Think of that young boy, who comes with his family, to see a prospective girl bride in her home. Their parents want to know about each other’s background, their income, assets, and various other aspects of their lives. After very careful due diligence does a matrimonial association result. Dowry and the goodies, all inclusive. So, with rural channel partners, farmers and traders, customers and opinion leaders, the fundamental questions from a corporate are much the same. They want to know what your company stands for; do you care for rural people? Do you display commitment, have the sustainability to stay on. Or are you just an outsider to make hay while the sun shines, offering dubious products and services, to an illiterate audience. The answer lies in building a positive corporate image, in various marketing territories, that functions as an umbrella, underneath which strategic initiatives and marketing objectives are undertaken by the company.
Companies have to strengthen their position in rural markets, by establishing their credentials early in the game. The companies should project their rural vision and mission, to potential B2B partners, NGOs, the State government authorities, etc. A skeptical opinion by the rural community can agonise the corporate image of the company. Enterprising and well timed corporate advertising can pay rich dividends in shaping a positive rural public opinion.
To a considerable extent, rural markets are managed by commission agents, traders, distributors and dealers. They are the front line soldiers who deal with rural customers and villagers. The reputation of the company encourages the channel members to push the company’s products. HUL, Godrej, ITC, IFFCO, Hero, Dabur, etc. are good examples. Channel partners need to talk about their principal companies to the customers and this material must be given to them through corporate image advertising and promotion. In technical areas, such as agro-input marketing, tractor sales, pharmaceuticals, tele-communication and auto sectors, wrong advice given by the middlemen can endanger their own reputation and standing in the market, besides tarnishing the company’s image. Persistent and persuasive efforts to build corporate image will always pay off as variable costs in the calculation of return on marketing investments.
A robust corporate image can overcome the initial hesitancy and resistance of rural customers. Customers are indecisive and irresolute of their decision to buy products. Thus, a good and attractive retail counter, full of displays of company’s products, can add confidence to the buying decision of the customer, because of his understanding of the corporate standing and image of the company. FMCG companies such as Nirma, HUL, ITC, Britannia, Tata, Bayer, Monsanto, BASF and host of others, subsidise retail counter decorations to make them inviting for rural customers. They organise display contests, put up glow signs, signboards, bundies, hangings, posters and shop paintings, etc. to attract potential consumers as also influence the market. A retail counter is actually the fulcrum of projecting corporate image, and the dealer, the company’s mouthpiece to vocalise its achievements.
A favorable corporate image attracts new B2B partners. Organisations can recruit good talent and carve out a positive internal environment. Companies that are focused on building their image, show concern for rural communities, through a variety of initiatives. They adopt villages, organise medical camps, build schools and educational institutions, and participate in national events and rural welfare schemes. Of course, CSR initiatives also fit in, as part of these initiatives. For instance, Hero, Bajaj and Maruti create a lot of hype around such events while projecting their achievements through films, videos, and promotional material. They also get authorities to address the rural audiences and talk well regarding the company. Tata, Kirloskar, Phillips and Siemens etc. carry out dealer awareness programmes on regular basis, organise industry visits, recreational trips, and product demonstrations, with a view to stress on their positive corporate vision. This result in high marketability of company’s products and the consumers are persuaded to make a trial purchase. The risk of product failure diminishes. The external environment also becomes inclined to be helpful and not antagonistic.
Corporate image building campaign, should therefore, be based on what the company or organisation stands for. It should have a recognisable high order goal. By supplying international quality products and innovating them, by providing reliable servicing, maintaining fair business practices, showing a concern for environment and national issues, such as Polio, or Dengue, or HIV etc., companies can demonstrate the values of their commitment. By associating itself with something of which people are proud of, a company can muster goodwill and build trust. By showing films of the company’s manufacturing facilities, its farmer schemes, products and financial achievements and future goals, management can connect with rural audiences at events and display their sincerity and compassion for rural ethos. Thus, narrating the history of the company can get positive results. Tata, HUL, Godrej, Dabur, DSCL and many others, always take pride in their roots, founders and family values.
Companies can talk about the superiority of their products, demonstrate their research capabilities, expansion and diversification plans and get their senior managers to visit the markets and talk to B2B partners. Rural Vans go from village to village, with a view to create awareness about the company and its products and they do this by organising events, such as puppet shows, Bollywood films, tug of war competitions, medical camps etc, around which the corporate image building activities are carried out. free bike rides, mobile ATM’s, servicing camps and many innovative road shows happen these days in villages that have as their main objective, building of a positive corporate Image. Managers know the dangers of criticising the competitor’s products and activities; instead they concentrate on their own achievements.
Technology and mobile revolution, with the advent of smartphones, has made possible for corporate to talk to audiences directly, engage with them and get their feedback. “Kan Khajura Teshan”, the mobile initiative by HUL in Bihar villages, has already won many accolades for an innovative campaign to create product awareness while providing entertainment. Digital communication, indeed, offers diverse platforms to interact with rural audiences, about the affairs and products of the company. Thus, digital marketing will add stimulus and impetus to building corporate image.
Training the sales staff and marketing managers, in the values and principles that the company stands for is a good idea. How should they talk to rural audiences? What should be the content about their company profiles? What claims should they make? What platforms are best used for such communication? In markets, as diversified, as in India, overcoming language, cultural and social barriers is a huge challenge. A positive corporate image is very helpful in managing this diversity. Integrated Marketing Communications provide the strategic guidelines, on how promotional steps, budgets and performance measurement, can be implemented in a cohesive way, across different geographies. The various sources of message delivery, such as celebrities, sportspersons or using animations, music or story lines, need to be validated. Formats, tables, videos and films that project facts and figures, need attention. Creativity in such endeavors is a real challenge for advertising departments and agencies alike. Local advertising firms have also to be put into the communications chain, so that work on the ground is carried out effectively. For example, it is not advisable to put faces of celebrities on wall writings or to write too much matter on outdoor mediums. Creativity planning and implementation is a task cut out for communication managers.
Organisations are not endowed with good corporate images. They have to plan and work at this task continuously. The potency of image building exercises depends on the goals of the company and its pockets! Companies that have consciously allocated resources to corporate image advertising, have immensely benefited in the long run and have broken apart from the clutter. They have profited from their forays in rural hinterland and learnt lessons along the way.