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Understanding the purchase behavior of the BOP market: What they need and what we think they need

15. Jul 2014

“Consumers at the Base of the Pyramid will spend 10-50 times more on ‘fair and lovely’ (a fairness cream) than on buying clean water.”[1]

I was born and brought up in Bangladesh, yet this was ‘news’ to me! The company, which set up water plants to provide clean water to the rural community for a minimum rate, at least ten times lesser than the market price in the city, had a tough time due to this unconventional spending behavior. Similar behavioral pattern can be found among the female workers in the garments industry in Bangladesh who may compromise on hygienic food and clean water for entertainment- namely cosmetics and weekly cinema tickets. This shows a stark difference between their needs and what we perceive as their needs. Such information and research on rural marketing and consumption behavior is so insufficient that companies resort to playing it to their strength – their existing knowledge of the urban market.

So, it is of no surprise that companies who are trying to reach out to this BOP market are concentrating mostly on modifying their existing product or packaging. Nestle in Bangladesh has just started a pilot where they are selling small sachets of fortified food especially for lower income consumers. On paper, this is a wonderful inclusive business initiative but this could fail, just like the example mentioned above, to get some traction in the rural market. But on the other hand, there are successful examples of small sachets of shampoos or fairness creams being sold in great numbers. What is the solution then, especially when there is good evidence of clean water and food fortified with iodine and iron that is helping to address micronutrient deficiency?

The answer could very well lie in Behavioral Change Communication (BCC). For attaining the development goals, be it health or nutrition, maybe, we are focusing too much on the facts, factors and the downside of not having certain products. But that’s not what Coca-Cola or Unilever is doing. Successful brands are not talking about ingredients; they are associating a certain lifestyle with their product. And that is why iDE, one of the champions of BCC, focuses on ‘aspirational marketing’. By having the human centered design (HCD) approach and aspirational marketing embedded in their BCC message, iDE works with its private partners in order to support them to take a product to the BOP market, which has a higher probability of success due to the pull-factor already considered in the product design.

Companies headquartered in the city areas will hardly have the time to do this in-depth analysis of customers’ needs, expectations and spending pattern for such a market. But the development agencies who have been working in low income communities for decades could be their de facto research firms. Development agencies, mostly because of their experience and engagement with the BOP market, could provide that ‘extra insight’ which may not come up in numbers-driven, statistics-oriented reports written by a professional research firm. Therefore, a better understanding between the private and development sector is crucial in order to take innovations to the BOP market with a sustainable business model.

*Zunaed Rabbani is the Executive Director of Market Development Forum Bangladesh, which is a knowledge hub-cum-network for development professionals working in the field of market development/ making markets work for the poor (M4P).

**The opinions expressed here are the interpretation of the writer alone, which could be subject to ‘lost in translation’.

***The write would like to thank Conor Riggs, Technical Director-Programs, iDE Bangladesh for that excellent cup of coffee, but mostly for the enlightened speech on BCC, HCD and aspirational marketing, which certainly has brought a different angle to this article. For more information on these issues, Conor is available on LinkedIn!



[1] This observation was shared by a private company in a workshop organized by CARE Bangladesh, Business Innovation Facility and Market Development Forum last year on the challenges of reaching the BOP consumers.