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    Bridging the gap (Seeing through BoP eyes)

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    Bridging the gap (Seeing through BoP eyes)

    In researching the Base of the Pyramid (BoP), researchers must learn to operate without the shared assumptions on which communication typically relies.

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    Bridging the gap (Seeing through BoP eyes)

    The real voyage of discovery, Marcel Proust wrote, consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. Researchers working at the BoP must embrace both experiences if they are to be successful: exploring new landscapes in terms of economic disparities, infrastructure and literacy, whilst adapting to subtler socio-cultural gaps in order to see this world in the same terms as BoP consumers.

    When conversations lack common groundThe absence of shared implicit assumptions about the way the world works can greatly inhibit our ability to read and communicate with BoP consumers. When talking to populations that have very different experiences of learning, media, products and services, it is surprising just how many notions and concepts no longer hold true.

    Culture can be defined as a system of common assumptions, and this shared starting point is essential for communication and interpretation. When it is removed, the resultant breakdown in communicationcan be bewildering. Researchers must respond by framing questions in new ways, and learning what

    the answers to these questions really mean. They must start by adapting their approach to the types of decisions that BoP consumers are accustomed to making.

    From choosing products to choosing needsIn the environment of the BoP, the very notion of consumer choice changes. The question is not so much what product do I choose to fulfil this need? but which need should I choose to fulfil first?.With many priorities competing for limited disposable income, we often find situations where choices and trade-offs are made across markedly different categories. The relative value of fulfilling a need depends on the priority given to the area of life that it impacts. Understanding these priorities fully can enable research to make a greater contribution than focusing questions on brand or product preference.In the BoP, for example, growth in income or social capital is frequently prioritised over personal comfort and convenience, something that does not hold true to the same extent in many developed markets.

    Brands in sectors as diverse as mobile phones, fertilisers and personal care products have found considerable success by focusing their proposition on economic advancement, rather than more immediate and obvious consumer benefits.

    High priority

    Low priority

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    Bridging the gap (Seeing through BoP eyes)

    A not-so-common visual language Poor literacy levels amongst BoP consumers create another set of challenges when it comes to research and marketing. Visual messaging, using common symbols and images, is an obvious alternative to written questions and communication. However, what passes for common visual language in many situations does not necessarily apply in the BoP. When researching in remote, rural communities, it is often surprising how visual grammar that seems intuitive to urban populations turns out to be wholly alien to BoP consumers. The idea of traffic lights, with green standing for go ahead and red indicating stop, is a wholly urban notion. For consumers who have never seen a traffic light, the colours red and green do not have the same meaning. This can have serious consequences, not only in research but also in simple messaging. Colour coding bore-wells to mark safe and unsafe drinking water is unlikely to have the intended impact, for example.

    As with colours, so with simple, everyday symbols that can turn out to be indecipherable to the audience they were intended for. In one example, ticks and crosses next to covered and uncovered pots of water were intended to show the importance of keeping drinking water covered.

    However, ticks and crosses are themselves formally learned symbols rather than intuitively understood. In this case, the tick was decoded as representing a ladle to scoop out water and the picture had no meaning beyond this.

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    Bridging the gap (Seeing through BoP eyes)

    Seeing with new eyes The best solutions to the perception gaps that emerge when working with the BoP is prolonged immersion by researchers to build contextual knowledge and understanding of different communities. However, the demands of commercial market research mean that such an approach is not always practical. TNS applies diverse approaches to BoP research that can provide a more timely and applicable solution to bridging the gaps produced by different socio-economic experiences and include:

    Cultural interpretersWorking in partnership with those with exposure to the BoP can provide ready insight as to where cultural gaps exist and a means of bridging them. Young people from remote rural communities who have moved to work in the city, or community workers belonging to NGOs can act as cultural interpreters and an important aid to data gathering.

    Common visual grammarUnderstanding the shortcomings of supposedly universal symbols is an important first step towards developing a more intuitive visual grammar. TNS is developing a process to identify a common visual language that can be used in communication with the BoP.

    Mapping prioritiesStudying patterns of adoption across different categories is enabling us to map how BoP consumers prioritise and trade-off between their many different needs producing a more meaningful guide to consumer decision-making.

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    Bridging the gap (Seeing through BoP eyes)

    Leading the way to a better understanding Research is a natural arena for confronting the issues involved in communicating with the BoP. However, the benefits of a shared understanding go beyond the gathering and interpreting of data; they are essential for acting on it as well. The insights gained through seeking a common cultural language have immediate value for brands, governments, NGOs and all others tasked with engaging BoP consumers and exploring new forms of research has a crucial role to play in this process.


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    Bridging the gap (Seeing through BoP eyes)

    About Intelligence Applied Intelligence Applied is the home of the latest thinking from TNS, where we discuss the issues impacting our clients, explore what makes people tick and spotlight how these insights can create opportunities for business growth.

    Please visit for more information.

    About TNS TNS advises clients on specific growth strategies around new market entry, innovation, brand switching and customer strategies, based on long established expertise and market leading solutions. With a presence in over 80 countries, TNS has more conversations with the worlds consumers than anyone else and understands individual human behaviours and attitudes across every cultural, economic and political region of the world.

    TNS is part of Kantar, the data investment management division of WPP and one of the worlds largest insight, information and consultancy groups.

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    Get in touch If you would like to talk to us about anything you have read in this report, please get in touch via or via Twitter @tns_global

    About the authorAnjali Puri is Regional Director, Qualitative Research, TNS Asia-Pacific. A seasoned qualitative researcher with close to two

    decades in the industry, Anjali has held a number of regional and global roles. She has extensive experience across categories in India and Asia Pacific, particularly food & beverage, healthcare and technology. Anjali has been active in the development of new qualitative methodologies and has been responsible for shaping contemporary thinking in qualitative research globally, particularly in the area of consumer decision making and social media. She is a frequent presenter at ESOMAR and other industry forums, and the recipient of the Best New Thinking award by the UK MRS in 2006.