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How to engage your rural consumer?

In a recent roundtable, organised by MART, the experts from rural marketing domain explained the innovative ideas for engaging the consumers in the rural markets


MART, a leading marketing management and consulting firm organised a roundtable on “Rural Opportunities- Building Strategy Into Action” recently in New Delhi. The discussion at the roundtable centered around the new opportunities and challenges that the dramatically changing rural market has brought into notice for marketers. 

Addressing the roundtable, Pradeep Kashyap, founder of MART mentioned the evolution and concept of rural marketing in past 30 years. “The 90’s was the ‘doubting period’ for rural markets as no one in the rural sector had the buying power and that most corporates doubted the potential of rural markets. Around the year 2000 came the phase when corporates started defining ‘rural’ on the basis of geography, mindset, strata of the residents, et al; every company had its own perception of what rural is, for targeting its audience in a better way,” Kashyap said. He further highlighted ‘Inclusive marketing’ which meant that the ‘poor’ in the village were not just consumers but also the producers. and added to economies and this was the genesis of Hindustan Lever’s (now Hindustan Unilever) Project Shakti by MART.

Elaborating the evolution of rural marketing, Kashyap said around the same time (2000-2010) Professor CK Prahalad’s book ‘Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid’ was published and corporate India seemed to latch on. Kashyap cautioned corporates who still talked about the ‘pilots. He said the rural people have such a huge appetite for products, for example rural India today has more than 400 million mobile phones , that they cannot wait for companies to experiment, do pilots in rural, rather they want the products to be available at their nearest store. He backed the argument by stating that the rural market, today, is much bigger than the urban market in every category of product. For example 60 percent sales of durables comes from rural but rural and small towns put together the demand is 75 percent.

Addressing a panel discussion on ‘Building Strategy into Action’ during the roundtable, Farid Ahmed, DGM-Marketing, Apollo Tyres shared his insights on ‘Reaching the Rural Consumers. He was of the opinion that Haats and Melas should not be targeted in order to reach the rural consumers as they are for small transactions and at the same time the platform does not involve any engagement with the targeted audience. According to him television and print media are the best way for communicating with rural audiences.

He brought forth the perception of Apollo tyres as ‘Agriculture tyres’, mainly used in tractors and other machines for the farming activities.

In his view, there is only one market and one consumer, ie No rural or urban. He said, “the rural consumer is a strong entrepreneur who consumes lot of things.” Farid mentioned a paradigm shift in the rural consumption referring to their viewership of television, mobile phones and print media, and a shift to their consumption of agricultural machinery. This shift in the perception has been the result of the shift in the average age of the rural consumers (35-40). He then supported his argument by stating that applications are now being mechanised at every stage of production so the rural consumer is now receptive to technology.

Speaking on the theme, ‘Rural Consumer Engagement’, Danish Siddiqui, National Head - Rural Marketing, Hero MotorCorp said, “The rural and urban line is getting very blurred and has almost vanished. With the disappearance of the dividing factor, the consumers are to be collectively defined as human and are not to be bifurcated looking at their rural or urban characteristics and the human spirit has to be targeted to engage them in a better way.”

It is significant to have a long term relationship with the consumer. He explains, consumers have many expectations, out of which at least top four or five need to be fulfilled in order to get them fully engaged with the product. With the word ‘pro-actively’, he meant that the consumer’s expectation and aspirations sometimes need to be predicted in order to deliver them value or benefit at the time when their particular demand will arise in the future. Exemplifying his statement, he gave the example of the school girls who commuted to their school using bicycles in Bihar. Predicting that they might demand scooty in future, Hero pro-actively organised workshops ‘Chalo Sakhi Pleasure seekhen’ to teach them to ride Hero’s Pleasure scooties. This not only required the dedicated engagement of the consumers, but also prepared Hero MotoCorp and the consumers when the demand will be created.

Simultaneously, the company also pinned themselves on to the latent need of their consumers. Focusing a campaign on ‘safety’, by providing safety training for the sons in rural families, the two wheeler manufacturer targeted the human spirit, forming an emotional connect. This way they managed to make the parents as well as the child happy.

On the generating demand in the markets by ‘behaviour change communication’, Radharani Mitra, Global Creative Advisor, BBC Media Action said, ‘Insight, Idea, Execution and Impact’ are the steps to achieve a behavioural change in the society.

Her way of communication centered on creating demand for the product and services, focusing on general improvement and health. Behavioural change communication is done to create a social impact for which principles and approaches are used for social and behavioural change. It primarily aims at selling an idea, improving or changing an attitude, inculcating confidence, and changing social norms which eventually lead to change in the practice of behaviour. She explained her approach by first mentioning the process to understand the needs of the consumer, then involving research to find out ways to solve the existing issue. Explaining in simple terms, she talked about the importance of ‘insight’ which when well executed, can demonstrate an impact. “A person who does not know how a baby is delivered, will not be educated with the biology lessons, but with the help of an insight she can be taught about it,” said Mitra.

Anirban Chaudhuri, Faculty at Great Lake Institute and Ex-SVP at JW Thompson elaborated the role of digital media in communicating with the rural consumers. By 2022, there will be around, 850 million who will be using it. Out of this number, he said, 50 percent coming from the rural India and herein lies a huge opportunity. The behaviour of both the rural and urban, is very different. The person living in the rural areas do not use internet 24*7 and that he/she is more attracted towards the entertainment genre. He defines engagement with rural by using three Vs: Voice, Vernacular and Video.

According to him, digital is “pre-dominated by English internet and then by the Rashtra-Bhasha internet.” Now a days, people are more interested in watching and listening rather than reading and writing, therefore, it is important to make the best of the three Vs to have a sustainable engagement with the consumer. Later, he referred to the ‘incremental benefit’ (B) that the product or service must offer to the consumer. In his speech, he talked about the benefits of the digital media which provides a real time (R) update. This remains a ‘leverage point’ for the medium. Moreover, nothing can be hidden from the rural people, that is, offering (O) is there. In his opinion, creating infrastructure is something to be looked forward to as a vital step. Next, collective conception happens in the rural community. It provides the opportunity for development and BRO can be implemented also by brands coming together.

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