13 marketing strategies for corporates to succeed in rural India

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Rural markets offer great opportunities to marketers and the sector is rapidly turning into a preferred destination for many big brands. The sector presents an opportunity of potentially adding $1.8 trillion to the Indian economy. However, while designing the rural marketing strategy, marketers need to know the pulse of this highly-aspired segment that resides in rural

1) Change your belief that rural market is cheap and sub-standard

The rural consumer is smart and no longer buys only that what is cheap. They are increasingly turning out to be high-value seekers and their aspirations are at par with the urban counterparts.

Between 2009 and 2012, spending in rural India reached $69 billion, significantly higher than the $55 billion spent by the urban population.

2) Select a rural marketing specialist agency

It is advisable for marketers planning to go rural to have an agency specialised in rural marketing. Marketers should look for the following criteria before choosing an agency:

– The profile of the agency and its experience in dealing with rural markets.
– Their areas of specialisation – are they capable of evolving a comprehensive strategy or are they specialists in certain specific area only?
– The infrastructure of the organisation – does the agency have full time employees with years of experience and passion for rural marketing or is it dependent primarily on freelancers?
– Does it have a creative team which can think and communicate in local languages?
– Does it have regional offices with knowledge of regional requirements?

3) ‘Cookie cutter’ model will not work

While the sector offers immense potential, marketers need to address rural and urban markets differently. Marketing strategies that work successfully in urban markets may not necessarily do well for rural.

For instance, Britannia Industries had launched Tiger biscuits, especially for the rural market. It clearly paid dividends. The company’s share in glucose biscuit market had increased from 7 per cent to 15 per cent.

4) Rural markets are heterogeneous

One family, one brand. Marketers often expect rural households to be homogeneous in consumption – there’s one brand for the whole household. In many categories, multiple-brand usage is a fact. Rural households aren’t homogeneous there are different influencers who may be each demanding their own brands.

5) Technology will be the foundation of rural growth

Technology is going to play a major role in the way brands communicate and reach the rural audience. The mobile and internet revolution is already ensuring that crucial information is available to the rural audience at the press of a few buttons, eliminating the role of middlemen who have been exploiting them for generations. This coupled with the government’s plan for inclusive growth; making banking facilities within the reach of the rural should help in transforming the markets in a big way. While the digital divide has already shrunk, the much hoped for reduction in the rural-urban divide is bound to take place in the next decade.

6) Digital marketing to engage youth 

The digital revolution has gripped the nation with almost every person having a mobile phone or a smartphone. With 520 million smartphone users by 2020 and 1,145 million broadband users, digital marketing will be an effective medium to connect with customers. This will help marketers engage with the customers about their products and services, collect the feedback and provide the opportunity to identify their behaviour and innovate accordingly. While non-traditional media including mobile vans, events and road shows are still relevant, digital platforms will be the
nucleus of communication.

7) Traditions and value systems have to be well respected

The rural population is more rooted to traditional values. Bottlenecks like proper infrastructure, talent availability and heterogeneity should be envisaged and worked upon well.

8) Bottom-up approach works better

Corporates who want to go rural in a big way should move ‘bottom-up’ and not ‘top-down’ – as they are currently doing. The success of brands like Ghari and Cavinkare, who started with rural and are now giving run for money to multi-national brands, proves the point.

9) Timing: Brisk buying is done after harvesting period

Major purchasing is done during the festivals. Hence, manufacturers should have a substantial shelf presence and a sound marketing plan chalked out at these times.

10) Stop placing under-performing managers in rural 

It has been found that forcing city-bred executives with rural initiatives have often resulted in failed efforts. Instead, the brands should hire candidates who have rural or small town background and feel comfortable in the rural setup.

11) Rural marketing is an expensive affair and demands patience

Many corporates who want to go rural are not willing to invest for the long-haul. Rural marketing is an expensive affair and unless you are willing to invest in the long-run you can’t successfully build your brand.

Marketing cost in rural is almost double when compared to urban markets. Marketers should first reasonably calculate the expected per capita sales and then should work backward.

12) Inclusive Growth

The industry has to design business models which will deliver inclusive growth; creates opportunities for manufacturing and service sectors. For instance, contract farming and farm-to-town distribution models have benefitted many corporates. Programmes like HUL’s e-Shakti and ITC’s e-Chaupal that have been designed to empower rural women, educate farmers have gained traction in rural.

13) Word-of-mouth marketing 

Since most brands have a relatively short history in rural India, word-of-mouth plays a much stronger role in acquiring rural customers than it does in urban markets.

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