Posts Tagged ‘insights’

Nigerian retail transformation changing consumer expectations

0c9d4c1a267b44d04a7d5037414aa1c4c1fbbee4Drawing on insights from Adewale Yusuf’s expert observations in the heart of the Nigerian transformation, I wrote up a short piece for his tech magazine Techpoint.ng which looks at changing consumer behaviour and its implications for startups. Do take a look:

Shopping as entertainment – A trend that might bite

Sprouting mega-malls are offering a whole new way to spend the day in the comfort of air-conditioning, browsing the latest offerings on display or window shopping. And the plethora of eCommerce sites offering cash on delivery means you can experiment with ordering new products to try in the comfort of your own home or the convenience of your office without making the commitment to purchase. Retail therapy has evolved from the bored housewife’s pastime to entertainment for the entire family. The very same headaches that increasing popularity is creating for eCommerce sites are but a clear signal of this consumer trend.

New Market Analysis: It all boils down to Interpretation

This isn’t a new diagram for anyone familiar with my writing. Its a diagram I’ve been using to explain where my work fits into the innovation development process since I first saw it on Luke Wroblewski’s blog back in 2006. However, I’ve just been struck forcibly by the realization that there’s a very important piece of this process that’s missing. And that is Interpretation.

What do I mean by Interpretation? 

Lets start by taking a look at the ever popular user centered design process, simplified in linear form, although we all know there are numerous feedback loops and iterations constantly happening in real time.

The understanding we seek in order to conceptualize and design emerges from the immersion in the new operating environment we wish to enter. This where we go and meet people and talk to them and watch and listen and learn. Its when we get back and analyse our findings that our aim is to synthesize them in the form of actionable insights that can drive the design and development of a new product, service or business model. The space between Insights and Design is when and where we conceive the ideas we wish to develop into workable constructs. Its a given that the process isn’t as linear as diagrammed and ideas and concepts occur much earlier but what is critical, and this is what I realized today, is in how we interpret our findings from the field.

This is the bit I’ve circled in red.

This is where our assumptions, especially those we don’t recognize, and our presumptions, are most likely to let us down. Two people, present in the same user observation study, meeting and listening to the same people, can interpret the raw data in very different ways. So much of this has to do with our preconceived ideas of the target audience not to mention especially important when you’re looking at such a study in a culture and society very different from your own, that its no wonder specialists in the field of design ethnography or user research keep emphasizing the need to able to step outside of yourself in order to observe and understand someone else.

While this is naturally important in all kinds of human interaction, it becomes far more crucial in the context of a professional user research project.

That’s why there are any number of case studies and examples of products and services that fail to match people’s needs or meet expectations *even* after extensive and expensive exploratory user research studies.

Did we manage to interpret our findings correctly? Did we understand what someone was saying in the context of their own culture and mindset and society? Or did we interpret their words and actions from the perspective of our own frame of reference?

I’ll end this with a simple example that comes to mind as I write this. A couple of years ago I was in the field for a small solar power manufacturer who could not comprehend why the very sensible decision of being able to save oodles of money on kerosene by investing in an affordable solar lamp was not being made by his intended target audience. Why were they not purchasing this product even though it made so much sense to do so?

In fact, it turned out, the real question was, did it make sense to the potential customer in the context of their own cash flow, income stream and household management?

Part 4: The visual documentation of the original research on rural economic behaviour

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I have uploaded a PDF synopsis of the fieldwork conducted during the original Prepaid Economy research including approach and methodology.  Also documented are the different ways those in the rural economy manage their ‘investments’. These images support the observations documented in Part 2 and my thoughts on rural Indian cow ownership have been fleshed out here.

Also of interest maybe this paper from Purdue’s Agricultural Economics department on The multifunctionality of livestock in rural Kenya whose abstract states:

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.

Caution: The emerging African market PDF stampede

This  PDF report on the emerging consumer market opportunity in Sub Saharan Africa comes to us from Accenture, the most recent in the long line of consulting firm offerings that started with McKinsey’s in June 2010.  In order to differentiate themselves from the migrating herd, they offer us a single customer segmentation model for the combined population of ~ 43 countries :

Our segmentation identifies five broad consumer segments:

  • Basic Survivors are the largest consumer group in Africa and are characteristically low income consumers. They tend to make day-to-day decisions based on basic needs.
  • Working families are the second-largest consumer group. They focus their spending on their children’s needs and value stability and routine.
  • Rising Strivers value upward mobility and buy based on convenience, quality, or even more “expressive” factors.
  • Cosmopolitan Professionals are typically located in urban areas. They value pragmatic products but are also brand conscious and influenced by the media.
  • The Affluent of Africa have disproportionately high purchasing power, and are considered wealthy regardless of where they travel across the globe. This group is extremely small and very fickle.

Their segment of choice for future focus are the “Working Families” ($100 to $250 a month), described so:


Working Family Profile – The Biya family resides in a small city called Mbouda in Cameroon and has four children ages seven to 13. Francis (the father) works as a mechanic servicing local farmers’ trucks, while Calixthe (the mother) works as a housekeeping lady in a hotel. Due to both parents’ late working hours, they often make quick prepared noodle dishes for dinner and give their children small biscuit packets for snacks. They spend extra on laundry detergent for school uniforms.

I see the “consumer market opportunity too big to ignore” alright, lets see how they fare in the “African markets  in accordance with African realities”.  These insights are from their section titled Analysis, and it reminds me of Dean Roger Martin’s most recent HBR blogpost  “You Can’t Analyze Your Way to Growth” where he writes:

The fundamental reason is that analysis of data is all about the past. Data analysis crunches the past and extrapolates it into the future. And the past does not include opportunities that exist but have not yet happened. So, analysis conspicuously excludes ways to serve customers that have not been tried or imagined or ways to turn non-customers into customers.

Hence the kids being fed Maggi 2 min noodles and packets of glucose biscuits, most likely from Parle.   Martin goes on to add:

Organizationally and behaviorally, analysis and appreciation are two very different things. Analysis is distant, done in office towers far from the consumer. It requires lots of quantitative proficiency but very little experience in the business in question. It depends on data-mining: finding data sources to crunch, often from data suppliers to the industry. Appreciation is intimate, done in close proximity to the consumer. It requires qualitative proficiency and deeper experience in the business. It requires the manufacture of unique data, rather than the use of data that already exists.

I like the term appreciation but my caveat would be that appreciation of any thing, person or environment emerges from understanding.