Step Into My Time Machine

Take a step way back in time with me to–well, just last week. If you remember, we are backtracking due to my uncooperative digestive system..

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June 18, 2010

Let’s get to know each other a bit better. Well, I guess this is pretty one-sided, isn’t it?  OK, let’s to know me better. I would like to share with you the primary project I shall be working on in my time here.

My main assignment will be to investigate and profile the marketing & communication strategies of about 40 organizations that have had varying levels of success selling products or services in rural India.

But not just any products.

Rural India has actually been booming in the last decade, and fast moving consumer goods are everywhere in the village.  We are looking specifically at products and services that have no inherent or explicit value–that is, those products that should be the most difficult to market to a population largely living at a subsistence level.

The initiative with which I work, Rural Market Insight (RMI), is largely interested in improving adoption of clean energy technologies like clean-burning cook stoves, solar lighting products, water treatment devices and systems, and treadle pumps for irrigation.  Most of the products we will be looking at in the study, then, will be companies that have had some success marketing such products and communicating their benefits.

The one exception in the study to the clean energy market is the inclusion of insurance companies.  Yes, insurance companies.  You are probably asking yourself: Self, what do insurance and clean energy technologies have in common? A look at the recent entrance of companies like AIG, who are (somehow) successfully selling insurance in Indian villages is an interesting one for us because it presents a situation in which people are buying into an abstraction that does not offer immediate value.  The idea is that if these companies can sell insurance to low-income people, they must be doing something right.

The aim is to survey and interview the executives and marketing teams of the 40 companies to understand their marketing and communication strategies, and, where they are not ad-hoc, the research they’ve done to get in touch with potential customers.  From this, I will create a report and best practices on the clean energy technology market targeted to consumers in rural India.  The report will be targeted toward organizations interested in breaking into this field, policymakers, funding organizations/grantmakers, and investors.

Ultimately, we will choose about 3-5 of the most successful and innovative cases, for which I will write up in-depth case studies. In order to do this, I will follow the sales teams out into the villages to watch how they interact with rural people (as well as looking at the reactions of the people themselves). I will also be doing extensive field visits to the offices of these companies to speak with key staff members and sit in on relevant meetings.

My supervisor is very keen on this project for me, as it is both realistic to accomplish given my summer timeline and it allows me to produce a deliverable to show for my time here.  There is even hope of publication if all goes well.

Damn, it feels good to be a researcher.

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