If you’re starting up a new business, it’s reasonable to assume that you want to make money. If you want to make money, then you appeal to the masses with a product or service that they can easily access and latch onto. Considering how rapidly technology is expanding, taking over our everyday lives to the point where losing your phone can be considered a legitimately traumatic experience, it’s easy to see why most startups in the US are involved in this industry. Apps and social networking sites are the sustenance of our constantly plugged-in society.
When these companies are transferred into places where Internet is a rare privilege, though, then the notion of appealing to the masses becomes radically different. That’s what 29-year-old Thar Htet faces as he runs his app company Zwenex in the middle of Myanmar.
In 2012, only 1% of the country had Internet access and 10% had cell phones. With a society like this, it’s not just the limited exposure that Zwenex has to battle. They also have to figure out how to rewire the entire mindset of the people so that their electronic products are viewed as more than a service for the elite few. Somehow, these products have to be converted from an unnecessary privilege to a necessary commodity. The people of Myanmar survived for a long period of time without being familiar with the Internet. Zwenex, then, needs to figure out a way to both market their product and transform public perspective.
Though this seems like an impossible task for a 5-person company, it’s something that nearly all new enterprises must face at some level. The challenge when marketing anything new is to fight the idea that the world has functioned perfectly well before the product or service it came along. Since there’s no reason why anyone would want to add something previously unnecessary into their lives, then marketing efforts need to work toward recalibrating people’s conceptions of what is necessary.
The goal in marketing, then, isn’t to pique the interest of a few people. It’s to revolutionize the way the masses think. Whether it’s on the scale of changing an entire society’s lifestyle by plugging people into the Internet for the first time or in the realm of making consumers wonder how they were ever content watching movies at home with flat screen TVs instead of Samsung’s new curved ones, the influence of marketing expands far beyond a few annoying ads before YouTube videos. Its power is able to advance societies ranging from upper-middle-class American communities to developing countries.
Constance Kaita, MSD Intern