75% corporates do not walk the talk on going Rural: R V Rajan

09 Oct,2013

 

He is decidedly one of the pioneers of Rural Marketing in India. The founder and former Chairman of Anugrah Madison Advertising and currently Chairman of Anugrah Rural Marketing Academy (ARMA), R V Rajan was one of the earliest to enter the field of Rural Marketing. His efforts in championing the cause of Rural Marketing over the years saw him co-found the Rural Marketing Association of India (RMAI) of which he was the Founder President for four years.

 

His book “Don’t Flirt with Rural Marketing – The Handbook of Rural Marketing” has been published by Chennai’s Productivity & Quality Publishing Pvt Ltd. Priced at Rs 395, the 130-page book is accompanied by a DVD containing video clips of some successful case studies of Anugrah Madison. It contains a 14-step approach to Rural Marketing, packed with valuable insights of Mr Rajan, 72, who has spent 35 of his 45-year advertising career helping a variety of corporate in conceiving and executing their rural marketing strategies.

 

In a foreword to the book, Kurush Grant, Executive Director of ITC, describes ‘Don’t Flirt with Rural Marketing…’ as “the first usable manual for marketers. Most serious marketing companies should make the book compulsory reading for all their marketing and rural sales teams”.

 

Interestingly, the information on the book came to us via mail from Sam Balsara, Chairman and Managing Director of Madison World. Aware of the fact that R V Rajan is a treasure trove knowledge of rural management, we called him in Chennai for this interview with MxMIndia.

 

                          EXTRACT
 

Step-I Commitment from the Top Management

While there is a lot of talk about many marketers wanting to go rural, a closer examination reveals that most of them are not walking the talk. This is because in most companies, rural marketing efforts are relegated to the regional offices with their limited budgets. Marketers do not give rural marketing the total attention that it deserves to reap meaningful results. Without a comprehensive plan, and the total involvement of the top management, they end up merely ‘flirting’ with rural marketing.

 

I have seen from personal experience that many companies spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and money, in building brands in urban India. However, when it comes to rural marketing, they become impatient. They desire quick results. They don’t want to spend money on research, or on developing a sound rural business strategy before taking on the rural markets.

 

If over the years, HUL, ITC and a few companies have done well in the rural markets, it is solely due to the top management’s commitment to rural marketing as a long term policy. A recent example is that of LG Electronics. Because of the early focus of the top management on rural markets and the subsequent initiatives they took to make it a reality, LG Electronics has established itself as a leader in rural markets, within a matter of 10 years.

 

Other examples include the mobile service providers and handset manufacturers, who are reaping huge rewards in rural markets. In the last decade, the automobile sector, both the four wheeler and two wheeler categories, have been reaping rich rewards in rural markets because of strategies focused on rural markets.

 

The total commitment of the top management to any kind of rural initiative is the first step for any company to take, on the long journey to successful marketing. A commitment that should not be altered by middle level managers, to suit their short term sales objectives!

 

It is also important to ensure the consistency of the team involved in any project, until the completion of a specific task. Recently, my agency was involved in dealing with two big clients. In both cases, the teams that briefed us in the initial stages and participated enthusiastically in the campaign were shifted out of the task midway, as per the policy of the company to shift and promote people. The result was that the new replacement teams showed scant interest in the project, and did not feel or take ownership of the campaign, since they were not involved in its conception. Even the top management, which was involved in the initial stages, did not respond, as they were busy fire fighting on other fronts. What had started as a great rural marketing initiative had been relegated to the dustbin. This is the fate of many rural marketing initiatives in the country.

 

Rural marketing is not some kind of magic by which you can spend some money today and reap the rewards tomorrow. It is a long haul business and unless you are willing to invest in the future with a clear focus, it will not give results, let alone long term benefits.

 

The top managements of some of the organisations who want to be long term players in the rural areas are now personally visiting the rural markets to feel the pulse of the market and develop strategies to drive the rural business. This is a good step which every company planning big investments in rural markets ought to follow.

 

Published with the permission of the author from

“Don’t Flirt with Rural Marketing - The Handbook of Rural Marketing”

By R V Rajan

Publisher: Productivity & Quality Publishing Pvt Ltd, Chennai

130 pages + DVD

Price: Rs 395

 

You have tracked the evolution of rural marketing in India – from being a buzzword to becoming a necessity for a large number of companies eyeing the growing consumer base in rural India. Would you say that rural marketing has matured in India over the years?

By and large, rural markets have matured over the years though economically backward States like Bihar, Orissa, U P (Eastern), Rajasthan etc have a lot of catching up to do

 

There is often confusion on whether small-town India is also rural India. Would you define what would constitute rural marketing?

Yes, small-town India is also considered part of rural marketing. For any corporate, rural markets start where their current distribution stops. For instance, if the company`s distribution network is reaching only up to towns with population of 3 lakh and above. For such a company, any effort to reach towns below 3 lakh becomes a rural effort.

 

Rural India is often equated with poor, impoverished and uneducated people. How much of this is true or untrue?

Totally untrue. The growing educated aspiring middle class in Rural India with much better purchasing power than their urban counterparts is now offering tremendous hope to corporates. Though, thanks to population explosion, there is a huge chunk still living below the poverty line. It is a fact that in rural india there is a constant income shift taking place because of developmental activities – people moving from the bottom of the pyramid to middle clas and middle class moving to upper class etc

 

With increasing penetration of television, do you think BTL/experiential marketing will play the same role as it does today?

For marketing any high-end lifestyle products, the rural folks need a lot of convincing to be done with opportunites to see a demonstration of the product or touch-and-feel of the product. While television can help create awareness, it is only BTL/experiential marketing which can help achieve the objective. However, as I have mentioned in the book for FMCG products, if a company is targeting a particular brand to be promoted both in Urban & Rural India and television being a primary medium which does not distinguish between urban and rural, such companies will do well to produce television commercials which appeal to both the markets,. Pre-testing of such commercials in both markets is vital. Companies like HUL and Colgate Palmolive have understood this fact as is reflected in their creative for selected brands in their portfolio.

 

Of the various organizations marketing to rural India in a big way, which company would you say has most effectively marketed in rural areas?

Undoubtedly Hindustan Unilever (HUL) is top of the chart as it has been targeting rural markets for over six decades. They have always had clear long-term vision and are willing to experiment with newer ways of achieving last mile connectivity eg. Project Shakti and now Project Shaktiman

 

Your book comes with a selection of Anurgrah Madison DVDs. If you were asked to pick your favourite case study to indicate the most effective case of rural marketing, what would it be?

The Philips rural campaign for their consumer electronics division in Tamil Nadu would be my choice. It was an integrated campaign using both mass media and below the line activities. Unfortunately most of the subsequent programmes that Anugrah and similar agencies have dealt with have been essentially Activation programmes

 

And a product that’s been a huge success in urban and rural areas?

Though it is a financial product, AM`s case study of Shriram Transport finance is an excellent example of how one could build a brand both in urban and rural areas using predominantly highly focussed Below the line activities.

 

The book title suggests that there are people out there who do flirt with rural marketing. In percentage terms, how large a number is this?

I would say 75% of the corporates who are talking about going rural are not willing to invest in the long-term. They are not willing to walk the talk. By conducting a few van campaigns in a few districts of a few states for a limited period, you may achieve temporary increase in sales but you are not building your brand in such markets. And that is what I mean by marketers flirting with rural markets.

 

In real-life, flirting can often lead to true love and marriage… so what’s wrong with flirting with rural marketing?

As any one with knowledge of rural marketing will tell you that Rural Marketing is expensive and unless you are willing to invest in the long-term you cannot successfully build a brand in rural India..Though a late entrant to the field, LG realised the importance of rural markets early and decided to invest in the future by creating separate rural vertical to promote their brand in rural India. In several product categories, LG is a leading brand in rural India

 

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