There is so much of regional diversity in India and different local issues that brands, should not develop a universal strategy for marketing their product to the target audience. One village model may not work in another village. To go from regional to national, one needs to have a good rural vehicle that should understand the rural diversity. In the ’90s, companies looked at rural as an add on, which is no longer true and rural is being looked as a serious market, and is much bigger than the urban market.
These were some of the thoughts that came up for discussion at the roundtable conference organised by Rural Marketing Association of India (RMAI) in New Delhi yesterday.
Brands have to design the product around the consumer in rural India, they cannot present what they have already. For example a pesticide company is not visible because it is not glamorous, but it has developed the network and is marketing in such a way that it is used extensively at the right time by farmers.
Also, the use of technology came up for discussion, which panelists agreed, plays an enabler in urban areas, but in rural it only facilitates the relationship. The latter still holds monopoly. Hence, to become a brand like CavinKare, Vi-John or Ghadi, the brands need to work towards taking the rural population into their confidence rather than using different marketing models for selling their products.
Sunil K Alagh, Chairman, SKA Advisors and Ex-MD, Britannia Industries, threw light on the rural consumer thought process and behaviour. Delving on the importance of packaging or the lack of it in rural markets, he gave an example saying that, when a product as hair fall defence was marketed to the rural audience, even though being a premium product for Rs 150, had to have a humble packaging. He stressed that with the premium packaging, the rural audience will view it in the form of ‘indulgence’ rather than utility.
Another example he gave was of a contest held in a village where the winner would get a car. Alagh says that when the contestant was asked during a market review for the contest, he chose the most premium model because he wanted to show off. Giving these two examples, Alagh stated that the thought process of the consumer and the dealer are different and rural marketing is all about being in sync with the audience the brand is servicing.
Delving further on the topic of connecting with the consumer at the grassroots for product research and development, Varun Kohli, Head of Marketing and Sales, Anmol Biscuits, said that there is a lot of personal selling involved in undertaking consumer needs. “We are involved in hardcore marketing and are doing 60-65 per cent of primary data collection ourselves. If one looks at Rs 14,000 crore biscuit industry and the expenditure one can make as per the per capita income of a person, the average price of a biscuit should be Rs 10. Here is where the packaging is more important than the product, since perception of the consumer is the most important factor in terms of price and packaging,” he added. He also said that the marketing model of sale push approach works better in rural markets than the pull approach that most of the multinational brands use.
Talking about a different aspect of rural marketing, Mohan Ji Saxena, Managing Director of Ayurvet said that nowadays poultry and dairy are taken as one of the stilts of rural India and are more B2B than B2C as they used to be earlier. He explains that the aim of the brand in rural India should be to achieve the triple bottom line (social structure, natural capital and economic success). He further explained that the business should be either sustainable or not at all. Since, that is what the rural population revolves around. There should be an understanding of the grass-root problems and ways to curb it rather than touching the tip of the iceberg in rural marketing.
Discussing the grassroost level problems, Sanjay Kumar Panigrahi, CEO, Sahaj e-village said that today 99 per cent of the companies and brands take rural as a sales channel and not a marketing channel. The moment that brands talk about rural marketing, it involves geography and geography involves the market. The system of marketing he says is the product revolving around the needs of the consumer and vice-versa. To give an example, he said that in rural India, mobile phone numbers are changed almost every month, not because of the accessibility or the connectivity, but because the offers by the service providers keep changing every month.
The fact that the dealers and retailers are better marketers than brand managers was also discussed as the dealers know more about the village and the scenario of the economic condition of the consumers rather than the brands. They (distributors and retailers) feel that they are answerable for the product that they sell, hence, the deep interest in understanding the market.
C. K. Sabharwal, Managing Director, Crop Health Products, had a piece of advice for budding rural entrepreneurs and start-ups. he warned that one should not enter the rural market for the sake of gimmicks, while the commitment at the end of the day should be achieving value. He explained that to flourish in the rural market one should have an out-of-the-box distribution and should not copy any model. “Being different and unique makes the brand stand out in the clutter. Hence, customer will come to those who stand out,” he added.