No prediction can contradict what the Indian rural market can offer and no major adversity can negate the growth it guarantees. However, there is no denying of the underlying fact that the pace at which it has been growing is rather sluggish and it runs counter to what a developing economy desires. More could have been achieved, provided certain issues are addressed.
To begin with, literacy is a major concern in rural India, and it is one of the biggest hindrances in promotional activities taking place in rural India. Illiteracy and lack of education make rural consumers feel insecure and thus are hesitant to voluntarily come forward to get more information about any product or service. This can be attributed to their collective and conservative lifestyle and their limited exposure to diversity.
“Promotional activities are not just on-ground activities; they need to be supported with posters, banners, leaflets which contain product information. Being able to read the communication and understand the message is difficult because of low literacy levels. They do not understand complex messages and schemes,”elaborates a Vodafone India’s spokesperson.
Another concern that has been a major hurdle is the linguistic diversity. The obstacles marketers encounter due to it in rural India could be grave, unlike in the metros, where English, by now, has virtually become a lingua franca.
“We develop a promotional campaign or activity based on a central theme, which when translated in all languages should be catchy and equally appealing as in the language originally designed. The visual used on the creative of a banner, poster, etc. needs to be in tandem with the local customs and traditions,”explains the spokesperson. “There are times villages have a mix of people who know different languages, in that case we ensure that the manpower promoting the product can speak and understand multiple languages. The communication is kept simple so that it easily understood by all and everyone connects with it”.
In addition to the abovementioned factors, the condition of infrastructure should be reckoned as a graver matter. Distribution of products and services could be enhanced in rural areas if good infrastructure was in place. At times when there is abundant supply of goods marketers are not be able to deliver them on time due to poor infrastructure. The fact is that there is virtual absence of rail links in some parts of the country, and in most rural areas the roads are in such poor condition that they are rendered unserviceable during monsoon and thus interior parts of the country get isolated.
“Currently, accessing and promoting a product or service in the emerging markets involves a lot of money and is challenging. Getting to a village is so difficult because of poor road connectivity that distribution of products and services seem far-fetched. Once the infrastructure in place we feel there is a huge opportunity in these markets. There are a lot of other things that will change along with the infrastructure resulting in the brands to be able to setup a systematic distribution channel to sell their product or service,”remarks the same person.
Additionally and yet quite vital, understanding consumer behaviour in the emerging markets of India is in itself a challenge since the customer is evolving every minute. There are many brands that are going rural to promote and sell their products due to which there is more exposure and acceptance of new products that make their life easier.
Traditional and customary practices in emerging markets are not widely talked about hence they are not known to many people. One has to visit and stay to understand the inhabitants of a village and observe their life unlike the way we follow similar lifestyle in urban. “Talking to the inhabitants is difficult since they are not too open and feel safer with their own kinds. They feel that people from big towns and cities are there to dupe them hence keep away from them,” adds the spokesperson.
It, however, will be entirely wrong to conclude that developments haven’t occurred on these fronts. Today, mobile connectivity in rural India stands at 327 millions and the figure of Internet user has shot up to 137 millions. In the last decade rural India witnessed road construction of 600,000 km under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, and new rail links have been built. And surprisingly, 25% of new life insurance policies were sold in rural during 2012-13.
At present, rural consumers spend about USD 9 billion per annum on FMCG items and product categories such as instant noodles, deodorant and fabric, with the pace of consumption growing much faster than urban areas. The fast moving consumer goods market in rural India is tipped to touch USD100 billion by 2025 on the back of strong demand stimulated by rising income levels.
With new ideas exchanged faster through enhanced modern means of communication combined with rapid rise in literacy rate, the needs of the rural India consumer is going to be diversified. This is reflected in Maruti Suzuki recently witnessing positive sales in rural which accounts for 30% of the total sales, and the company has presence in 60,000 villages and it expects the figure to go up to 100,000. Similarly, the tractor industry has grown 24%, and with further mechanisation of farming the demand will certainly rise and consequently expand the size of the industry. And this is bound to happen with more international manufacturers entering the market.