Rural Marketing Glimpses of Tomorrow

The face of rural India is changing fast and what landscapes will emerge by 2025, now engages the attention of all marketers. The question is about understanding these changes and planning and executing marketing strategies to build a business around this huge opportunity, writes Prof CK Sabharwal, MD, Crop Health Products
Rural Marketing Glimpses of Tomorrow

A silent revolution and an all-encompassing change is happening in rural India – in almost every State across the country; in most rural households; in rural family structures; in the elders – youth equations; in the mindset and behavior of the emerging population; in infrastructure and communications; in the penetration and depth of Government’s rural development initiatives and in the diverse products and services that did not exist a decade ago, but now constitute platforms for large income creation at various levels. Besides, we are also witnessing a shift in the reach of education and health services in villages and small towns; in the widespread reach of regional brands; in telecommunication, mobile and internet digitally-savvy population; in the use of two and four wheelers, by increasingly large number of rural households; in the adoption of new technologies by the farmers for hybrid seeds, nutrients and crop protection chemicals and bio products; by the advent of GM crops; by improved mechanisation of farm practices and through a significant increase in non farm-income and a slowing down of agricultural income (55:45 ratio).

Agribusiness has opened up large opportunities; through the deep penetration of electronic and non- traditional media including digital communications that engage the rural people; Google is omni-present and the use of apps is on the rise already; the tentacles of urbanisation has reduced cultivable land, encouraged migration, and reverse migration especially in small towns and many rural people have suddenly become rich through sale of land for infrastructure and building projects; electricity is reaching most villages, and solar panel installations are on the rise; the hill stations home to erstwhile rich Indians, now witness a majority travelling population from rural areas, sitting pretty in diverse cars and SUV’s. TV and DTH services have brought products and services awareness to most households.

Insights to marketers
Verily the face of rural India is changing fast and what landscapes will emerge by 2025, now engages the attention of all marketers. They know there is a tiger on the prowl and everyone wants to be in the hunt! The question is about understanding these changes and planning and executing marketing strategies to build business around this huge opportunity.

So, what marketing objectives should be set for emerging rural consumers; what should be the learning outcomes; what are measures of monitoring and control to be adopted? Following pointers may give some insights to marketers:

•Understand changing demographics in different marketing territories.
•Manage Big Data through Fine Segmentation and Analytics program to map consumer trends, likes and dislikes, competition, products, services and brands across diversity.
•Understanding changing rural consumer behaviour.
•Understand and adapt to technology in various segments.
•Re-orient communication and media strategy to engage with target audiences.
•Let brands converse with and engage rural consumers.
•Measure Influence and source and reorient distribution.

A peek into the following facts will throw up new ideas to prepare ourselves to be a part of rural change.

•500 million rural people: 49 percent women – will women drive rural change and growth?
•85 million people in small towns, semi-urban and rural areas: 500 emerging small towns –” seething with energy” 49 city clusters and 12 States to drive growth contributing 52 percent of incremental GDP by 2025.
•100 new cities to be built is the official mantra! How will this impact neighboring rural populations?
•Emerging 800 million+ middle class – literate, digital-savvy, aspirational, very young population, looking for identity with little historical perspective.
•Huge investments in infrastructure, rural development, housing, roads, hospitality, healthcare, telecom 4G, e-commerce, agriculture and irrigation, solar power – will lead to increase in employability, purchasing power and higher life quality.
•The inclusive growth from rural India – emerging new business models.
•Continuous evolution of digital world presents marketing opportunities worth $ 37 billion.
•Traditional marketing replaced by Targeted Promotions (SapientNITRO) – India will have 520 million smartphones, broadband users 1,145 million: Av data usage 620MB/mth from 155 MB today. (Ericson)
•Personalised charging models – HUL launched a free on demand video service in Bihar, huge penetration – Internet will form 3.5 percent of GDP by 2020 (McKinsey) thus creating uniform access to markets: consumers: knowledge and tools.
•The advent of vertical farming: solar power: GM crops: rail and roadways: airports: agribusiness: healthcare: logistics – the drivers of wealth creation in rural India.

Rural marketing strategies for the future may include following broad components:

•Innovate products that satisfy consumers quest for technology.
•Futuristic innovation – aspirational brands for rural people.
•Full portfolio of products across segments – leadership from key players.
•Have conversations with consumers through consumer-centric digital campaigns – build excitement and create demand.
•Define the target positioning to consumers who are most interested in buying – early adoption.
•Leverage umbrella branding – Dove, Samsung, LG and Amul.
•Co-create with customers through interactive platforms.
•Weave stories around emotion: create magic at every touch point: the challenge!
•Training the rural workforce through diverse education.
•Connecting rural India with the world, technology and its people.
•Stakeholders would do well to moving from compliance to commitment for rural spaces.
•Making products and brands to suit rural needs.
•Re-structuring marketing organisations to have a hub-and-spoke model with rural CMO in the middle and CIO, CFO, CEO, CDO on the spokes.
•Understand digital potential and making it a user-friendly tool.
•Manage the shift from ‘brick-and-mortar’ to e-commerce, e-retail, farm to retail shopping, mobile marketing, banking and financial inclusion services.
•Learning how to adapt to new technology as a service provider.
•Building capacity for Inclusive Growth in all segments.

Rural strategy may be easier to craft but very complex to implement across India’s vast rural diversity. This is probably why many new entrants into the hinterland do not make the cut! Rural India cannot be managed through remote control; indeed the challenge is to be one of them rural folks, to empathise with them, to find solutions to their problems and aspirations. This understanding needs commitment and deep pockets, and a burning desire of some individuals to dream of being part of a very uncertain, but exciting, eventful and rewarding journey! And then to take the first step and next….!

Author: Prof CK Sabharwal, MD, Crop Health Products

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The Changing Face of Rural India