Identifying User-perceived Value as a Tool towards Long-term Success of Initiatives Targeting Lower-income Communities

THE WORK PRESENTED ON THIS WEBSITE IS CONNECTED WITH MY PhD PROJECT IN THE CENTRE FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE, UK.

Using this User-Value Wheel we can identify and map what is perceived to have the most personal value to potential customers and hence create a product or service whose values are aligned with the benefits that the customers desire. In turn this leads to the sustainable uptake of development initiatives.

THERE ARE 3 MAJOR CHALLENGES THAT HINDER THE SUSTAINABLE UPTAKE OF INITIATIVES TARGETING LOW-INCOME CUSTOMERS; appropriate design, after sales services, and appropriate communication. Whilst we have majorly improved in the fields of appropriate design and after-sales services, we have made only little improvements with regards to communication to the low-income market.

Firstly let's look at APPROPRIATE DESIGN. Whilst this still poses a continuous and significant challenge we have made major advancements in adopting designs to the low-income households. To name two successful examples; the ANAGI 2 Cook Stove made locally from local materials was modified over a period of time to be most effective for a particular Indian community that required two compartments for their traditional food, one for fast and one for slow cooking. This has greatly increased product uptake in that particular geographical area. A second example of APPROPRIATE DESIGN is solar lanterns, many of which now allow mobile phone charging as developers and designers have acknowledged that this is of great value to low-income customers. However, in both of the above examples, several product modifications were necessary until the product was appropriate for the target market.

In a similar way to the above examples of appropriate design, major improvements have been made in AFTER-SALES SERVICES. Many social enterprises are now including product warranties, as well as access to spare parts and a local after-sales point of contact.

APPROPRIATE COMMUNICATION, however, has mainly focused on identifying the right communication channels such as radio, TV commercials, and Road Shows, but the actual message that is meant to trigger an understanding of how the product aligns with the actual customers' needs has been neglected. One reason for this is that marketing is usually something that is not part of the culture of NGO's or development agencies, and is mostly associated with profit making and hence is seen to have a negative connotation.

Therefore appropriate communication to low-income markets represents an unexplored opportunity to the acceptance of development initiatives.

AN APPROPRIATE INITIATIVE FOR LOWER-INCOME CUSTOMERS IS NOT A GOOD INITIATIVE IF IT IS NOT PERCEIVED TO BE OF PERSONAL VALUE. So therefore to understand what is perceived as important to lower-income markets we have to spend time LISTENING to people's priorities instead of trying to convince them that what has been developed to meet their needs, is something they should also want; based on our assumptions. However, it is important to note that people themselves are most often not aware of what they actually value and therefore we have to apply techniques that allow us to deduce people's priorities by extracting them from indirect links. To do so, we have to look at conventional marketing techniques and apply these to a developing country context. This does not really require major changes to the technique itself but it is more a case of tailoring an existing technique to the local context. For example in many developing countries there is a high illiteracy rate and therefore providing probes with pictures is much more appropriate. Equally, we have to be aware of external biases that can change people's short-term perception of what is important. For example, arriving at a village to do market research in a big four-by-four with water aid written on its side will unavoidably skew people's value perception, in this case leading to an increased desire for water initiatives for example.

Understanding WHY something is important to the end-user will lead to an improved UNDERSTANDING of how a development initiative can be beneficial for the lower-income market. Then the initiative can be marketed appropriately, which will receive user-ACCEPTANCE, as the initiative is perceived to have personal value to the customer and therefore the customer cares for the upkeep of the initiative.

USER-VALUE WHEEL TO IDENTIFY PEOPLES PRIORITIES. To put the aforementioned communication strategy into action, based on my discussions with villagers in rural Uganda as part of my PhD I have developed a User-Value Wheel that allows identifying what is perceived as important to low-income customers by matching conversations to an applicable value category.

So for example Scola, a widow from the village of Bwindi in Uganda selected a flush toilet over a pit-latrine because she ASPIRES to be the king of the village. She also values SECURITY and hence with a flush toilet in the house she recognises the added personal value in that she wouldn't have to walk to the latrine at night, and furthermore a flush toilet can guarantee the SAFEKEEPING of her children, as they can't fall into the toilet.

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SCORING WHEEL (click on image to zoom)

Using this insight to understand what Scola perceives to be of personal value (by linking data to values [Tier 3] through keywords - see Scoring Wheel), we can then determine applicable value categories. For the above example her response falls under the categories of "ASPIRATIONAL", "SECURITY" and "SAFETY". So we now know what is important to her. If we then want to market electric lighting to Scola, we know that she would be more likely to buy-in to the initiative if it is pitched to her accentuating the benefits in-line with her personal values. For example, pitching the way in which electric lighting symbolises city living as well as wealth will tick Scola's ASPIRATIONAL value. Street lighting can provide a SECURE environment for her when walking to the toilet at night, and solar lanterns can provide a SAFE environment for her children to study as it reduces the fire risk inside the house through the lesser use of open fire.

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USER-VALUE WHEEL (click on image to zoom)

Using this User-Value Wheel we can identify and map what is perceived to have the most personal value to potential customers or customer segments and hence create a product or service whose values are aligned with the benefits that the customers desires. This in turn leads to the sustainable uptake of development initiatives.

I hope this gave you VALUABLE insight into the opportunities and challenges for the sustainable adoption of breakthrough enterprises and markets in low income communities and how the User-Value Wheel can help us to get closer in overcoming the "LAST MILE CHALLENGE".