The rural consumer is more exposed and aware now than he has ever been in the history of India. He also has more choices and more brands trying to fit into his mind space. Becoming increasingly important for brands looking for fresh growth beyond urban India’s market penetration, especially in the larger towns and cities, rural consumers are no longer a simple target to woo, as their exposures and growing awareness have made them more discerning than earlier. At the same time, their aspirations for consuming branded and more sophisticated products make them very attractive for brands.
The two paradigm shifts that have affected rural consumer behaviour are rooted in urbanisation and the advent of the mobile phone. Urbanisation has changed the credentials of the influencer. Earlier, influence was a function of designation or social status; in the last few years, villagers who have either studied or worked in larger cities are seen as the trendsetters. Living and studying with their urban counterparts translates into increased exposure across all facets ranging from everyday product choices to financial instruments.
Mobile phones have given the rural consumer more than just mere connectivity. The device is their gateway to information and entertainment. Chinese phones are very successful in the rural markets because they are equipped with technology to play songs and cameras to capture pictures, adding to which most handsets are stylishly designed. The mobile phone is the villagers’ ‘remote control’ to the world and is helping him find daily mandi rates as well as control water pumps from the comfort of his house. We need to prepare for the next generation of digital natives from the villages of India.
Since a majority of our country still lives in rural India, rural marketing cannot be very different from mainstream marketing; the same principles apply. Today, rural marketing is not just a media challenge — the message and communication design is critical. Yes, ‘value proposition’ is still very critical in the rural areas and sometimes price and SKUs need to be designed price-backwards, but aesthetics are important as well. If a company is manufacturing to target the mass market, what the rural consumer thinks of its brand is key to its success or failure.
Brands have realised that while ‘share of desire’ is more important than share of pocket even in the rural markets, communication from most brands is focused on the feel-good factor. Many brands are now focusing their energies into influencer and network marketing to target the wary rural consumer. Communication parameters have shifted from communicating the generic benefit of progress to multiple attribute reassurance.
The mediums traditionally used for targeting the rural consumer still hold good because most of them are focused around congregation. The challenge today’s marketing managers face is how use those mediums differently to create conversation. A brand needs to look at the channel and succinctly outline the role that it plays in the idea. Marketers need to work out how they can drive retail advocacy, or run programmes in melas and market places that people remember. Mobile phones, transit points and the like are all important mediums. Brands need to work at making the messages relevant to the channel.
Rural activation needs to provide novelty experiences to be remembered. Generic, run-of-the-mill activations may meet tactical objectives but will fail to leave a brand imprint on the rural consumers’ mind.
Products and SKU’s may be value for money but they cannot be cheap, social status is of great importance. Retailer is a key influencer; he is their interface with the company and on many occasions the provider of finance (credit) and assurance. The rural consumers trust people, not companies. As a result networks and influencers are of great importance. Share of desire is greater than share of pocket.
The writer is COO, Mudra Group.