Do they “need” us?


A friend, who is doing some great work in the space of delivering quality healthcare to remote rural customers, narrated a story of how she went to meet an old lady whose medical tests revealed that she had a high risk of cardiovascular disease but when suggested regular monitoring and diet restrictions,the old lady said that she is doing absolutely fine and that  she does her daily chores without any problem!  Even her family thinks she is fine.

My friend asks, do they need our “help” at all? Who are we to them? Are we being forceful ? What is their purpose and what is ours? A good set of questions for all those “BoP enthusiasts”. (I admit I am not very impressed with the way in which the term BoP is used by most “experts” today.A clear urge to sound “cool”. For all that you can see, I avoid using the term BoP. But then, who cares if a minnow like me is not impressed?)

Ok, coming back to the topic. I face a similar situation. In the work that I do, we sell cattle insurance, purified drinking water, smoke free stoves, all of which, by all means have little or no felt need amongst our existing remote rural customers. If need for healthcare is not felt, it is obvious that the same people will not value any of the things we are selling.

I hav a very different analogy for this. Imagine the world before iPods. People were happy with normal MP3 players and could never believe that hearing experience could be better. Even if they knew that hearing experience could be better, they couldn’t justify spending the exhorbitant amount for ipod. They said, whatever quality the normal MP3 s offer, is good enough and that there isn’t any problem with that quality of listening.

Then some of the rich brats started purchasing iPods either because they appreciated better quality of  sound/design or because they wanted to be a part of the elite tribe that owned sleek,stylish and expensive ipods. Slowly, more and more people wanted to buy iPods and soon a lot of the “normal MP3 people” now wanted to buy the ipod! They were suddenly dissatisfied with the sound quality and clumy shapes of the normal mp3 players. After a while, iPods became the defacto music player for the great “discerning” middle class. The “normal MP3 people” have  now started seeing and appreciating the better quality of sound/design of the iPod.

I believe, the same route has to be followed for the things like cattle insurance, purified water, quality healthcare and smokeless stoves (and possibly even information). This means we have to use a sly marketing plan to first break in to the “territory of aceeptability” of those who can spend and then ensure that the “fad” becomes a normal way of life. I must point out here that, aside from the great marketing, iPods are inherently a great product. It has a great sound quality and a brilliantly done design. This means that there has to be an underlying benefit in what you are trying to provide. The product and service quality has to be brilliant if not flawless.

I know I sound like a dirty capitalist (and it might be too simplistic to compare healthcare to iPods) but some where back of the mind I know that the stuff that I want them to purchase (healthcare, cattle insurance, purified drinking water, smokeless stoves) has some underlying benefit which would positively affect lives. Customer “education” as a way of “changing” habits and adopting better products/practices has proven to be expensive and fairly unsuccessful. We have to be sly. Not emotional. Anybody is free to argue against what I say. Opinions invited.

Off course, I do not want a moral debate on what should be available for free and what the job of the state  (a la healthcare, primary education, market information)is to provide. Let us get real and accept the fact that the state run machinery has not been able to do a good job of making these available. However, you are free to question whether  better risk mitigants like healthcare, purified water, smoke-less stoves and better risk transfer mechanisms insurance are needed at all!

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3 Comments

  1. Hi Avishek i read your posts regularly and you have done a very good job coming out with them, i must say. As far as your products are concerned which are innovative and useful i feel, there should be some way of making the consumer derive the benefit for sometime without any cost. Please correct me if i’m wrong. Then the consumer convinces him/herself having that benefit in mind all the time. Anyways best of luck. Thanks for the lovely posts you update every now and then.

    Reply

  2. Thanks for the encouragement Anuj! I agree with you that some level of demonstration should be allowed but the funny thing is that offering products completely free often gives a wrong idea about the demand. The moment these products are priced after being offered for free for some time, the demand crashes!

    The most feasible option is to choose your first set of customers instead of customers choosing you, i.e. identify customers who would want to “experiment” with your product, is not too worried about paying for it and could also become an evangelist for your product in his/her circle if s/he likes the product. What seems to have worked is “Sell” the product at a price to them, do a lot of followups, take their feedback to improve the product. It might not work everywhere but this ploy works more number of times than other ways.

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  3. […] 2.) Good intentions ONLY is not sufficient for designing business models. My personal experience with the dairy healthcare backed on the spot cattle insurance product told me that though we assumed that there is a need for the product and that the customers were ready for it, we realised that the ground situation was quite different. No doubt, there is a need for the product but the inertia against a paid service when a free service is available (no matter how bad that quality is)is so huge that it is difficult to ensure that customers pay to buy some product or services. I had a similar experience with smokeless stoves. I think the solution to this type of problem requires a more involved approach which I discussed in an earlier post. […]

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