For her MBA program at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, 30-year-old Christine Joyner designed a market study for a small medical clinic in a poor, remote mountaintop village in Haiti.
"When you think of marketing, you think of glossy, big brand and high end,'' says Joyner. "You don't think of the Third World consumer.''
Yet there are similarities. Joyner's market survey for the clinic addressed the same topics Starbucks or Apple might want to know -- the demographics of the target market, customer level of brand awareness and the organization's reputation in the community. She also included a SWOT analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Of course, the clientele for the clinic study was vastly different from the profile of the average U.S. consumer.
"These are consumers who earn less than a dollar a day. We're talking about marketing at the bottom of the pyramid,'' says USFSP professor Karin Braunsberger
, Ph.D., who teaches "Marketing in Emerging Economies,'' an MBA elective that includes a trip to a Third World economy.
Joyner spent a week in Haiti, interviewing residents in 65 households about their health habits and the services they receive at Clinique Bon Samariten
, a primary care center in Plen Mapou on the island of La Gonave.
"It really opens your eyes to some of the challenges that exist when you're trying to market in this type of economy,'' says Joyner. "You can't just go in and try to impose the American cultural way of doing business -- you have to be sensitive to the cultural differences and what works best for the residents.''
Joyner went to Haiti on behalf of Partners with Haiti
, a local Tampa Bay nonprofit humanitarian organization that is a ministry of St. Paul's Catholic Church in St. Petersburg
. Partners with Haiti has been conducting regular missions to Haiti since 1999 and established the clinic in 2010 after providing funds for two local women to attend nursing school.
Originally from Miami and then Sebring, Joyner earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Florida and then came to St. Petersburg where she is the marketing manager for Diamonds Direct
. She's also a member of St. Paul's Church.
"I was aware of the work that Partners with Haiti was doing and always thought it would be interesting to get involved to some degree,'' says Joyner, "but not until I started my MBA program
and began focusing on the international business angle did it come together.''
The Marketing in Emerging Economies class usually spends a week in Guatemala. But the timing for the spring semester's trip didn't work for Joyner's work schedule. The trip to Haiti did. Joyner approached the university with the idea and got approval to go this past March.
"I did a lot of research on Haiti and knew I would be traveling to a very basic, modest area,'' says Joyner. "I’ve traveled internationally before so I was pretty well prepared for what I would be facing. I made a conscious effort to set aside any cultural bias about the situations people live in.''
While the clinic has basic necessities, such as running water, electricity, indoor plumbing and Internet connection, the villagers do not. Many live in huts. "What would not be acceptable here, is simply not the case elsewhere,'' says Joyner, who posted photos to Facebook
. "You can't go in and question and judge.''
Savvy About Options
After a week of visiting residents in their homes to ask about the clinic services, Joyner's survey offered some valuable information, says Dr. Mark Morris, a Tampa pediatrician who has headed up Partners with Haiti's mission trips since 2004.
One of the most surprising aspects of the survey, he says, was that despite their poverty and lack resources, the villagers were very savvy about weighing their different options for health care.
"Third World consumers have the same general approach to things we do. It makes you look at the community in a different way,'' he says.
Joyner's survey pointed out the clinic's strong reputation for good service and being low-cost, its central location in a safe area and its ability to meet the basics needs of the local people.
But it also pointed out the weaknesses, including the need for more modern equipment, the lack of pre-natal and vaccination services and concerns that the clinic was frequently out of medications.
How did Partners with Haiti feel about the results? Jim Stitt, a St. Petersburg resident who is retired from Progress Energy and now serves as the volunteer president of Partners with Haiti, says the study was "very useful in helping us determine how to better serve the area and where to make improvements, such as better inventory control so we won't run out of medication.''
Joyner expects to make several presentations to the St. Paul's congregation about her trip and to continue her involvement with Partners with Haiti. She's also making plans to go Guatemala next year with the class.
Janan Talafer is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg, FL, who shares a home office with her dog Bear and two cats Milo and Nigel. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.