Case Studies

VOICE AI: Rural India gaining pace in technology adoption

Over the years, brands have started leveraging voice technology, powered by artificial intelligence (AI) in rural marketing activities. Niraj Ruparel, Head of Mobile & Emerging Tech at GroupM India and Head of Voice, WPP India brings in a number of Voice-AI initiatives in rural markets...
VOICE AI: Rural India gaining pace in technology adoption
VOICE AI: Rural India gaining pace in technology adoption (Representational Image: Shutterstock)

With initiatives like ‘Digital India’ and growth of rural spending overtaking urban markets due to higher agricultural incomes, and decent rain along with government stimulus harboring hope of a faster bounce back, tech adoption has and will continue to see rapid rise in 2021 and beyond. Technology is one area that has adapted very well to the pandemic which signals a shift that could see Voice technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) getting further adapted for rural India.

Voice Technology – Accessible To Everyone
Voice has made technology more accessible and equitable. Voice is more natural human-like mode of communication especially for new internet users. Voice is a fundamental mode of interaction. However, there is a large population with no or limited access to the internet. For this less connected group, voice technology has been not just a convenience but a necessity. Interactive services accessed on standard telephone numbers are a key source of information and education – and as AI-driven voice recognition technologies have evolved, these services have become increasingly sophisticated and have provided brands unique opportunities. In the last one year, there has been a rapid rise in tele-medicine technology ‘Doctor on Call’ that is enabling rural India get access to doctors and pediatricians. This initiative is enabling access to critical and basic necessities for individual’s wellbeing. In fact, Telemedicine is not a new concept in the country. ISRO Telemedicine program started in 2001 and has been connecting remote and rural medical college hospitals and mobile units through the Indian satellites to major speciality hospitals in cities and towns. . XR (Extended Reality) too has lot of interesting use cases which can be path-breaking solves for challenges in rural India.

First Preference of Rural India
Rural India is increasingly tuning to voice to get things done whether it is searching for information to help with homework, asking for recipe, getting directions, learning new skills, finding nearest pharmacy, connecting with loved ones, finding entertainment or even staying up to date with news in a preferred language. We found that in India there is high preference for visual content for news and a lot of users prefer short snippet updates. So news comes in a rich feed format where they can choose from video news, text news and key highlights. Rural consumers need simple solutions that are enabled through local or regional language and Voice technology helps in attaining exactly that – it speeds up transactions, eliminates the need for typing, and removes a latent fear of technology. It is frictionless and enhances product discovery.

Regional Languages Getting Edge
AI has been around since the 1950s, but is only now becoming ubiquitous because of the fusion of two vital things — the vast amount of data available today, and the availability of compute power and memory, which can make sense of that data and help us derive value from it. We are now at a defining point in history. As we enter the age of AI, India has an opportunity to lead and leverage our unique strengths of technology, data volume, data diversity and talent.
When it comes to the big tech players, Google is racing ahead. Google Assistant is available in nine Indian languages, while Alexa is only available in English and Hindi. Having said that, even the addition of Hindi has been a boon to the Amazon smart speaker. As they go regional, they would find more fans for their technology with more people adopting it. The sonic identity and personality of Alexa in Hindi is so powerful that we’re seeing a lot of people engaging with her. Close to one million people have proposed to Alexa already.

Future of Opportunities
As per the study conducted by the Broadband India Forum (BIF), AI could create over 2.8 million jobs in rural India over a period of 8 to 10 years. Out of the 2.8 million jobs, around 75 percent of these jobs will be created for the agriculture sector. Farmers and land owners can perform manual tasks such as satellite mapping, electronic marketplace, livestock traceability, climate sensing stations, product traceability, and agriculture drones have the potential to transform the agriculture sector through AI. XR (Extended Reality) has lot of interesting use cases.

Cost is one important factor driving poorer people to unconnected feature phones, which means that the only way to access interactive services is via voice. But there’s another potent driver that has made voice tech a particularly useful tool for this demographic: education. The adult literacy rate in India is 73.2 percent – meaning 26.8 percent of adults (almost 370 million people) are illiterate. Even as cheap smart phones grow in popularity, voice remains the king.  Voice is going to be very important in the near future because in a market ecosystem like India, the next couple of million consumers who are going to come on board might not be conversant with typing at all.

6 Voice AI tech adoption initiatives in rural marketing

1. Fastcard ki Paathshaala
‘Fastcard ki Paathshaala’ – a voice-based education IVR – In certain parts of rural India people struggle on a daily basis to fulfill basic needs such as food, electricity and water. Due to such conditions, children end up working alongside their parents to provide them a helping hand. Thus, the literacy rate in rural areas are significantly lower than urban areas. Godrej Good Knight, a repellent brand, felt it can play an important role in a child’s education, by offering protection from mosquitoes, which distracted them during their studies. With this insight, Good Knight Fastcard decided to conceptualize ‘Fastcard ki Paathshaala’ – a voice-based education IVR – which could penetrate in rural markets and be an enabler of education. And, effectively bringing a school into their homes though a mobile phone. Increasingly, sophisticated natural language processing and natural language understanding AIs are being put to use on these interactive phone lines. And, in the financial sector particularly, using voice as a biometric pass key can become an important tool in the fight against fraud. Rural areas with little access to the internet are often also poorly served by amenities like bank branches, so telephone banking is heavily relied upon. User ID numbers are easily copied or stolen, so voice prints bring added security. One of the many USPs of voice.

2. Alexa GURU
Alexa GURU – Here’s another interesting story about voice technology which came across in one of the Voxcon events, example of a small school 170 km. from Nagpur where  Alexa has turned into a teacher for kids. An Alexa fitted into a mannequin is dressed as a teacher is changing the way students are learning in Marathi medium schools.

3. Pocket Dentist
Pocket Dentist – Voice based platforms – In rural India, it is rare to find or get access to a professional dentist. In fact, most people go their entire lifetimes without ever getting to visit one. Since most households have access to a mobile phone, Colgate decided to use mobile voice technology to provide India’s rural population with basic oral care as it avoids data dependency and doesn’t limit access. Colgate created the “Pocket Dentist,” which used voice recognition technology to answer questions about common oral health problems for individuals lacking access to dentists. Callers can dial the service and then hang up. Pocket Dentist returns the call, free to the caller, and answers common oral health questions. For less common queries, callers are connected to an actual professional dentist.

4. Colgate Audio Lectures with BYJUS
Colgate Audio Lectures With BYJUS – Colgate partnered with BYJU’s, the education app, to give children access to free BYJU’s lessons. Each pack offered a free one-month video tutorial subscription of BYJU’s. We also converted the BYJU’s video content library available for consumers into audio format accessible to users who had to just dial a number from their phone. This enabled the audience without a data plan or not having a smartphone to get education through their phone in an easy and convenient manner.

5. Add data to the mix
Add data to the mix, one of our most powerful campaigns in recent times, allowing brands to serve up useful, relevant information. Last year Mindshare took home a Silver Media Lion and Bronze Creative Data Lion at Cannes with the Infection Alert System for Lifebuoy soap. The project takes live government data from rural community health centers. When infection reached a certain number in a local area, it triggered an automated voice calling system alerting nearby people in their local language, reminding them to take precautions, including hand-washing

6. mSamvaad
India’s largest Audio-Conferencing Bridge Solution ‘mSamvaad’ helps connect and engage leading brands to its audience in media-dark areas. A Voice based solution that uses the power of telecom as the key channel to engage, educate and create awareness through SMS, chat rooms and voice calls for one-on-ones as well as conference connections. It also enables a two-way communication on a selected basis. The key differentiator of the platform is that it operates on any phone and enables massive outreach in the most cost-effective way. With this platform roll feature phones are also giving those cut off from the internet a taste of social media. The first project on this platform was for GSK brand Horlicks, where callers could listen to and submit questions to actor and politician Ravi Kishan. A similar system was also used during last year’s general election campaign, allowing thousands of village heads to dial into a giant ‘town halls’.

We are certain that these two technologies ~ Voice and AI, India’s goal of digitization will witness massive adoption in rural India in the future. This will attract India’s youth and entrepreneurs towards creating customized and value-driven companies for rural India.

(Niraj Ruparel is the Head of Mobile & Emerging Tech at GroupM India and Head of Voice, WPP India. Views expressed in the article are author’s own.)

Read more: Read more: 15 Marketing initiatives that made headlines in 2020

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The Changing Face of Rural India