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Live from Pop!Tech: Knowing and Respecting Your Customers

Sarah Joseph, the creator and editor of Emel, a Muslim lifestyle magazine, shared a telling story in her presentation Dialogs With/In Islam this afternoon. She showed a slide for a commercial, what appeared to be a straightforward ad for bleach. On the left is a pair of light green socks; in the middle, a washing machine; on the right a pair of clean white socks. A + B = C. Got it? In the Arab world, nobody did. They read right to left. So the ad made no sense (“Green dye? Right, I’ll rush right out and buy some.”).

One theme that comes up again and again here at Pop!Tech is the importance of knowing your audience – your customers.

Paul Polak spoke of this bottom-up strategy the first day of the conference when he described interviewing the farmers that International Development Enterprises set out to help. He asked them which problems needed solving instead of assuming he knew their work better than they did.

Victoria Hale, the founder of Institute for OneWorld Health, the first nonprofit drug company on the planet, picked up on this same point today. Her organization delivers drugs that combat the diseases of the poor, which traditional companies neglect. The solution goes beyond having the advanced technology to make effective medicine for black fever and malaria. One World Health takes a bottom-up strategy, building local support for the organization in the communities it’s helping. In the seven years they’ve been working to cure Indian children, they’ve become Indian. “Manufacturing is the easy part,” Hale says. “What we need to understand is the human impact.”

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