a NextBillion) it implies that one BoP reference is the same as another. And why not, they are all the Base of the Pyramid you say?

Kenya is very different from India, and Africa from Asia. Yet due to the singular BoP label, the implications often are that one’s BoP experience with big bad messy India will prepare one for those in Kenya (or that success in a favela necessarily implies success in the basti). How different is this current situation from the early days of globalization and mass production of consumer goods across the world, based on the now debunked theory that Theodore Levitt espoused?

Any global advertising agency will tell you that localization and understanding regional differences is critical for the sales of your detergent or shampoo – the challenges that multinationals who rushed into India and China in the closing years of the previous century are well documented. Those hundreds of millions of middle class housewives were, in fact, nothing like Mrs Saunderson back in Toledo or Cincinnati, were they? So why, now, as we extend our reach down the income stream to the rest of the world’s population, are we on the point of making the same expensive errors of judgment and assumption?

In the early days of awareness creation, that here was a world changing opportunity to effect positive change and impact wellbeing, the concept of the 4 billion micro producers, consumers and creators at the base of the global economic pyramid was a valuable and compelling visualization. It captured the imagination of many and much good has come out of this – CK Prahalad has left us with a legacy.

However, as the BoP market matures and competition increases, it will only get more difficult if this single label continues to be used – it implies a single monolithic entity, segmentable only by “income” – in itself a challenging proposition in an environment where most are on irregular income streams from a variety of sources and unable for the most part to evaluate what their weekly/monthly/annual income may be, much less feel they have $2 or $3 or $5 to spend each day.  We see this in our work and we see it in the field.

If there are truly to be outstanding successes in this area, then perhaps its time to consider this market with the same degree of seriousness that advertising does its audience, regardless of whether you are making a profit, sustaining yourself or simply giving it all away.

Reflecting on the mobile internet in Kenya

Poster in shop, Kagumo, Kenya 18th October 2011

After the past three weeks of focusing on cyber cafes and internet access in urban and rural Kenya, we’ve been questioning the value of the “mobile internet” statistics provided by operators to the CCK. Muchiri pointed out that since most of our feedback seemed to revolve more around SIM operated routers installed by cybers, or mobile broadband modems sold either to regular home and business users or even, in the smaller towns, used to link networked computers in small cybers to the internet, what did the information actually communicate?

A thousand shillings cheaper than in Nairobi, seen in Kagumo, Kenya

At the shop we were in, Jacqueline (who is saving for her own laptop for Christmas) explained to us that it was cheaper to buy a data bundle or use the modem, than to browse on the phone using the Ksh 2/min offer directly.  Extremely knowledgeable about the most cost effective ways to browse using whichever device you may have, she uses her phone for social networking constantly and prefers it to the cyber which she only visits occasionally. However it was she who pointed out to us that she didn’t think that it was internet enabled phones alone that were affecting the cyber’s business but also the fact that affordable devices (desktops, laptops and modems) were increasingly popular and easily available.

If so, then the 98% of Kenya’s internet users who are on mobile internet may not be doing it through mobile phones alone as is so often assumed but via a variety of SIM based devices. A detailed breakdown of devices under the heading of ‘mobile internet using SIM’ as reported to the authorities might begin to offer a clearer perspective on user behaviour and modes of access.