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Review 2007- Marketing trends : Go Rural!

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Going rural has become an innate passion for the corporate India of late, it seems. But, rural marketing this time around is with a twist, in the form of the added ‘bottom of the pyramid’ approach, popularilsed by the marketing mahaguru CK Prahlad in the 90s.

The corporates today are not looking at the rural market with a short-time strategy and they are ready to wait till the time the community accepts and graduates to the next level.  Following the trend that was till now mostly led by the consumer goods giants in the country, players in almost all categories have either entered the hinterlands or are waiting in the wings to capture the huge opportunity being unfolded in the vast rural belts, which forms more than 70 percent of the actual market in this country. The various prospects and tremendous potential that rural audience are offering have been the topics of many industry seminars and discussions. Going further, the past year witnessed some real action in this regard.

Rural marketing moved beyond the notion of selling sachets or smaller packs in much more affordable and attractive prices. The concept took a new leap and resulted in the discovery of a new market with new players willing to take on the old guards. The marketers who  tried their hands at solving the rural puzzle include HPCL which introduced Rasoi Ghars or community kitchens service in the hinterlands, thus opening up a potential market for itself. Another player plugging in this quest to go rural is Tata Teleservices, the second largest CDMA operator, which started a training programme for teachers in a bid to make the people understand the importance for telecommunications in their lives. Also, the second largest GSM player Vodafone has already announced that its future marketing would largely be rural-based. Similarly, the second largest mobile handset marketer, Motorola India had earlier in the year announced a plan under the name of ‘connecting the unconnected’, which saw it launching an ultra-low-cost phone for the rural masses under the brand Motofone, with voice facility to help the rural masses go mobile.  Motofone, developed in the country, has been so successful that the American mobile giant is planning to take this phone to rest of the emerging markets.

Importantly, this time around the approach seems to be to understand the market and the basic problems that are there and then to design products accordingly. Companies are thus trying to reach the bottom of the consumer pyramid. Unlike the earlier efforts by players, this time the idea is much more broad-based. The idea is not just to reach the top layer of the rural India, which has lately been urbanised. But to really reach out to the last rungs of the domestic market.

Another shift is in the willingness of the marketers to wait for some time before looking for the results to pour in. In fact, in the telecommunications space, given the fact that next wave of subscribers is going to emanate from the rural belts, almost all the major players like Reliance, Airtel, etc are taking steps to spread the ring loud in the hamlets, which number over seven lakh. These companies are adopting the developmental strategy by educating the people and introducing them to new ways of life. The bottom of the pyramid approach can also be seen in the fact that companies are providing solutions that can be attained by a larger group of the society at large. The Rs 10 recharge offer launched in 2006 by mobile operators is a testimony to this approach.

So, the fact remains that the rural market has great potential, which is just waiting to be tapped. So far some progress has been made in this area, but it will still take some time before bearing fruits.

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Neeta Nair

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