Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Case study: Focus group, Afghanistan

We wanted to do some industry level advertising for rural microfinance in Afghanistan, and we didn’t have much money to do it. So we came up with the idea of a poster campaign.

Problem: the literacy rate in Afghanistan’s rural areas is quite low.

Solution: a poster comic strip, getting our idea across in pictures rather than words.

I had a general idea for the strip and hired a local artist to sketch it out. But we didn’t really know if it would work. I understood what the pictures meant – they were my idea, after all. But would the Afghan women we targeted understand it? Did our comic strip show the benefits of a microloan?

There was one way to find out – ask!

We pulled together focus groups of female rural borrowers (our target market), showed them the draft cartoon, and asked them to tell us what the story “said.” Then we told them what we had intended for it to say, and asked how we could fix the pictures to make them more understandable.

The information they gave us was golden – change the headscarf on the borrower to a floral print to make her look rural, change the headscarf on the loan officer to a solid, dark color so she looked like a more sophisticated “city girl,” etc., etc. The artist frantically took notes while our focus group told us what life in rural countries was really like, what mattered to them, and how we could show that in our cartoon.

We made the changes, printed the posters, and… Participating MFIs reported that women were lined up outside their doors to ask about loans.

The focus group was simple, inexpensive, and invaluable. If we had printed the posters without this crucial step, it’s unlikely our message would have been understood. Money would have been wasted on ineffective advertising.

So how does one run a focus group? Stay tuned…

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