In the last post, I posited a sort of back-to-the-village theory about the evolution of marketing. Little did I realize that within a month, I’d be in a Honduran, coffee-growing village talking about marketing.
I was there as a volunteer for a “Business Brigade” hosted by development organization called Global Brigades. The Global Brigade model emphasizes sustainability but recognizes that those in poverty have immediate needs that have to be met before they can plan ahead. So the first steps for working with remote and impoverished communities is to bring in medical and dental teams; then clean water; then latrines, then paved dirt floors, then “eco-stoves” that vent cook fire smoke out of the houses rather than in; then a small community staffed bank capable of micro-loans. The final step is to help the community identify a sustainable business so the community can earn more than the average $2 a day. That’s where the business brigade comes in. Our little brigade team was composed of marketing, merchandising, and process professionals. We met with the members of the El Zuzular community bank and learned about their approach to growing and selling coffee.
At first, if I’m honest, the challenges facing them seemed insurmountable. Imagine the typical difficulties of an agrarian life (e.g., no rain, crop disease, etc.) and then add to it dishonest middlemen, limited access to transportation, a high government tax on the final product, and zero crop insurance. When they’re lucky, the 23 co-op members grow about 6500 pounds of coffee a year and make a little over a dollar a pound. They have to live on—and reinvest—the profit for the rest of the season. Yikes.
As a team, we went back and forth trying to think of what we could offer to help the community. Finally, we went outside. We took a short trip to a popular tourist destination where we learned there is a growing Honduran interest in for fair-trade, locally sourced coffee. Small tourist shops were selling roasted coffee for $10 a bag.
We reported this back to our community members. As coffee growers, they confessed that they had never purchased a bag of coffee (they drink their own). So we shared what we’d learned and showed them how to think about their own brand strategy, do their own market research, and think of creative ways to make their product stand out.
The experience in Honduras was amazing for a hundred reasons, but it was also a good reminder to me as a consumer insights and research person. Marketing might be evolving to a more of a village in terms of the sources we trust as consumers, but as marketing professionals, it’s vital that you occasionally leave your village and see what new market opportunities might await one village over.