In 1999 when FMCG giant HUL declared that it would double its turnover in the next five years, little did it know that its sales would actually dip. HUL soon realised that rural India was the real growth driver and started focussing on this neglected market. With the help of ‘Project Shakti’ and ‘Operation Bharat’ HUL managed to achieve its goal in 2010 when it doubled the sales revenue. ‘Project Shakti’ as the name suggests, had empowered the under privileged women by creating livelihood opportunities for them while enhancing the conglomerate’s distribution network. HUL had hit upon the success formula for capturing the rural market.
Today, HUL boasts of the strongest distribution channel in India, and with its penetration into rural India, it has addressed rural challenges. Brands like Lifebuoy, under the HUL umbrella, have become aligned with the problems and challenges of this sector to drive their own growth story.
An average rural Indian becomes loyal to brands that deal with his current issues, social stigmas and wellbeing. Moreover, rural India has been found to be more receptive to emotional brand messages as compared to the urban middle classes.
Venkatesh Srinivasan, Director, RW Promotions, a Rural Marketing and BTL Activation Agency, shared his insight, “CSR and local issues are the best way to project a brand’s image in front of the rural audience. Most of the Pharmaceutical companies are taking up health issues and collaborating with local panchayats to organise medical camps for this reason.”
Yes Bank , which has consolidated its position in the rural markets is also creating awareness through this method. Rajat Mehta, Group EVP & Country Head, Brand & Retail Marketing, YES BANK Limited, said, “Our objective is to create awareness through local issues in rural India. The people in these areas relate to, engage with and recall such activities for a very long period of time.” Yes Bank’s strategy for rural India has led them to work on issues which cater only to small demographics. Yes Bank tries to connect with the consumer by making its branches transformational centres.
Muthoot Group has taken this as a way to diversify their portfolio into the education sector. Working on the same lines, Muthoot Group initiated an educational initiative which reached Jharkhand’s slums. The objective of the initiative was to provide the underprivileged children overall growth in 5 key areas: (1) Right to Education, (2) Promoting Better Health & Hygiene, (3) Ensuring the Right to Play, (4) Promoting Gender Inclusion & Empowerment and (5) Developing youth as Community Leaders. Alexander George Muthoot, Director, Muthoot Group, explained, “We have used the wide network of Muthoot Finance branches to understand the fears, aspirations and hopes of rural consumers. I think we were always connected with them, with this we will get attached to them.”
The Indian rural landscape consists of about 6.27 lakh villages and is home to 70 per cent of the country’s population. If brands want to inculcate loyalty among the rural population, offering a helping hand to help them deal with problems, is their best bet.
By Ankur Gaurav