Marketing in the Rural
There isn’t anything unique or different about marketing in rural. We apply almost the same techniques, use almost the same forms and expect results the same way. All that we need to understand is how the same old techniques can be improvised in an innovative manner and what form can be more significant towards marketing in rural.
There is no specific scientific formula to plan marketing for the rural, no specific statistics that may allow you to generalize your plans, and no guarantee that the history of previous success will repeat itself. A very successful marketing campaign of the past may not work well the next time around. It is only a deep understanding of the complex characteristics that make up the people and the markets in rural India that will help corporate groups in finding their niche and do business there.
All marketing theories ever framed
Newer and promising forms of social congregations have redrawn the broad lines of marketing in the rural. The concepts, the ideas, and the strategies that were effective about a decade ago are almost redundant today. Each visit to the hinterland presents a new sign of change, hinting to a marketer that he will have to restrategize his promotions plan, before he visits again.
It has to be conceded that no promotional campaign can match the one-on-one interaction of a brand with its target. If one can knock at every door in the village, talk in the villagers’ language, and make them appreciate the need or the significance of the product or service in question, he can term his effort as a successful direct marketing activity.
However, there are many factors that render the simple-sounding direct marketing a complex affair, one that has its own requirements for inventiveness.
Findings by Association of Direct Marketing Co-operatives (ADMC) suggest that direct marketing can be successfully used for effective brand-building initiatives in rural areas with a population of around 10,000. Direct marketing tools are generally impactful visuals and designs as well as engaging and simulating technology applications with less written content. They appeal to the rural audience due to the visual ease and also the capability to convey the message.
To measure the impact of direct marketing on rural folk, ADMC had taken a sample population from the lower and middle income economic strata in the rural and also at the urban end. All of them were simultaneously exposed to mass media campaigns, and catalogues and brochures were directly handed over to them.
When asked to jot down their impressions of the messages, most of the control group from the rural territories recorded their impressions more in favour of the brochures and catalogues in comparison to the mass media advertisements. This reinforced the proposition that direct marketing is a cost-effective way of conveying a single-minded proposition about the brand to consumers.
Influencer marketing is the most important new approach to marketing in a decade for those professionals trying to influence decision-making. It shows that key decision-makers in all major markets operate within communities of influencers. These “ecosystems” are full of important individuals, whose impact on purchasing decisions is both pivotal and misunderstood. Key influencers do not buy, are not obvious, and start off neutral, which is why their potential to affect sales is so great.’
Basically, influencer marketing is all about common sense. Identify the one whose opinion matters and who has the power to influence the decisions of others. Once identified, market through him, market with him, or let him inde-pendently market for you.
Considering the general innocence and vulnerability of rural folks as compared to their urban counterparts, influencer marketing has a larger impact in the hinterland. Many individuals, including elders and women, across rural India look up to educated and well-placed individuals for advice on all matters of any consequence.
Herd in the mind
Some regular, peak-hour commuters on the Delhi Metro have a unique seat-grabbing strategy. They board a metro moving in the opposite direction so that they are assured of seats when the train turns around. Over time, the number of such commuters increased to such an extent that the strategy no longer worked for most.
Stephen J Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics, gives a similar example of his bus travel in New York and says that people may not like being part of a herd, but psychologically they are somehow comforted by it. They succumb to such mentality easily, and unthinkingly tag along, because if everyone else is doing it, it must be the thing to do.
This human psychology is as prominent among the rural folks of India. There is the phenomenon of hordes of farmers joining the rush to grow expensive cash crops that are in vogue, only for most of them to realize that the value of a given crop was based on its rarity, a quality that is naturally lost as everybody starts growing it.
The herd mentality is as pronounced in the rural as it is anywhere else. The rich guy in some remote village paid all cash and bought a flashy motorbike; in no time, the guy who is not so rich also bought it, and then another guy got it financed through a bank; soon, the village had more than a few of these flashy motorbikes. All of them were the same models of the same brand. The ‘if he has it, so must I’ mentality is manifestly ubiquitous.
One’s neighbours, relatives, and peer group can serve to reinforce the group mentality with various degrees of influence. It is general predisposition to want to possess everything that the next-door neighbour owns, or even what the relatives have. Another strong influence source is the peer group; it not only acts as the pressure group that dominates decision making but also sets trends since one wants to adopt whatever his peers do.
In 2008, Maruti, the brand that is appreciated for having penetrated deepest into the rural, created a unique campaign targeting influencers in rural hubs. The automobile company offered its cars at discounts of up to Rs 5,000 to over 2.1 million functionaries in panchayats, considered to be influential governing bodies. The offer, titled ‘Mera Sapna, Meri Maruti’, was extended to the brand’s affordable entry-level vari-ants including Maruti 800, Alto, and Omni.
In the same year, General Motors (GM) announced limited-period discounts of up to Rs 62,000 on various models, to both central and state govern-ment employees. Under the scheme, government employees could get a discount of Rs 31,000 on Chevrolet U-VA and Rs 62,000 on Chevrolet Spark, inclusive of all discounts and special offers that already existed. Similarly, Ford zeroed in on teachers as major influencers and offered special discounts to them on its cars.
All of these brands had a common purpose: Get their cars driven around by major influencers, so the ones who aspire to be like them will aspire for the cars, too.
Durables major BPL identifies NGOs that operate in the hinterland. NGOs are major influencers as villagers trust them for the humanitarian and development works that they do in the rural.
Targeting school children, who may influence parents to buy them a bicycle, TI Cycles undertook the responsibility of putting up the boards of schools and put their product branding on it.
Focusing on groups
A group of housewives, a group of mar-ginal farmers, a group of youth or kids, and a group of the elderly, together they all make for the larger village commu-nity. If even 5 to 10 per cent individu-als of the large groups can understand the message, they automatically become messengers among their own groups.
For instance, an interaction with or a demonstration in the presence of 10 to 15 housewives from the same income group may be enough to spread the message among an entire group of housewives.
BP has smartly explored the focus-group marketing idea to promote its Oorja stoves. The functionality and significance of Oorja, a small pellet stove that produces substantially fewer emissions than the traditional wood-burning stoves, had to be explained to rural women. BP realized that effec-tive communication was possible only through the medium of their focus group, specifically the village house-wives.
BP recruited women from within the villages and asked them to conduct small social gatherings of housewives wherein they could talk about Oorja as they cooked sweets on the stove and distrib-uted the same among themselves. Much like middle-class housewives in urban India compete to outfit their kitchens with the latest European trappings (we all know of the Tupperware business model), a set of rural women are now becoming entrepreneurs selling stoves, while others are transforming their kitchens with them. These business-women, named Jyoti by the company, make a slender commission on the Rs 675 metal stoves. Jyotis have also played a vital role in educating BP about the challenges of rural marketing in a cultur-ally diverse nation.
We know about the potential of mobile phones and also understand how in another 3-4 years they will be available probably in the remotest parts of the country. Apart from merely being tools to connect one person to another, the mobile device also becomes an interesting communication platform for mar-keters. With text messages, generation of interesting content especially in the form of ring tomes and caller tunes has already become a trend. A newer concept that is picking up is a ‘missed call for entertain-ment’, wherein a caller makes a missed call at a particular number and gets a call in return giving him multiple option of entertainment to choose from – songs, movie dialogues or conversations.
At the end of each such entertaining call, marketer inserts its ‘commercial’ message. A case in point is Khushiyon Ki Doli. ‘Khushiyon Ki Doli’ a rural marketing initiative of Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) that was launched in March 2010. Apart from using of traditional symbols such as the palki or doli (palanquin), or conducting live demos for small focused groups to increase engagement, HUL for the first time implemented a mobile marketing strategy. Considering the number of mobiles in rural, the response was commendable. While people got free entertainment on their cellphones, the purpose of the marketer – club marketing message within entertaining content – was also met.
Interestingly, today’s famer is getting all farming-related information on his mobile. Be it updates on what to sow when and how, or what will fetch him what price in what market… all such queries of farmers are being answered through text messages, multimedia mobile content or a call to one of the helplines.
Marketing and CSR
Of late, a newer model is being embraced by the corporate world to strengthen brand positioning in the rural market. Companies are introducing ‘responsible’ campaigns, which also exhibit the potencies and the values that a brand holds as its own.
Campaigns that revolve around corporate social responsibility (CSR) help in the creation of a positive brand image and also start valuable word-of-mouth publicity in the area where the social activity or the campaign is conducted. Through CSR, corporate groups indi-cate their interest in the society and how concerned they are for their customers, employees, shareholders, communities, and the environment. Organizations voluntarily take steps to improve the quality of life of the community they operate in and also of the society at large.
Colgate’s project Oral Health Month, the hygiene drive conducted along with Indian Dental Association, is credited with reaching about 60 lakh people in 20,000 villages, of which 15,000 villages had no earlier experience of the availability of toothpaste and tooth powder. The drive helped in spreading awareness about oral hygiene among the less aware people in rural regions.
HUL, as its CSR initiative to help the rural populace, joined hands with the state-owned Khadi Board through an advisory relationship with the govern-ment of Madhya Pradesh. It helped the board to brand local produce from villages and tribal areas, such as natural honey collected from forests in the state, under the umbrella name Vindhya Valley. The product range includes edible products like papads, pickles, masala, and turmeric.
HUL provided corporate expertise, marketing acumen, and quality param-eters, while the state government bore the marketing expenses for the brand building. The ultimate benefit went to the people of the Vindhya valley who were involved in making all the prod-ucts.
ITC is also known for its CSR programmes. In addition to creating substantial employment opportuni-ties, it has been instrumental in various development programmes as well. Primarily, it is the CSR initiatives that are the foundation of ITC’s rural divi-sion. The company has various ongoing programmes targeted towards forestation, soil and water conservation, community development, health and sanitation, and education. In the long run, the investments in CSR activities pay back in the form of faith and loyalty of consumers.
Nevertheless, the practise of CSR, with all its inherent goodness, has been a subject of debate and criticism. It is alleged that corporations do CSR only with eventual profit in mind. However, businesses have started to appreciate the CSR benefits with a perspective broader and longer than their own immediate, short-term profits.
Excerpted with permission of the publishers from ‘Marketing Sarpanch’ by RC&M, a leading experiential and rural marketing firm.
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