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How brands are building lasting connection with rural consumers to boost sales

India, is a land of diversities. The diverse nature of our country varies between regions, states, religion and of course the urban and the rural. We, as marketers have been navigating this journey much before the liberalization era of the early 90s.

Brands, across industries have been offering products, services as well as sub-brands to effectively tap into these diversities since long. Each to it’s credit has been able to crack a solution to effectively reach the audiences at various levels.

The Indian population at 1.42 billion offers an immense opportunity to both the domestic as well as the multi-national players. Of this close 0.91 billion i.e. 64% of our population resides in the rural heartlands, thus offering a unique opportunity for brands. Coca Cola, HUL, ITC have customized products, services, campaigns effectively to target the rural consumer base. Coca Cola’s Chota Coke is a prime example of tapping into the aspirational values of the rural folks while keeping a keen eye on the affordability factor to have an optimized solution.

The rural customer, unlike past is not solely dependent on the farm incomes. Though it still forms a major chunk of their income. With the increased penetration of services sectors namely the BFSI segment through micro banking, insurances etc. the services sector has also been contributing to the income levels of the rural folks. Establishment of industrial and logistics park plus schemes like MNREGA have also been playing an important role in offering job opportunities to the rural households. The seasonality of farm incomes is now being supported by these sectors to offer financial freedom to the rural households.

To understand the rural customer, we need to appreciate the fact that the customer here is aspirational. With the boom in the entertainment space coupled with increased internet penetration, the rural consumer is exposed to the products and brands being talked about amongst their city peers. Thus, they aspire to consume the same products and brands as their urban counterparts. 

A caveat here is the affordability factor. While the average urban income is 37% higher than the rural household income, the percentage of income spent on consumption is at 78% in rural while at 70% in urban. Thus, while the incomes may be lower in the heartlands, the spending is more. The brands therefore need to offer solutions that not only meet the aspirations of the rural folks but also are affordable to them. Case in point Havell’s Utsav Stores that offer a complete product range to the rural TG at a price point of their comfort. What we need to understand here, is that the rural TG is ready to spend but needs to see value for money.

While influencer marketing may have become the talk of the town now, it has taken it’s roots from the rural segment here. Village Pradhan, Sarpanch, Panchayat members, Patwaris etc. have been acting as the Key Opinion Leaders since ages. The recommendations made by them have been acting as a major driver for purchases in the hinterlands. Agri input brands in categories like fertilizers, seeds, pesticides etc. as well as paints have been driving sales by spreading a word of mouth initiated by these KOLs. 

Then there are brands in the beverages segment that offer sub-brands catering to the rural households specially the tea brands. These products and their communication has been exclusively built basis detailed research on the preferences of the rural TG.

Various media options have been employed to get the attention of the TG in rural India. While some traditional routes have been effective, a combination of the age-old communication mediums coupled with the new media solutions have also caught on and have proven effective to a great degree. 

Basis the complexity of the product and the desired communication, brands have been employing media to reach the TG. While van-based display vehicles have been attracting crowds to a large extent other mediums like stall driven sales activations during various fairs and melas, street plays, school contact programs, mandi activations have also played a role in taking brand message to the TG.

Innovative solutions have been offered like showroom on wheels for electrical brands, LED screens at high footfall melas like Nauchandi in Meerut, QR code based information snippets etc. While these are gaining popularity, the proven mediums too have bee playing their role in engaging the TG. Mosaic, a multinational Agri inputs company adopted the age old postcards to talk to it’s TG – the farmers and established an emotional connect with them by encouraging them to write back about their product experience. This proved highly effective in registering the brand amongst the TG in a highly commoditized urea market. 

Communication coupled with a social message too goes a long way in adding credibility to a brand in the rural market, which has a higher degree of brand loyalty and sees a challenge in switching the same. Medikar’s school contact program has been a prime example of taking the hair hygiene message to the girl population across the rural landscape thus consolidating the brand’s position. 

Thus, brands have broken the perception of having limited mediums for rural outreach to explore, adopt, adapt and deploy various means to increase rural reach. Sales too have been acting as a barometer of this outreach with brands like Dabur increasingly laying emphasis on rural sales to drive volumes.

It’s imperative for us as brand custodians, trade marketers and product owners to deploy greater resources into rural marketing via a TTL mechanism i.e. BTL and Digital to drive sales in the rural heartlands. The incremental volumes in rural coupled with the urban growth will be a mark of success.

Brand Street has been working towards targeting the rural heartlands for various brands since 2015. With brands like HUL, Nestle, Medikar, Tata Consumer, Pepsico etc. on board we have been offering varied solutions that have caught the fancy of the TG and given desired results.

This article is penned by Manas Sareen, Vertical Head, Rural Brand Street Integrated Consultancy Network Private Limited.

Disclaimer: The article features the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the stance of the publication.

Source: Social Samosa

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