Article | Harvard Business Review | June 2011

Segmenting the Base of the Pyramid

by V. Kasturi Rangan, Michael Chu and Djorjiji Petkoski

Abstract

The bottom of the economic pyramid is a risky place for business, but decent profits can be made there if companies link their financial success with their constituencies' well-being. To do that effectively, you must understand the nuances of people's daily lives, say Rangan and Chu of Harvard Business School and Petkoski of the World Bank. Start by dividing the base of the pyramid into three segments according to people's earnings and related personal needs: 1) Low income: 1.4 billion people, $3 to $5 a day; 2) Subsistence: 1.6 billion people, $1 to $3 a day; and 3) Extreme poverty: 1 billion people, less than $1 a day. Next, consider the roles of various groups in the value-creation relationship: consumers, coproducers, and clients. Specific strategies work best with people in certain roles and at particular income levels. Success requires appreciating the diversity at the base of the pyramid and the importance of scale in undertaking ventures there. Witness Manila Water's success in the Philippines and Hindustan Unilever's in South Asia. Failure to appreciate those elements can foil base-of-the-pyramid ventures, as Microsoft and Procter & Gamble each discovered.

Keywords: International Finance; Risk and Uncertainty; Value Creation; Human Needs; Income Characteristics; Poverty; Profit; Relationships; Economics; Segmentation;

Citation:

Rangan, V. Kasturi, Michael Chu, and Djorjiji Petkoski. "Segmenting the Base of the Pyramid." Harvard Business Review 89, no. 6 (June 2011).