Posts Tagged ‘middle class’

India’s Hidden Middle Class and the MNC Conundrum

The Economist writes a rather breathless take on a theme very popular just over a decade ago – the Great Indian Middle Class so longingly hoped and wished for still hadn’t emerged to satisfy the consumption habits preferred by the global multinational brands. Where were they, the article shrilly asked, unquestioningly promoting China’s middle class as an MNC success and overlooking all the challenges documented theretofore.

There’s an undeniable consumer boom visible across India, I’ve seen it and documented it myself. The difference this time around is that its a “hidden middle” – hidden from the lenses that MNCs use to identify their preferred customer for iPhones and IKEA, pizza and burgers. Having worked for both an MNC – All India advertising for Hewlett-Packard India in 1996, and an advertising agency – McCann Erickson 1994-1996 during the first decade of market liberalization, I discover I’ve so much to say to this Economist nonsense that I’ll bullet point my thoughts below to grasp some order from the ramble.

  • One of the first things I’d noticed in the March 2017 trip was that the style and flavour of the markets we’d used to frequent had changed. There was indeed a consumer majority now but it wasn’t the global elite preferred by MNCs. Where once malls were full of western style wear, and one could identify a woman’s economic and social strata by her fashion choices, these lines had blurred and democratized so much so that the market itself had changed.
  • Aspirational purchasing meant that pricing had to suit the pocket of the ambitious though the clothes were local versions of global styles. Everyone in the city wore western wear, though obviously of Indian cut and make. What I saw happening was what India has always done for centuries – absorb the foreign influence and make it uniquely her own. Its been two decades and the time is about right for the unique Indian middle class to emerge.
  • This hidden middle harks back to the original concept of middle classes – perhaps a factory worker who is now paid enough to maintain a motorcycle, an ATM card, and all the mod cons in his one room home. Or, the now grown up children, educated in English, taking over the discarded jobs of the former English educated elite in the call centers and the banking halls, the plethora of hospitality outlets and airlines, to bring a sheen of polish that hitherto never existed for their parents’ generation.
  • This middle class prefers their spicy Indian food, dolled up in a fast food outlet, looking like a Big Mac but tasting like home. This middle class will add paneer to their pizza and cumin to their soda water. You won’t see them at all if you’re hawking your pineapple on your ham.
  • This middle is 300 million strong I’d agree with the Indian executives mentioned in the Economist article. They can sense it but they can’t deliver it up in the manner that the research reports and multinationals require. That’s why there’s a huge missing middle, the same reason why Africa’s consumers are invisible for the most part, they don’t look like the Consumer nor fit the segmentation attributes.
  • One quick example that ports across cultures and countries is the taxi hailing app divide – there’s a local variant, Ola, that’s 1/3 to 1/5 the price of the global giant, Uber. The Ola driver accepts a variety of payment mechanisms including cash. He said to us that Uber was more popular in the better parts of town and considered an upper class product, while Ola was for everyone, even his own wife. This kind of brand segmentation exists up and down the spectrum of goods and services, rooted as it is in elements of India’s heritage and culture. And the mass majority brands will always take the lion’s share of consumers away from any imported brand. Unilever is quoted in the Economist article but the company had been known as Hindustan Lever for decades before hand and has faced its own struggles with indigenous upstarts like Nirma.

And, I suspect, that global multinationals, barring a few who’ve been around forever and a day, may never really crack the Indian market, just like they haven’t really done what they’d set out to do in China either. An ideal moment, on the other hand, to rethink the consumption driven growth frenzy required of these brands.

NB: The shopkeeper’s sign claims to sell both wholesale and retail.

Africa’s Middle Class: Development economics and marketing demographics conflating the holy grail

The most developed nation on the African continent, south of the Sahara desert, is considered to be South Africa with its financial and transportation infrastructure and systems, a legacy from history. In the first decade of the 21st century, the black middle class – known as Black Diamonds in marketer jargon – came into prominence on the back of numerous economic initiatives after the fall of apartheid.

img-south-africa-consumer-goods-02The rise of the Black Diamonds was meant to be the signal of a changing rainbow nation, one whose peoples would finally be included in the social and economic advancements long enjoyed by a privileged minority. This emerging middle class was also among the first to be noticed as African consumers in their own right, and their discovery pioneered the subsequent search for the now mythical African middle class. Even then, their total number was under scrutiny for its aspirational inclusivity versus actual households fitting the conventional definition of a middle class. From The Economist writing in 2007:

The University of Cape Town’s Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing says there are now 2.6m “black diamonds”, as it calls the black middle class, a 30% increase in less than two years. Included in the definition are working professionals; those who own things such as cars, homes or microwave ovens; university students; and those who merely have the potential to enter these categories. The survey estimates that these black diamonds represent 12% of South Africa’s black adults, and make 180 billion rand a year ($26.2 billion), or 28% of the country’s (and more than half of all black South African) buying power.

For some, such as Lawrence Schlemmer, a sociologist in Cape Town, this definition is far too broad to be meaningful. He agrees that numbers are rising fast but argues that they are still tiny. Last year, he says, only 322,000 black South Africans (less than 1% of the black population of 38m) could be deemed “core” middle class, a far cry from 2.6m black diamonds.

Still, whatever their size, the buppies are affecting the economy and the political landscape.

This week, a comprehensive new survey by the South African government shows the on the ground reality in 2016. The National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS)‚ launched by the Department of Planning‚ Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) in Pretoria surveyed 28‚000 people who were tracked every two years from 2008 to 2015. Very similar in fact to the recent household panel survey completed in India. Even their conclusions resemble each other:

According to the study‚ those in the middle class have a tendency to drop in and out of poverty.

And the size has not actually changed much since 1993 – the year before the fall of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela.

The study also shows that the South African middle class is much smaller than estimated‚ sitting at around 14.5% of the total population in 2014. Women are more affected by poverty, and even those who manage to climb the ladder may slip down again.

“…It has not grown much since 1993 — growing its share by only two percentage points in the past 23 years…”

20151024_mac237And, perhaps, the real challenge we face with the ongoing search for Africa’s middle classes is the conflation that took place back then between a consumer marketing segmentation and a socio-political demographic.  By allowing the aspirational reach of the consumer marketing driven research to inflate the size of the segment classified as middle class, it has given rise to an ongoing and complex muddle across teh entire continent. As the AfDB’s former president Donald Kaberuka said last year:

“I think we are wasting too much time on the definition of the middle class and the cut off point, it is a sterile debate.

“A dynamic middle class that rises with the sea increases domestic demand, the diversity of the economy, [its] resilience, and they also stabilise the politics of a country as well, since they have a stake in the system.”

He has a point. But perhaps not the one he intended to make. Instead, if we consider disentangling consumption and demand for consumer products from the increase in political voice and “stake in the system”, we may in fact discover that there is indeed a sizeable bourgeoisie emerging even though they may not possess all the qualifying criteria traditionally attributed to a middle class per se. (Previous posts on this topic have been tagged informal bourgeoisie)

There’s the demographic segment which is the middle, and then, there’s the conceptual body of solid citizens invested in the democratic stability and economic growth and development of their countries. As Jacques Enaudeau wrote in 2013:

But fixated on wealth, the discussion on middle classes in Africa misses out on the other two pillars of social stratification: social status and political power.

As soon as those two are factored in, discussing the “African middle class” as a homogenous entity seems absurd, and so it should. Thinking that what separates the senior civil servant from the street hawker or the country head of a multinational from the shop owner is a matter of daily expenditure amounts to looking at their reality through the wrong end of the telescope: the bigger picture is that they live in different worlds.

In the developing world, the formal sector with its white collar jobs populated by university graduates may jostle cheek by jowl with the informal economy’s life lived on the street but that proximity might be on the only thing they have in common.

For here lies the rub: the material culture that the notion of “middle class” posits as shared consciousness is articulated to a strong sense of individualism, which is borderline contradictory with the idea of class. All the more reasons for the analysis to consider the representations which members have of themselves as a group and the historical context in which such groups are being shaped.

This, however, is not the post to unpack those complexities of self image and collective consciousness. It’s one which pauses to ponder the newest set of findings on the dynamic nature of poverty and wealth in the more uncertain and volatile operating environments of the still developing world. And considers the South African example introduced today:

There has, however, been considerable demographic transformation within that band of the middle class, with Africans now outnumbering whites by about two to one, the report said.  Factors driving the surge include greater access to credit, improved education levels, BEE and improved economic growth until recently.

Transformation of societies is underway, just as the Indian researchers concluded in their analysis. This might be a much larger global trend underway, whose weak signals we’re just beginning to pick up now. I’ll be following up with these musings on the blog. The people with the real problem on their hands are the consumer companies looking to justify entering the African markets, and perhaps that’s a topic to take up in the next article.

The end of the global middle class: A more frugal world?

The past half decade‘s worth of financial crises and increasing scarcity of resources have led to an increasing equalization in the global water level. Instead of the high tide that would lift all boats, the leveling off of growth is leading to an entirely different equation of purchasing power parity. Tomorrow’s equilibrium seems to imply a more frugal world. ~ Niti Bhan, 2012

I wrote this concluding paragraph just over 3 years ago. Today, I look at research from Pew that informs me the great American middle class has declined by half. An article on the Indian middle class claims they’re actually the world’s poor. And the mythical African middle class emerges, floats and sinks, sometimes all at once in the same article.

Water has found its level, and its barely staying afloat.

If indeed the global demographics are changing such that what was formerly considered the “middle class” by the metrics of the day do not apply anymore, would it not make more sense to rebase and then assess who is in the middle than to go chasing the golden children of the boom years long past?

Or, one could just stop looking for these unicorns everywhere and take the trouble to study the people who are the majority in these markets.

Either way, what was is over and what’s emerging is more frugal world with thinner wallets, fewer bank accounts and propensity to pinch their pennies. The data demonstrates it clearly enough.

New data shows “middle class” label misleading; skews market analysis

Anyone familiar with the literature and handwringing around the size of the African middle class that’s an ongoing sidebar to the emergence of the continent’s economies, will appreciate the FT’s analysis of recent research results.

The global middle class is both smaller and poorer than previously thought, according to a new study, with hundreds of millions who have recently emerged from poverty in developing countries still vulnerable to falling back into it.

2fbfaf19-051c-47bc-9f4d-519b3494c738.imgAnd yet, we note that upward mobility has definitely taken place, albeit not at the same standards as originally set in the countries that first industrialized.

97691226-8da3-401b-a3fe-5ea8caa77f0d.imgThese findings seem to underline something we’ve been saying for quite some time now, that the metrics used to originally define the demographic “middle class” may not be applicable outside of their home region.

Africa’s connected and demanding consumers have never been so visible as they are today, and their buyer behaviour and consumption habits are undeniable. They, and their ilk in India, China or South America, just may not fit the criteria of “middle class” as entrenched in the OECD nations. This goes beyond mere purchasing power or access to consumer credit – it has often been said that “middle class” is as much a state of mind as of wallet size.

These results when contrasted with the weaker signals in social evolution and shopper behaviour imply that we need to step back and distinguish what purpose of our analysis is meant to serve before counting heads in one class or the other.

The FT article references Nestle’s rethink in sub Saharan Africa after discovering there weren’t as many “middle class” as they were led to believe. It leaves out the fact that Nestle’s fails came from trying to sell Nespresso sachets and premium pet food in consumer markets very different from wherever their new boss was prior to his posting in “Africa”. Its far easier to blame the customers for not wanting to buy your product than to conduct a consumer insights survey from the ground up assessing this untapped frontier market. Your decades of consumer research will not help in the entirely different operating environment of the African continent.

Yet, the same article overlooks the success of various emerging market private equity firms – Abraaj is one of the most visible – investing in FMCG brands and household furnishings; or, the rise of dairy as a key consumer segment. Denmark’s Arla cooperative has named Nigeria as one of its key strategic markets in the coming 5 years.

When it comes down to the African consumer market opportunity I advise people to listen to what the leaders of such companies who are already reaping the benefits of increasing sales and trade may have to say than the metrics and measurements from an environment that is dramatically different from this one. As BCG’s recent research states:

What MNCs are facing in Africa is similar to what they’ve faced in parts of Asia and Latin America: an increasingly capable set of local competitors. In a 2013 BCG survey of executives in developed markets, 73% said they considered local companies in emerging markets to be a threat. In contrast, 50% said this about emerging-market-based MNCs, and 40% said this about MNCs in their home markets. The entity looking to eat your lunch in Africa is one that your board of directors—and maybe you yourself—didn’t know existed until recently.

I’m actually glad that this research has discovered that the “middle class” is slowing down everywhere, even in the greatest consumer market on Earth. Perhaps, then, it’ll force marketers to rethink their assumptions on identifying and valuing opportunity spaces and question the meaning of the term “middle class” before chasing it like a unicorn in the woods.

There’s definitely a whole new opportunity and market that is emerging, and it must be studied from scratch from the ground up. Reflexive old labels and segments don’t apply.

Update: There’s an interesting Guardian article on this, with this insight:

Middle class, in the US, means what working class means in Britain. Except that, while nobody – even in Corbyn’s Labour party – goes around saying they represent “working-class values”, all politicians in America claim to represent the values of this middle class.

Might this explain the challenge of attempting to define and describe middle class across cultures?

Social change and upward mobility: what numbers can’t tell you

IMG_20150517_181240

Photo Credit: Rajesh Aithal

Rajesh Aithal noticed this first, in a rural Indian haat or market. Macaroni displayed and sold like any other staple commodity. Pasta was not part of the staple Indian diet, at least not the rural one. It wasn’t mainstream even 10 years ago.

Is it a sign of the adoption of urban consumption patterns as signal of upward mobility? Or are there more pragmatic reasons for its popularity?

If nothing else, its certainly an indisputable sign of social and cultural change in rural India.

Being middle class in India

Middle_class__What_2237591a

Are differences within the middle class, in income, education, and cultural and social capital, so wide as to render moot any ideological or behavioural coherence to this group?

Over the next two months, The Hindu will release the findings of a new survey on the aspirations and anxieties of ordinary Indians. Here’s a snippet accompanying this infographic:

Two things are striking about this finding: the contrast between respondents’ self-perception and objective reality and differences on the rural-urban axis (Figure 1). We disaggregated our sample into five income categories, based on self-reported annual household income. While any such classification is admittedly blunt, the results are nonetheless illustrative. Whereas respondents are more likely to self-identify as middle class as household income increases, a sizeable proportion of respondents across all income groups believe they are part of the Indian middle class. 47 per cent of lower middle-income respondents self-identified as “middle class”, while half of middle income and 54 per cent of upper middle-income respondents did so. Expectedly this declined to 48 per cent for those in the highest income bracket. Most surprising 45 per cent of those who were in the lowest income bracket self-identify as middle class, barely 3 per cent less than the richest income group.

Even within the same income categories, however, there are marked differences between rural and urban India.

I wonder what the implications are of these results which surprised the researchers, and also, whether this challenge of applying metrics which segment not matching up with actual people’s self image is one that we’ll also find in the African context.

 

Global emerging middle classes are Africa’s GEMs

Kentucky Fried Chicken at The Junction, Nairobi, Kenya  2011 Photo Credit: Niti Bhan

Bright Simons cautioned us about hyperbole and exuberance in a recent article published on the HBR site. In “Beware Africa’s Middle Class“, he points out with great clarity that the ’emerging market consumers’ spotted by the optimists over at the African Development Bank (AfDB) were nothing like the bourgeois conjured up by the prosaic “middle class” labeling. In fact, he says, university educated graduates were still looking for their mythical middle class job, all white collar and old school ties of course, while the economic engine was actually being run by successful entrepreneurs, smallholder farmers, opportunistic traders – most of whom were growing informal micro enterprises without having completed their educations due to financial pressures.

Here is what Simons has to say:

Across Africa, incomes are rising fastest among those engaged in brokering trade in goods and services across fragmented markets. These are the people who shuffle goods from one trade-post to the other, braving tattered roads, noisome customs officers, leaking kiosks (serving as warehouses), clueless laborers, and even more clueless technicians. As economic conditions improve across Africa, these folks are the first to know and the first to scale up their operations.

These are the importers who have never heard of a “letter of credit,” much less opened one, the “suitcase merchants” who travel to Dubai and the Far East every month to haul in cheap consumer goods on baggage trolleys, as well as their collaborators who stay at home to push the stuff in the open-air markets. These are the second-hand goods dealers and distributors opening up small towns to commerce. They are the vanguard of the African middle-class.

These people are rarely well-educated, though, and they share none of the cultural traits seen in the West and Asia as prerequisite to a middle-class life. Many young and educated Africans, on the other hand, share few of the economic traits associated with middle-class status elsewhere. Lacking a regular income and strong social networks, and bereft of the professional grooming and mentorship opportunities available to true middle-class types, they have become a monument to an educational system increasingly at odds with the social and economic realities of the new Africa.

This amazing contradiction in most African societies — of an expanding educated underclass and an ‘uneducated’ rising economic class — sums up why the African economy is struggling to acquire the characteristics one would expect of an economy bursting with middle-class vibes. Simply put, even were the number of middle-class people expanding as dramatically as some observers claim, there is no guarantee that market and consumer behavior would look anything like what emerged in other societies when their middle-class population begun to approach critical mass.

Naturally not. Bright Simons has hit the nail on the head. This emerging consuming class has none of the characteristics assumed as a given when considering the “middle class” household’s consumption patterns or preferences. Few credit cards or regular payslips may be present; the majority being one of the vast majority of Africans – 96% of all mobile phone owners – who are on cash only prepaid phone and data plans. While their incomes maybe too volatile for market researchers seeking to segment them into neat pigeonholes of disposable incomes, their activities are too dynamic to relegate them to the ‘bottom or base’ of any poverty indicator. In fact, these characteristics describe the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) consumer mindset and behaviour without the assumption that poverty is a steady state uninfluenced by aspirations.

Light fixtures installed and ready for future electric connection, Kitui, Kenya April 2013

This dynamism is a characteristic of the opportunity available at a certain point of time or when factors are just right, and it swings enough to allow the aspiring informal bourgeoisie to risk the additional investment in symbols of ‘having arrived’ – a much larger and tangible shift in daily life such as a vehicle upgrade (bicycle to motorcycle) or an LPG cooking stove to replace the charcoal. These are not simply the additional momentary cost of a brand name takeaway meal but usually imply an increase in household budget.

And these aspirations are very often signaled to the entire community, especially when they are one of the tangible class markers of clear upward mobility like a connection to the electric grid. It is not uncommon to see homes of the global emerging middle class all kitted out with wiring and fixtures just waiting for that last jump up for the brass ring.

These dynamic GEMs are far more likely to be representative of the Africa Rising narrative, than the now obsolete image of the ‘poor African’ villager.

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.

“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)

Navigating the African market opportunity

We have not been able to ignore the constant stream of media articles this year on the ‘rise of the African lions’ echoing the tigers and dragons of Asia just a few short years ago. The first reports mentioned GDP growth rates and economic potential followed rapidly by statistics on consumption, market opportunities and now, the emergence of a hitherto unnoticed middle class.  Critiques were not far behind, particularly those questioning the implications of the term ‘middle class’ applied to those spending between $2-$4 a day. Read On…