What Works in Rural Marketing

A rural marketing awards summit is going to be held in Bombay today which we are sponsoring. This is the speech my boss is gonna give (hopefully!!) today. Yus, I wrote it yesterday, yes the sunday of the match on and the parents home, and mighty proud of it I am as well.

· You shall hear a lot of statistics tonight, but there is one particular bit of statistic that can never be repeated often enough to a gathering of marketing practitioners.
· 70% of India’s population stays in its villages. That is a base of about 700 million potential customers. For quite a lot of brands, that is a bigger customer base than their entire international marketing plan.
· However, this number has been bandied about often enough to some effect, with the thought that these 700 million customers have all been just waiting for your brand to appear, eager to pounce, and all you need to do is be present in some way in the 600,000 villages spread across India to hit the jackpot.
· As quite a few companies and brands have found out, the reality is not all that simple. Rural marketing has sounded the death knell for a lot of unprepared companies. The payback numbers are huge, but so are the investments.
· The vast rural customer base has not always lined up outside stores to enthusiastically buy the increased number of options. There needs to be some introspection on what has been done right, and just what is being done wrong.
· The first and foremost tenet of rural marketing, more than anything, needs to be longevity. Duration of marketing effort. Long term presence in the rural market. The saying “You cannot flirt with rural marketing, you have to marry it!” is true.
· It is a sad reality that some of the first companies into the rural marketing space in India have been the ones who couldn’t sell their products in the demanding urban markets. A lack of regulatory bodies has been taken advantage of through preposterous rural advertising. The end result is that, traditionally the simple rural folk have become extremely suspicious of tall claims, and advertising.
· Most rural buying, and hence brand building happens through word-of-mouth. Through the shopkeeper. Through previous users of their products in the village, opinions of elders. Very rarely do people make instant buying decisions based on advertising.
· To affect word-of-mouth in any category and segment, the intent is the most important thing. How long is the brand willing to stick out to the scrutiny of people? How confident is it about the value of the product? This is the reason why it is advised that rural marketing campaigns should be the same for a longer period of time. Because people notice your advertising only after they have heard good things about your brand. The attaching of the good feelings about the brand to the advertising comes only after that initial seeding into the market.
· The second most important tenet, important in any market, but imperative in rural markets, is an understanding thatMOST customers would be category non users. If there is a likelihood that they shall enter the category at some point of time, the marketing campaign should be suited to help make the customers make a decision at their point of entry. Help them choose the better option, reduce post purchase dissonance by offering good after sales service.
· More likely, however, the customers have been using cheaper substitutes for a longer period of time, in which case the marketing effort needs to be a sustained category build. One of the best examples in the business is the sustained effort Colgate has done through rural schools about the advantages of using toothpaste.
· A category build however, is usually the responsibility of a market leader. That is because the money spent in inviting new customers into the category should also yield into the major number of new joinees into a category opting for the brand that has done the category build in the first place. Whoever already enjoys the bigger share of the pie, will get the bigger share from the increased pie as well.

· Hence, the effort is less about awareness and being present across centers (though those cannot be ignored), but a sustained educational campaign for a behavioral shift towards the category as such. This is required across categories and segments in the rural marketing space.
· The third and last, but one of the most important mind-shifts while approaching rural markets is this. While one cannot step into rural marketing with the hope of fleecing customers, at the same time, one cannot step into rural marketing with an altruistic motive either. There is an old saying “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man how to fish, he eats for a lifetime.” The sensibilities of a rural marketing plan can never be entirely based on an altruistic motive. It needs to be a sustainable model which makes people self reliant, and it should make money for the company indulging in it.
· None of the models like Grameen Bank, the concept of microfinance, ITC Chaupals, started on only the concept of doing good work for the society. In all of these cases, the good done has been a bye product of the rugged business model of the company, and that is very essential.
· Before closing, it is pertinent to note the new Idea Cellular ad about taking the opinion of people into account for governance. The rural marketing sector in India needs such whacky ideas to implement the very basics of marketing, a good product, value based pricing, a promotional initiative that takes into account

new customers to the category, and of course, making the product available to them. But most importantly, it is very necessary to attach relevanceto your brand or product which resonates with the rural customer. What does your brand mean to the rural consumer? Does it fit into his life? Does it teach him how to fit it into his life? How does it make his life better? And it is important to stick with this marketing effort over a period of time.

· Yes, there is treasure at the end of the rainbow, but it is a sustained, hard working, honest trek through the hinterlands and the lives of your rural consumers that shall get one the pot. Best of luck!
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