Keki Dadiseth, 55, rose quickly through the ranks of Hindustan Lever Ltd., the largest consumer-goods company in India, and then went on to parent company Unilever, where he is in charge of home- and personal-care products worldwide. Here is his agenda for how strategists can sell to rural consumers in poor countries.

Do the math — and then make the commitment. “Even though developing markets use small quantities per capita, their huge population means a huge amount of fabric-washing products, shampoo, and so on. Even if you hit modest profit levels on that, the gross profit can be much more than in the traditional markets.”

Define markets broadly. “Is your goal to get 50 percent of the shampoo market, or to increase consumption so that 50 percent of all hair washes are done with your shampoo? In India, Lever has a 70 percent share of the shampoo market. But we look at total hair washes as our market.”

Look at assets, not income. “It may seem as if rural residents have little money to spare on your products. But a farmer’s food is largely free, which means that he has more money to spare than an urban resident who might spend 50 percent of his income on food.”

Affordable products aren’t always inexpensive to develop. “Most companies take an existing technology and apply it in a diluted fashion as they go down the income groups. We turn that logic on its head. When we worked with salt, we used atomic-measuring technology to calibrate how iodine passes through the body so that we can offer the highest level of iodine delivery in the market. About 75 percent of the iodine in salt is wasted. You can either put back that 75 percent and double the cost of salt, or you can find a technology that permits consumers to get the required iodine in their salt without the costly process of adding it back.”