“The real voyage of discovery,” Marcel Proust wrote, “consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Researchers working at the BoP must embrace both experiences if they are to be successful: exploring new landscapes in terms of economic disparities, infrastructure and literacy, whilst adapting to subtler socio-cultural gaps in order to ‘see’ this world in the same terms as BoP consumers.
When conversations lack common ground The absence of shared implicit assumptions about the way the world works can greatly inhibit our ability to ‘read’ and communicate with BoP consumers. When talking to populations that have very different experiences of learning, media, products and services, it is surprising just how many notions and concepts no longer hold true.
Culture can be defined as a system of common assumptions, and this shared starting point is essential for communication and interpretation. When it is removed, the resultant breakdown in communication can be bewildering. Researchers must respond by framing questions in new ways, and learning what the answers to these questions really mean. They must start by adapting their approach to the types of decisions that BoP consumers are accustomed to making.
From choosing products to choosing needs In the environment of the BoP, the very notion of consumer choice changes. The question is not so much “what product do I choose to fulfil this need?” but “which need should I choose to fulfil first?”. With many priorities competing for limited disposable income, we often find situations where choices and trade-offs are made across markedly different categories. The relative value of fulfilling a need depends on the priority given to the area of life that it impacts. Understanding these priorities fully can enable research to make a greater contribution than focusing questions on brand or product preference. In the BoP, for example, growth in income or social capital is frequently prioritised over personal comfort and convenience, something that does not hold true to the same extent in many developed markets.
Brands in sectors as diverse as mobile phones, fertilisers and personal care products have found considerable success by focusing their proposition on economic advancement, rather than more immediate and obvious consumer benefits.
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