Myths and Reality at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Myths and Reality at the Bottom of the Pyramid

By Alpana Parida, CEO - DMA Yellow Works

We have a European client who has christened the Indian market as a Bottom of the Pyramid market. Meaning a high volume, low value market. So – they are investing very little in the market, throwing a few products in, with no customization to local tastes, and hoping it sticks. An incredibly wasted opportunity to become relevant in what is one of the largest markets in the world.

This abhorrent phrase always conjures up a vast populace of the low means and even lower spending power.  It has been at least 5-6 years since the late CK Prahlad sexed up this demographic with a tantalizing fortune attached to it. The premise: If bite sized products or services were offered to the largest but the poorest section of population, the overall volumes could be very high, yielding higher absolute profits. Examples of Rs. 2 sachet packs of shampoos, Rs.5 colas, small size toothpastes and soaps – and all similar initiatives of bringing the unit size and price down are considered to be initiatives to capture the bottom of the pyramid.

This is a completely top down view of things and a belief that ‘our’ products and aspirations are the same as that of a very large population – and that they want to be like us. While there is no question about the fortune at the ‘bottom of the pyramid’; there is a missed opportunity by not identifying the products and services that fulfill needs and aspirations – rather than simply being the ‘down-market’ or dumbed down versions of the top and middle of the pyramid products. There are no brand or market solutions here – that can result in tangible results in a new and exciting marketplace.

Being economically poor does not mean being knowledge poor and if offered products that can bring value to their lives, they will, like all consumers see the need. I am aware of no research done by a marketer to identify product opportunities here. Inventions such as floating bicycles – that can cross streams, navigate floods and local terrain with equal ease and are low cost; nano-tech water filters that miraculously transform sludge into crystal clear safe drinking water; terracotta refrigerators that don’t use electricity and cost Rs. 2500; a non-stick pan made of terracotta again at Rs.50 – are all examples of products with tremendous potential that have found no brand exponents with a real will go for this fortune at the BOP.

The micro-finance opportunity has shown the world how empowerment and profits can go together.  Respecting and understanding consumer needs is what successful marketing organizations should do. Sadly, the bottom of the pyramid has remained an ‘us’ and ‘them’ distinction.

We, at DMA Yellow Works – have worked on designing products. While the ubiquitous shampoo sachet is very much a part of what we do, designing a mobile phone for the blind is the sort of work that really gets us going.