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Global Health Organizations Can Reach Target Populations in Africa by Using the Strategies of Consumer Companies

BCG Research Shows That Improving the Health of African Consumers Means Overcoming the Problems of Awareness, Access, and Affordability

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- (Marketwired) -- 05/07/14 -- Global health organizations that struggle to reach lower-income Africans should look to consumer products companies for inspiration. By learning from these companies and adapting their strategies, health organizations can better reach their target populations and build awareness and demand for needed treatments, according to a new report by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) titled What Global Health Can Learn from Consumer Companies in Africa.

Interventions for nearly all health conditions in Africa, from malaria and HIV to diarrhea and other tropical diseases, have had problems with uptake and impact. Three major factors are typically to blame: limited awareness of a disease and its prevention or treatment; limited access to prevention or treatment due to distance or stockouts; and a lack of affordability because of clinic fees, product pricing, or the cost of transportation to care providers.

"Consumer products companies face similar obstacles," notes Lori Spivey, a BCG principal and a coauthor of the report, "yet many have been able to reach low-income African consumers and win their loyalty and hard-earned dollars." What are these companies doing differently? To find out, BCG analyzed how they develop a market for their products -- even when their target populations have limited disposable income. We also looked at the findings of our recent Africa Consumer Sentiment Survey of nearly 10,000 consumers at all income levels across eight African countries.

Five Lessons from Consumer Products Companies

Although they lack the huge marketing budgets of major multinational companies, global health organizations could increase the impact of their product development, marketing, and distribution dollars by using them in a smarter, more coordinated manner, drawing lessons from the best practices of private industry. BCG's analysis revealed five effective strategies:

  • Understand the many Africas. On this diverse continent, there is no single solution for every market. To succeed, heath organizations must understand differences across genders, ages, income levels and other segments and tailor their approaches accordingly.

  • Innovate with the target consumer and market in mind. Companies that win the loyalty of African consumers offer products designed for the target population, considering such factors as local tastes and preferences, willingness to pay, access to infrastructure and electricity, and logistical challenges.

  • Harness the power of brands. Strong brands carry positive associations with consumers and can streamline messaging. Some global health organizations are striving to build brands around different health products. For instance, Population Services International, a pioneer in the social marketing of global health, offers the high-quality, best-selling Trust condom. There certainly exist more opportunities to do the same with other products.

  • Develop high-impact marketing and communications. In global health, multiple entities -- each with different local and global partners and funding sources -- may be involved in the same activities. To have greater impact, all players must work together to create clear, consistent messages and convincing value propositions that resonate with consumers.

  • Creatively expand distribution and access. To overcome logistical challenges, explore new push strategies and partner with other entities. The best consumer companies ensure that their products are where their customers shop, from the traditional market stall or small spaza shop to the modern retailer.

Could health interventions in Africa achieve the same levels of brand recognition and spending that mobile phones and clothing enjoy among consumers? Promoting healthy practices is far more complex than selling candy bars or smartphones. But by learning from consumer companies and adapting their strategies, health organizations can better reach their target populations, build awareness and demand for needed interventions, and ensure that treatments are used properly, for better outcomes overall.

To download a copy of the report, please go to

To arrange an interview with one of the authors, please contact Eric Gregoire at +1 617 850 3783 or [email protected].

About The Boston Consulting Group

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a global management consulting firm and the world's leading advisor on business strategy. We partner with clients from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors in all regions to identify their highest-value opportunities, address their most critical challenges, and transform their enterprises. Our customized approach combines deep insight into the dynamics of companies and markets with close collaboration at all levels of the client organization. This ensures that our clients achieve sustainable competitive advantage, build more capable organizations, and secure lasting results. Founded in 1963, BCG is a private company with 81 offices in 45 countries. For more information, please visit

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