Touching The Rural Nerve
by: Not-Just-Marketing, Marketing Cell at NMIMS
“Rural markets will drive the next wave of consumption in India”. This statement from Parmeshwar Godrej clearly signifies the importance Rural Markets have in the growth of the economy. But one gets the feel that Corporate India is still struggling to find the answers to the conundrum that product promotion and communication in Rural Markets present.
Barring the BTL activities promotion through a medium like TV is the main tool in the hands of the modern marketer as far as the urban markets are concerned. One will think that the story for the rural setup should not be all that different. In reality though, there is a huge disparity. Two numbers help in putting these differences into light – 17 and 60. 17 is the percent of purchasing power that the top six metros account for in India. 60 is the percent of media spends that are being done by the top companies in these metros. No matter which way you look at it, the numbers do not seem to match up. Some may argue that the reason behind the skewed numbers is quite simply the fact that the modern mediums of communication are still more efficient in the urban setup. Such claims have some base but they do not tell the whole story.
Rural India is unique. The remnants of the class system of the old ensure that people with power are still looked upon for directions by the rural folks. These people in power are the opinion leaders in the true sense of the word. Promotion in rural setup cannot be successful unless this group is a part of the promotion plan. Take an example of promotion of Mobile phones in Rural India. Rural India has seen economic empowerment in recent times with the easy availability of credit and measures like loan waiver from the government. This has led to a surge in purchasing power. In addition, the migration of family members to city has ensured a great demand for mobile phones. But as the surveys of Rural Marketing Association of India suggest, the mobile phone is the first electronic gadget that a villager buys and simply put – the technology scares him. Hence the rural consumer, unlike his urban counterpart, decides based on what the Gram Sabha members or the Village Development Officer – the opinion leaders – suggest.
Thus, reaching this rural consumer in many cases implies reaching the opinion leaders. This in turn will require re-orienting your rural sales force. Companies would do well by employing such opinion leaders in their sales force if possible.
BTL Activities and engaging the opinion leaders ensure a greater reach but we can still not ignore the immense potential of mass media. This is the juncture at which Rural India throws some startling facts again. They might fall way behind when it comes to the number of households having a TV but when it comes to Radio Rural India wins hands down. This India still likes to start its day by listening to Vividh Bharti. Even though radio broadcasting in villages might not have seen a proliferation similar to the cities but it still remains a potent medium. Radios in villages provide an unmatchable reach. This has been the reason behind initiatives like Reliance Media World’s “BIG Rural” which offers brand activation through support of BIG FM Radio.
Even though the “how” and “whom” of promotion are important characters, the hero of the story still remains the product. Rural markets have long been seen from the prism of low pricing. This approach has generally led to introduction of cheaper/low-quality cousins of the original product. The truth is that the rural consumer wants value for his money. Rural India has huge problems in term of infrastructure like regular electricity, bad roads etc. So if you are a telecom company selling a mobile phone which can save 100 messages but has a battery backup of only 1.5 hrs or if you are an automobile company selling a bike only in Rs. 28,000/- but having a low suspension , chances are your product will not sell since your product does not solve the rural concerns. Rural markets respond to products which are attuned to rural needs. Corporate India is waking up to this fact but the rise has been slow. We have heard about Samsung launching phones which will run on a solar battery to cut down on the dependence on electricity but news reports like these have been more of an exception than a rule.
Urban markets are getting saturated and the time has come for the marketers to tap the huge potential of the rural markets but this will only be possible if a clearer approach is adopted towards the trinity of what to sell, how to sell and to whom to sell.
By: Neelotpal Shukla, NMIMS, Mumbai