The term “Base of the Pyramid” or BoP refers to the 4 billion strong population whose per capita income is less than the minimum $1500
According to professor C.K. Prahalad, who coined the term BoP, the strength of the BoP lies in its sheer numbers. “In fact, given its vast size, Tier 4 [the Base of the Pyramid] represents a multi trillion-dollar market. According to World Bank projections, the population at the bottom of the pyramid could swell to more than 6 billion people over the next 40 years, because the bulk of the world’s population growth occurs there,” comments Prahalad.
A few examples from some well-known businesses are cases of partnering with NGO’s and NPO’s to cater to the needs of the BoP- Danone has set up a joint venture with Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank to manufacture and sell dairy products. Microsoft has tied up with the NGO Pratham to deliver personal computers to Indian villagers.
The main aim, while creating products that are centric to the needs of the BoP, should be such that it provides a certain value-addition to their daily lives. The product should be useful, affordable and only then will it be considered as an ideal product that the BoP would be willing to spend their last rupee on. Prahalad, in his book called “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” further elaborates, that the 4A’s are critical to the success of the BoP’s marketing strategy- Awareness, Access, Affordable and Available.
So how exactly can a company ideate a product keeping in mind the desires, needs and preferences of the BoP populace? It is here that the concept of design thinking comes into focus. The term thinking, when used in context of design, is a fairly inherent idea, as design always does involve a decent amount of thinking. Design thinking basically reaches out to the humanistic aspect of product designing, which is unconventional in normal businesses.
According to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “The design thinking process is best thought of as a system of overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps. There are three spaces to keep in mind: inspiration, ideation, and implementation.”
Keeping in mind this process, it can be further deduced that while innovating and ideating for the BoP, one may constructively conduct user interviews and surveys. These will not just help in getting an idea of the consumer’s own tastes and aspirations, but further, designers engaging with the BoP can help them to gain insight on the following three aspects- Usability, Income Volatility, and Consumer Pain Points, as rightly explained by Deepa Prahalad, a strategic analyst, in her article on the Harvard Business Review.
Here are a few tips and pointers to conduct user interviews for the bottom of the pyramid-
- Understanding and Observation
A vital process in itself, understanding the end consumer will enable the design thinkers to solve their problems in a more effective way. It is important to engage directly with the audiences, as well as immersing oneself in their problems and qualms of daily life. Further, investigation is needed by observation of real end-users, employees and prospective customers in their natural environment. This further helps to gather substantial amounts of information, thereby aiding the process of taking the interview to the next stage.
- Empathising with the User
Through the first stage, designers will aim to deeply understand the problems of the target consumers, thereby eventually evoking empathy within them. This empathy further instils a sense of belongingness for the designers, who then undertake every step and action keeping the cores of the problem in mind. Everything in life can teach you a lesson, no matter how big or small it is. It is just your duty to observe and learn. Understanding the pain points of the consumer, as Deepa Prahalad elaborates in the Harvard Business Review, develop designs for a wide range of products and services, and could even launch new global companies.
- Field Research
Field research, simply defined, is getting out into the world to talk to other people and observe them in their environment in order to comprehend their needs in a better way. UberDesign, in an article in Medium, confirms this by saying,”Our field research gives our designers the confidence and conviction to design from a place of knowledge and deep understanding of riders and partners, rather than from a place of speculation and guesswork.” Fieldwork becomes all the more essential for the managers and key servicemen, who barely get a chance to engage in deep conversations with their product’s end users.
- Meeting the Community Champions
It is important to learn from the previous learning experiences and attempts at product designing for the BoP customers. As an example, HealthStore was running a malaria promotion, including a discount on bed nets. They thought they’d have enough nets to last 2 months, but they sold out in a week. It showed us that low-income people have the ability and willingness to pay for healthcare, something development experts tend to discount. Not only did customers turn out in droves, but promotions were effective at driving traffic to the franchises. At one HealthStore, pre-promotion traffic was about 200 customers per month. After a series of promotions, they recorded 1,000 customers per month in steady traffic. Basic business practices work in developing country contexts – all you need is good training and dedicated entrepreneurs.
- Targeting the Right Customers
Experimentation is key, as the demands of the 4 billion strong population of the BoP continues to grow and evolve. As important as the observation and empathising stages are, it is even more necessary to target the appropriate customers keeping in mind their own preferences and needs. Even more essential is the need to constantly test again and again the interview among different classes of individuals, in order to garner more data and get better results.
As developed markets become saturated with goods and population growth stagnates, MNCs have the potential to achieve revenue growth and improve the lives of millions by learning how to serve the Bottom of the Pyramid. A more realistic assessment of the challenges at the bottom of the pyramid can help companies generate the profits that will make socially beneficial businesses sustainable over the long term.