Understanding the mindset of rural consumers
Understanding the mindset of the rural consumers, for a specific product or brand, is the next step in the evolution of an effective rural strategy. Don’t forget that the rural markets in India are heterogeneous. Conditions vary from state to state, and in some cases, from region to region, with differing traditions and cultures.
When I was working on the bullock cart tyres campaign for MRF Farm’s tyre division, and travelling through Uttar Pradesh (UP) markets, I noticed the clear differences between Western UP and Eastern UP. Western UP was a more prosperous area where farmers were tall, well built and spoke Hindustani. The bullock cart consisted of a steel framed cart driven by a buffalo. In the case of Eastern UP, bordering on Bihar, people were comparatively darker, less prosperous and they spoke Bhojpuri. Here, the same bullock cart was a bigger vehicle made of wood and driven by two bullocks. Obviously, we had to keep in mind these differences, while working on a communication strategy for the UP market.
Many of the marketers insist that they know enough about their consumers (mostly based on studies in urban India) and that their agencies should straight away produce a plan of action without wasting money and time on understanding the expectations of the rural consumer. For instance, when a leading FMCG company tried to promote its ‘hair dye’ through barber shops in rural India, it failed. Subsequent research showed that rural men do not want the others to know that they dye their hair!
Our experience in conducting studies for various clients has shown that the attitudes, aspirations, fears and comprehension etc. of rural customers to products and brands are different from the urban consumers. Remember that consumers’ mindsets are different in developed rural (economically developed) states from developing rural (economically backward) states.
It is true that in recent years the proliferation of media has helped empower rural folks, with better knowledge on a wide variety of subjects affecting them. Still, it is too early to say that the rural urban divide has melted and hence there is no need for a different rural strategy. Studies by Rural Specialist Agencies indicate the need for a specially focused communication strategy, aimed at rural markets for proper impact.
Research can give you valuable ideas, for new product development to suit the market, or new methods of physically reaching the rural folks; and of course provide you with valuable insights in developing the right communication and delivery (media) strategy. There are many research organisations that have experience in conducting studies in rural markets. There are also published reports by government organisations which can help in planning a rural strategy.
Getting a dedicated task force
Rural marketing efforts need special mindsets. Many of the managers who are at the helm of affairs in the corporate world, are urban oriented and do not necessarily possess the mindset needed for rural marketing. A separate marketing and sales vertical, headed by people with passion and commitment to rural marketing, and supported by a field team which can face the rough and tough of the vast countryside, with courage and conviction, is needed. Having traveled through the vast interiors of the country, doing research or monitoring ground level activities, one has seen enough of the hardships that people actively involved in rural markets –be it the salesman or the promotional team – face, in dealing with below-the-line (BTL) activities. It is no fun not to be with your family for months together, or to eat and drink in places where safety standards are appalling.
For your dedicated team hire rural sensitised students from Agricultural Universities or rural marketing institutes (like the IIRM) or students from management institutes, preferably second level institutes, where a lot of students come from small towns, who have taken rural marketing as an elective course.
Field level people with rural background can be sourced through the Government’s Nehru Yuvak Yojana, the village level youth clubs or even the self help groups (SHGs), which are being used successfully by HUL for their ‘Project Shakti’ initiative.
It is heartening to note that many of the management institutes have realised the importance of rural marketing and are offering short-term courses to their students. Some of these students, who come from small towns, have a lot of fire in their belly, wanting to work for big companies; and they have no problem working in smaller markets. Please pay them well. As the old saying goes you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Put them in the field only after they get a thorough in-house training and give them an indication of their career graph in the company, if they do well. Attrition among such candidates is very low as the owners of rural BPOs are discovering.
(Extracts from the book `Don’t Flirt with Rural marketing’ by RV Rajan published by Productivity and Quality Publishing Pvt Ltd, Chennai.)