When you design a product, you spend a lot of time thinking about the experience users get from a product, encompassing all aspects from its function to the feelings it gives users when they first unwrap it. Yet we often overlook what takes place before that unwrapping, when a user isn’t even a user yet, when they’re a person who doesn’t even know about your product yet. What kind of experience turns that person into a user?
For me, one of the highlights of the MIT Scaling Development Ventures 2016 conference was tackling that question at a session called The Marketing Roadmap in the BoP, run by Nicolas Chevrollier from the BoP Innovation Center. After presenting ATEAR, a marketing framework developed by the BoP Innovation Center, I was given a chance to present my start-up business in Tanzania to the room and then work with a group to apply the ATEAR framework to it. What followed were probing questions, sharp ideas, and fresh perspectives - an all-around insightful experience that I’ve been able to bring back with me to my business.
I want to share some of my biggest take-aways on marketing strategy that I got from the session. But in order for you to understand them, I’ll first give you a brief run-down of my start-up, Imara Tech, and also the ATEAR framework and how we applied it to Imara Tech.
We fabricate a machine called the Multi-Crop Thresher (MCT), a mechanized thresher that threshes common cereal crops at workshops around Tanzania. We partner with organizations that do last-mile distribution or that sell inputs to farmers to help us make sales, and also partner with financial institutions to provide loans to our customers. Our customers are entrepreneurs that operate the MCT as a business, selling threshing services to smallholder farmers in their communities.
The ATEAR Framework - Attention, Trust, Experience, Action, Retention
Attention: Introduce the product to the customer and communicate its value proposition
MCT: Advertise heavily using radio to reach rural farmers before harvest season. Provide marketing materials (pamphlets, brochures) to sales partners to be on display at times when they have peak contact with farmers.
Trust: Gain the trust of your risk-adverse customers so that they’ll consider buying your product.
MCT: Advertise the ability to return the machine and a warranty. Work with organizations that farmers already trust to make sales.
Experience: Allow your customers to experience your product to make them want to buy it
MCT: Demo the product in crowded markets.
Action: Create a situation that encourages your customers to act and buy your product.
MCT: Have a microfinance officer present at the demonstrations to sign them up to receive clearance for loans and financing.
Retention: Stay in contact with your customers, allowing their success stories to spread to other potential customers.
MCT: Provide maintenance over the course of the year.
Radio advertising is not a marketing strategy, but it is part of one
When we started discussing each area of the framework, my group came up with a lot of ideas, and to my credit, I had already considered many of them. I’m not a marketing genius though: if you are advertising to rural customers in the BoP, radio advertising is probably one of the first things that will pop into your mind.
But even though not all of the suggestions were new, my understanding of them changed significantly. I had these pieces of my marketing strategy before, but they were separate and disjointed. Now I see them more as pieces of a path that leads customers to purchase the product.
Simply put, radio advertising is great, but it’s so much more powerful when you follow it up with a market demo run next to someone from the bank saying “sign up now to get a loan!”
Customers don’t follow the same paths, so lay out plenty of options
Putting a microfinance officer at the site of a market demo was what sparked some of my newfound understanding of marketing strategy. It’s such a great hook to draw in customers and it help everything else, like the radio advertising and the market demo, fall into place (thanks team for suggesting this!). But it also raised the question for me: what happens if someone isn’t at the market demo?
This eventually led to the realization that the marketing strategy I was envisioning was narrowly focused, hinging around one element, and that many customers wouldn’t experience each step as I had envisioned. For example, if a customer discovers the MCT through a partner organization, how do I offer them Experience or Action? If they discover it at a market demo, how do I earn their Trust? My strategy wasn’t comprehensive enough to account for different cases, but it really should be.
When your customers have customers
The MCT’s customer is an entrepreneur that operates the MCT as a business serving farmers in their community. Does this mean they need a marketing strategy too? And do I have to be the one that makes it?
Well, basically, yeah.
There are many benefits of the MCT that I’m used to communicating when I present it to others: the MCT is 75 times faster than traditional methods, saves a lot of labor, works with staple crops, etc. My customers might not actually care about that though. For them, the value proposition is in the income-generating opportunity that the MCT presents: the MCT can generate up to 25,000 TSh (~12 USD) per hour, multiple times higher than an average daily wage in Tanzania. They only care about the time and labor savings to the extent that it helps them earn more.
At the end of the day, I’m not just selling a technology, I’m selling a small business, and that means it should come with the tools to help my customers find their customers. My customers need a marketing strategy as much as I do.
Since the session, I’ve been thinking a lot more about marketing strategy and how it connects my products to my customers. It seems like such a simple thing, but it’s critical to the success of any business. For Imara Tech, I’m hoping that as we build MCTs over the next year that we’ll build a marketing strategy in parallel that helps move these products into the hands of our customers. For now, it feels like we have a good starting point. Thanks to everyone that helped get us there.
Elliot received his Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in June 2014. While at MIT, Elliot took D-Lab: Development, D-Lab:Design, and D-Lab: Cycle Ventures. He traveled with D-Lab to India to work on a solar dryer project as well as natural crayon manufacturing. On a D-Lab trip to Tanzania, he worked on a bicycle-powered corn sheller and an early version of the multicrop thresher. He also completed an undergraduate research project and his senior thesis on the use of computer software to design and analyze a cargo tricycle for Lagos-based former D-Lab Scale-Ups fellow enterprise Wecyclers He attended the 2014 International Development Design Summit held in Tanzania, where he now lives and works. He is a 2015 D-Lab Scale-Ups fellow.