Marketing to the Poor of the Developing World

I posted not too long ago about Procter & Gamble’s move to build itself more aggressively in the developing world. A recent article on Warc, blogged about at Future of Insight, led to me spend a bit more time thinking about this topic. What would marketing for the developing world look like?

“If you focus on the consumer, what your brand is doing to serve the consumer and if you have a big idea, you will win most of the time.” – Marc Pritchard, P&G’s global marketing and brand building officer

Pondering that quote: A Detailed Example
Who is the consumer?

Poverty has many faces. It affects people men and women, young and old, transplants and natives, etc, and the list goes on. Yet there is no doubt that if we are to pick one group who is the world’s neediest, it’s children. Children need much more than just money or the ability to make use of this money, in order to grow properly and move forward. They need guardians. They need care. Their bodies and minds are developing rapidly, and they need emotional support as they grow up into this world. Their world view, personality and basic coping mechanisms are developed in their formative years and they need all the support they can get, especially from their parents, friends, and the community around them— except that in the developing world, all of these necessities are luxuries.

If love, emotional support and fulfillment of basic needs are all luxuries to them, what can a P&G product—which comes with a price tag— do for them?

What is the brand doing to serve the consumer?
P&G is not there yet, so the more appropriate question is, “What can it do to serve its consumer?”
Let’s start with that P&G has. Say, household care products. What it can do with is to position one of its brands not only to sell directly to these groups, but to do something to help the cause of the poor child in question. Let’s brainstorm further. P&G has a long list of household care products. It sells Cheer, Head & Shoulders, Pringles, Febreeze, etc. It can sell any of these if it wants. Marketers are clever. They can create a need and repackage a product to fill the need they created. This is how they sell products.

But for the developing world, we need to reframe the question.
The question is not anymore what it can sell, but rather, what does a poor child in rural Asia need? It doesn’t need fabric softener, because first, he would have to be lucky to even have clothes. He doesn’t need dandruff shampoo, because everyone around him has bigger things to worry about, such as where they will get their next meal, than to worry about dandruff. I bet it wouldn’t even occur to him that he has dandruff. If need be, he can even shave off his hair, because at the most basic survival mode, does he really need a head full of hair. And does he need cheesy, artificially flavored chips? He needs food, yes, but Pringles will not help his dietary needs. In fact, it will most likely ruin his nutrition, since eating it would make him more thirsty, and to quench his thirst he would probably drink off of some dirty standing water somewhere he can find it. In this case, marketing any of these products to this particular customer is not “purpose-driven.”

Soap is a good product to start with. In the developing world, soap is important for sanitation and hygienic reasons. It can prevent the spread of bacteria and diseases. Everyone needs soap. It’s a crucial need. In rural Philippines, when I visit my grandma and I can’t find soap in the bathroom, my mom would come to the rescue with a bar of Dove soap she had brought from the city. Sometimes, when we go to rural areas, we have to pack minimally because we commute by bus or small car (no SUVs or fast lightrails). My mom always carries a bar of Dove soap when she travels, I think even to this day. Back then, she would glide the soap on top of my head, acting as a shampoo to wash my hair, and she would run it through my little body, acting as soap to cleanse it. Dove is a creamy, moisturizing soap, so it also covered my needs for a lotion. By being resourceful and thinking of how we can solve the problem using what we have, we discovered that Dove is a 3-in-one product, even if they don’t advertise it that way.

P&G can continue on the same line by manufacturing multipurpose products. In this case, a multipurpose soap product.

Oh wait, Dove is owned by Unilever.

Now, going back to the kid, he probably won’t even be able to use Zest even if P&G drove a helicopter and rained Zest across the open rural fields, because the kid still needs at least a bowl of water to make the soap work. Yes, access to water— the most abundant compound in this planet, a most basic need for all living things, and the one thing that can activate soap— is a privilege that he doesn’t have.

And, it can’t market it too much like food, which just tantalizes the poor, hungry kid. It’s evil.

What is the big idea?
To summarize: The consumer is a poor kid. The problem is poverty; no money. The solution is a standalone hygienic product. Does it take R&D to create this product? Yes. What does P&G have now in its extensive collection of consumer goods? Safeguard Hand Sanitizer is one, but it isn’t the end-all solution because hand sanitizer is primarily only to be used for the hands. A gentle, antibacterial body sanitizer might be something P&G should look into. And they need to market it well. Remember the marketing fiasco about P&G and hand sanitizers.

How can they market it? How can they make a profit selling to poor people?
Together with exploring the issue and reframing questions, doing R&D for a new product, and rethinking conventional marketing strategy, the business model in the developing world needs to be reassembled. Business models are a whole different monster to refine and contend in that part of the world. If P&G wants to meet its vision to have a purpose-drive brand while at the same time grow its profits, maybe manufacturer-distributor-retail-consumer isn’t the best solution.

It needs to be more creative, more radical: maybe even give soap/body sanitizer away for free. No profits from the consumers. Get profits elsewhere.

Where can it get its profits? Some thoughts:
– Awareness of its development aid in poor regions to boost consumer loyalty/acquisition in wealthier parts of the world.
– Partner with big foundations like the Gates Foundation and become a partner provider of soap for their operational needs in the developing world.
– Marketing to a larger consumer (as big as families, neighborhoods or even communities). This consumer is not an individual consumer anymore, but rather, an entity that consists of individual consumers. They can share products among the members of the group. Use microfinance to get payment.
– Get more payments from concerned, First World citizens who wants to sponsor a family to get a family-size soap.
– Mobilize them through the power of mobile.
– Partner with Kiva.
– Set-up a program wherein they can distribute/sell P&G products a la Avon (quite popular in Asia). Give a microloan with a group of women who will sell P&G products.
– Look at poor communities as human resources, instead of cash machines, to make profits.
– Maybe even allow them to work (manpower to drive production) in exchange for soap? Or, think how this manpower can be used in productive ways.

In this crowd-sourcing, mobile-toting, information-abundant, microfinance world, these might just be answers.

Of course, this conversation doesn’t end here, because this is a topic that calls for a continuing discussion. The problem is a layered one, with many different segments to explore, problems to acknowledge and possibilities to suggest.


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