For the last couple of days I was in a strategy planning workshop for one of my clients. For confidentiality I won’t go into too much detail – though I will say the snacks were excellent, particularly a lamb kebab number that went down very well with a Kingfisher during the breakout sessions at the end of the day yesterday.
There were two really interesting themes that came out in the day and they will be themes that you will have heard plenty about in recent discourse. I’m fairly sure, however, that you won’t have heard about them in this context. As the title suggests, the two themes were letting go of some of the control marketers have on their brands and allowing for greater co-creation and customisation to suit specific consumer needs. But we weren’t talk about young urban early adopting Indians in the metros who live their lives through social media – we were talking about difficult to reach rural, ‘bottom of the pyramid’ consumers. One session by Mart was particularly interesting.
The first point at which co-creation is required is product development. You simply can’t conceive of products that will fit the wants and needs of someone in the heart of rural India whilst brainstorming in one of Gurgaon’s five star hotel meeting rooms. Immersive ethnography is required to really understand how people live, buy and consume. One example that was given was something as everyday as a lightbulb – we take for granted that they’ll last 6 months, a year (more if we’re talking long-life low energy bulbs, but generally in India we’re not) – well apparently your standard bulb can only cope with voltage fluctuations of +/- 10%, in most of rural India, voltage typically fluctuates +/- 100% and your average life-span for a lightbulb is 6 days. The rules you know don’t apply.
Next you have to consider the value of every rupee to these consumers – but you should not mistakenly believe that this means they are looking for cheap goods. Microfinance initiatives mean money is available if it is needed, but it will only be spent where it is seen as an investment. You need to show you are there for the long term and build trust – this is a long game. Nothing in these markets is disposable, least of all income. You have to demonstrate how your brand will improve life for your consumer or their family – through better health, education or (and this one is key) increased productivity. These are, out of necessity, an exceptionally resourceful people – if you let them, they will come up with uses for your brands you would never have considered and if they are enabled to improve their lot in life as a result they will become exceptionally loyal to you.
You also have to involve the local population in distribution because you can’t get a truck into these villages, there are few organised retail outlets and each village is too small anyway to shift significant bulk. There was the example of an FMCG brand that had given bikes to local educated but unemployed youths, each bike included a large branded box on the back that doubled as a display case and stock carrier. They would be given a territory of 7 or so villages several KMs apart and would circle around the villages on their bikes setting up their bike based stall at the local Haat (market place) in each one. These guys are trained to explain the benefits of the product as well as to sell it and their bikes are highly visible – so as well as distribution they are playing a key comms role. Haat’s are attended by those from surrounding villages as well, each one could potentially reach 4,500 people. In addition, you are providing meaningful employment to the guys with the bikes.
So, you have to let go of your control because your traditional iron clad distribution channels are not going to work – the only way you can reach these consumers is if you have their help and permission in doing so. Further, the only way you can deliver a product to them that is meaningful and useful is if you take their help in creating it in the first place. To me, the parallels with the internet economy are obvious – brands can’t just use push marketing anymore, it’s not about selling to consumers, it’s about partnering with people. It’s a two way conversation and brands aren’t going to get anywhere by just selling product – you have to work with people to improve their lives.
The learning for me is that this type of thinking has to apply to any market that is operating based on a completely different set of rules. We’re not talking about subtle cultural differences with which we’re generally familiar and well equipped to deal with, we’re talking about markets where the usual rules fundamentally do not apply – it doesn’t matter if that’s rural India or an augmented reality, social media fuelled freeconomy – letting go and co-creating will be necessary.