Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Marketing to the Bottom-of-the Pyramid: 3 key issues


The Art, Science and Philosophy of Marketing to the BOP

By Harish Bijoor

The late Dr. C K Prahalad, in more ways than one, gave us the Pyramid once again. A Pyramid that is India. A pyramid that has small self-actualizing niches of the population at the top of the pyramid, large masses at the middle of the Pyramid and even larger impoverished, under-nourished and totally ignored populations at the Bottom of the pyramid in discussion.
The other thinker who gave us a pyramid all his own, Abraham Maslow was totally right in hindsight. Those at the top of the pyramid are really self-actualizing folk. Folk who think a lot more about the others than about themselves. In many ways this thinking class right atop the pyramid is the class that represents the thought leader paving the way for the India that is to be in 2020. This niche is however is not to be confused to the real India.
I read Dr. Prahalad’s picture of the pyramid that is India in tandem with the very notion of the “Next 2 Billion”(IFC). While the top 4 Billion population of the world are really the haves, the next 2 billion are the ones that don’t really have. The have-nots. The market is therefore right here with the have-nots. With the ones who sit at the bottom of the pyramid of every country there is. In the parts of the world still being defined as the “developing world”, the size of these have-nots at the bottom is really, really big, and in the case of the developed nations, the real worry is that the size of the niche at the bottom is really growing. Growing thanks due to the recession that hit the developed economies of the world not so long ago.

Sitting under my own Peepul tree, I come up with not one but two pyramids for India. When asked to describe India, I do not use Dr. Prahalad’s One Pyramid. I draw out two on my I-Pad. As an aside, India sure has moved in its symbolism of technology for the people: from the sanitary pad of the 1950’s to the I-Pad of 2010!
I draw two pyramids. One is a small. Another big. The bigger pyramid is three times the size of the smaller one. The big is RURAL and the small is URBAN. On each of these I draw three wedges as segments. The top of the pyramid, the middle and bottom. At the end of the exercise, when I put numbers in the tiers of people, the shocker really is that the size of the Top of the Pyramid in Rural is really 2.6 times the size of the Urban. And the size of the middle of the pyramid is just some 6 times that of the urban, just as the Bottom of the pyramid is just about 2.3 times that of urban.

The point then: BOP is a reality of both urban and rural markets. It really is a myth to look only at rural for the BOP manna that most marketers have rushed to address. There’s more to the concept of BOP than rural alone.

Having said and established that for a start, I do believe that the story of India Inclusive is really all about knitting the BOP into the mainstream that is India and Indian. Marketing to the BOP is both an art and a science. Along with that, and most importantly, its a philosophy. A philosophy that corporate organizations need to ingrain into their DNA.
The most important fact that needs to be bought into is the fact that marketing in the future is all about inclusive approaches and not the old exclusive approaches. In many ways, the concept of the brand and the very definition of brands swim against this new need. The brand in many ways is a premium. A premium that is extracted from the exclusive masses of its consumers. This notion needs to be re-jiggged now. The brand cannot be exclusive to its exclusive masses or niches. The brand needs to belong to all. And belong in an inclusive and all-encompassing manner for sure.

The key question then is whether marketing can change the world. And can marketing change India for a start?

I do believe it can. It can, provided we re-jig the way we look at markets and consumers at large. From the 47 and odd theories I have built in this realm over the last two decades, let me pick three key thoughts then, one each from the realm of the Art, the Science and the Philosophy that is marketing. Key thoughts that will help re-jig marketing at large, and help re-orient the way we want to open the can that is BOP and the can that is India Inclusive in its orientation.

1. The Art of Marketing to the BOP: Gandhian Marketing versus marketing the “Honest Shirt” and the “Toothpaste with Oxygen” in it!
Brand India has seen two kinds of brands emerge over the decades that marketing has touched the nation and its produce. At one end is the brand that is today that of the Mahatma. The father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi is the biggest and most recognized brand that represents India internally and overseas. Mahatma Gandhi has emerged to be the most durable brand of them all.

Gandhi-ji never needed to take a full-page ad in the papers saying “Gandhi Shining”. Brand Gandhi happened as a function of the hard and dedicated work he did at the grass-root that is really India. Every action of his that focused on upliftment of the under-privileged, and every icon he gave to India became a durable representation of this ethos. Whether it was Khadi, the Dandi Salt Yatra or non-violence as a means of protest, Gandhi-ji reigns as a thought, even today. Across the world. This was true-blue bottom-up branding. Branding basis hard work at the BOP.

The second and more common marketing format in India today is the format of Top-down marketing. This format is all about taking a shirt and making it honest and taking a television and making it healthy and of course taking the humble tooth-paste and adding Oxygen to it. And around all these offerings, advertising has added further allure. Top-down branding is a format that has touched every segment of the pyramid and still attempts to touch the BOP. Sadly, it does not work here. The BOP is the most intelligent and most untouched-by-hyperbole segment of the Indian economy. This cannot be taken for granted and played with.

If you need to succeed here, simply adopt the Bottom-up-branding ethos. Do a Gandhi on the market, and stop putting Oxygen in the toothpaste instead. The BOP disbelieves advertising fluff and fare more than the de-sensitized marketing-anaesthesiatiszed top of the pyramid market.

When brands finally get to think of the BOP markets in both urban and rural, it is time to put together programs of what I call and practice as “Conscious De-branding”. A process where you sit and peel off the slick and the glib from your brand and advertising offering. Making the brand offering real. As real as the consumer.

2. The Science of Marketing to the BOP: Democratic Distribution systems versus the autocratic Top-down ones at play!
Distribution is a demon in India. Reaching masses of people who live across different terrain and at distances that are difficult to reach with consistency seems a big challenge even today.

The three tenets of a good distribution system are indeed the width of reach, the depth of reach in terms of product and service offerings and the consistency of reach, week after week, if not more frequently.

I do believe there are three types of consumers emerging in India today. The first is a consumer who buys products and services for self-use. For use by the self and family of 4.

The second type of consumer is the one who buys partly for self and partly to distribute. This consumer is 70 per cent consumer and 30 per-cent re-distributor. You find these mostly in the Tier-2 and Tier-3 towns of India, even today. They make a margin on what they sell and partly defray the costs of what they buy for themselves. These are savvy consumers and savvy business people as well in their own right.

The marketer needs to recognize this consumer and make offerings that are relevant, original and innovative.

The third type of consumer is the one that buys possibly 5% for himself and 95% acting as a re-distributor. I find these in the smallest of villages in India. The most efficient system of reaching out to the land that is India is really this. Millions of entrepreneur-distributors who make a living doing just this. This is a win-win for the marketer and consumer alike. A win-win combination that is totally under-leveraged as of today.

The future of cracking in to the pie that is BOP in both urban and rural is this. This is it!

3. The Philosophy of Marketing to the BOP: Creeping Urbanization versus Creeping Ruralization!
Ever since independence, India has witnessed a creeping and crawling phase where masses of people have morphed from mindsets and consumption sets that were rural to mindsets, which are more aggressively urban. The marketer at large has been responsible for this. The movement that was a crawl became a literal gallop in the early and mid-eighties when Television knitted the nation as one, pumping urban imageries of the modern marketing man in India to rural audiences. Television and all the advertising it carried threw up and pushed down rural throats and stomachs and bladders the urban way of life. In more ways than one, India became an Instant urban society.

This I do believe is an un-doing. An un-doing that needs to be corrected. In many ways marketing is a hegemony in India. The urban-educated and privileged marketer markets to the rural person. Never mind that rural is three times bigger than urban. The imagery that consumers emote with in India today is the urban imagery.

Turn turtle this and emote with real India. Emote with the imagery that is rural. Put a program that is rural in your marketing mix. Go one step further and show your archetypical brand hero in your TV commercials to be the rural person. See what it does. I do believe India is ready to turn-turtle its marketing imagery. The BOP market will admire this. And will certainly reward this effort. With market share. And money. And more than that, consumer affection.

The road ahead for the Inclusive India agenda is an exciting one. Tread it with strategy.

The author is a brand-strategy specialist & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc., a strategy consulting firm with a presence in the markets of India, SE Asia, UK and Dubai.
Email: harishbijoor@hotmail.com


Shakti Saran said...


I've shared your post on the Chief Marketing Officer - India http://www.facebook.com/cmoindia page. I wish that it would be of value to everyone.

Shakti Saran

Divya Prakash said...

I came from sales background and recently joined marketing.(Though my MBA helped me)
Related with every bit of your article.
Nice :)