This article was written by Luc Jonveaux and Clémentine Antier*
Arts at the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) is rarely a topic that is discussed in BoP businesses operational aspects. The BoP approach, as initiated per Prahalad and FMNs, was to find a way to reach the so-called base of the pyramid, defined, as consumers, by their purchasing power. In a sense, this approach could be thought of as providing adapted goods and services to a market segment which had no previous access to said services, while craving them the most. However, when adapting existing concepts and selling them in new countries, the first step to be undertaken was that the BoP products had to be contextualized for this new market. As we know (and sometimes forget) there’s quite a gap between the « needs » determined by either outsiders or insiders, but not always the consumers, and the « desires », of the consumers.
There are several challenges to this adaptation, all inherent to the history, or rather the culture, of the customers. Therefore, with the way innovation strives to translate products from concepts to the market, it should take as big a leap in terms of communication and marketing. The best way to bridge the gap is to use the local culture to connect the product with the conception of the product through the consumer’s eyes.
That’s where local artists-slash-designers come into play. They are the ones who have the cultural elements, the local levers, to morph the actual, plain product into a part of the consumer environment, packaged in a brand that would therefore be more digestible by the BoP consumer. It was first thought that the clients were not brand conscious. However, a recent study (Rahman, Hasan, and Floyd, 2013) showed that « brand positively influence the relative advantage of an innovation and it leads to adoption of innovation in the BOP« . One solution is to leverage a global brand to sell products, and that may be a good enough solution for big companies. But what about smaller-scale actors and niche innovators?
A solution that could emerge is to tap into the local creative pool to create these cultural bridges. These artists are the ones who are able to turn cultural difference/specificity into value and innovation.
The vision of the BoP art project would be, at first, to secure the very livelihoods of artists by providing support and capacity building, on the one hand, while at the same time giving them an access to market. In the long run, the objective doubles, and is also to change society’s view on these artists and to help them gain prestige from their activities, ultimately leading them to a position of cultural influencer and helping them develop their reach through participation in national and international communication campaigns.
Indeed, the issue today is that the local creative pool is undervalued, either by MNCs marketing resources, or even by the lack of recognition locally. The idea is to shift the marketing value creation into the hands of local influencers, and to promote BoP, not only as a basis for consumers, but to help them acquire all the keys to be able to create value immediately and foster their creative skills. They could of course also intervene to promote and communicate about grassroots innovators and entrepreneurs being close to their culture and habits.
From this perspective, the BoP approach would not be defined as addressing an underserved market, but rather as creating value at the level of the consumer – and letting go of the « cultural contamination » of foreign influences. In that specific art business case, we’ve seen local adaptations of foreign culture as we can see above.
It is essential that BOP strategies focus on facilitating skills recognition and access to market for local artists and designers – a component that surely won’t be ignored in the near future.