Marketing from a place of privilege.


Best practices challenged with the bottom of the pyramid

Mighty Ally | Blog | Increase the True Impact of Pro Bono | girls photo

As a marketer with 10 years experience, it’s easy for me to rely on the strategic muscle memory. You know, those time-tested and tried “best practice” approaches to marketing communications that have worked over and over again throughout your career: 

Communicate authentically!
Speak to the value provided by the product/service!
Don’t forget the importance of thoughtful branding! 
Communicate your company’s purpose!
Highlight the time/money/effort savings of your product!
Target influencers! 

And then, of course, there's the data. Data which allows you to profile and target your audience – comprised of many groups with easily identifiable names and characteristics: Digital Natives, Millennials, Gen X, Baby Boomers, The Greatest Generation. 

Some of this data is completely free, and generally you can find enough of it to slice and dice by gender, age, location, marital status, if they have a pet, a riding lawnmower, an upright freezer, or have purchased tires in the past six months. 

And while this intelligence doesn’t make our job easy, per se, we’re able to make smart marketing decisions through our combination of innate experience and evidence-backed data. 

Which is, as I’ve come to realize, a real privilege. 

This shorthand, these expectations, and that access to basic data is very much a byproduct of living in the developed and (mostly) western world.

I recently spent time in Bogotá working with a social enterprise on a marketing and brand positioning program. Before I even landed, I realized the work ahead of me would be a challenge. It was incredibly difficult to find any of the typical audience profiles or relevant data sets.

And once I was on the ground, any preconceived expectations and assumptions were pretty soundly thwarted. Instead, I was launched into uncharted waters and discovered that my marketing toolkit wasn’t so complete, despite a pretty diverse set of client experiences. 

Why? Because I was communicating with a group of people who comprise the “Bottom of the Pyramid,” that socioeconomic group that comprises the base of the human economic system. By some estimates, this population numbers around four billion, who earn less than $5 per day. Which means: the amount of data, marketing research, and customer insights that exist for this “demographic” is disproportionately small. Small especially when the collective purchasing power of the BoP population can be measured in the trillions of dollars.

And of course, the needs, desires, motivators, and problems are massively different. To say the very least. 

So in order to contribute to a solution in Bogotá, my partners and I were forced to rely on principles of design thinking versus “best practice” marketing approaches.

We started with simple observation, shadowing our clients and witnessing a small slice of the daily life of their customers. Then, we moved into listening. We dove deep. We asked dozens of questions and facilitated multiple exercises with the company owners themselves through a series of workshops. And after that, we spent hours interviewing and talking to as many customers as possible. Focusing not only on questions related to the product at hand, but asking about their families, their lives, their concerns, their dreams. 

The findings were, in many cases, incredibly eye opening and a great reminder of the dangers of applying a “first world” point of view to solving the problems others experience. And the solution we landed on was much less about hard and fast tactical recommendations. It was about up-skilling and empowering our client to find ways to tackle the problems they live and breathe daily. And to get as close as possible to the people they serve. 

It’s too easy, too privileged, to claim that seeing, listening, and feeling are the simple tools we need to effectively communicate with a BoP audience. I believe that’s part of it.

The other part — the harder part — the part I have yet to find an answer to, is addressed first by becoming aware of the vast swath of humanity that our perspective often excludes. And then, perhaps, we’ll find ways to orient our tools and expertise to communicate more effectively with them.

Interested in learning more about our impact? Take a look at our case study that details our work with Agruppa.