As the urban market gradually moves towards saturation, marketers have started eyeing the rural population for increasing the sales of their products. With easy access to internet and mobile phones, the aspirations of rural customers are also changing, thus opening the door of opportunities for brands.
The Rise of Rural Marketing
Rural marketing has gradually evolved over the past few decades. A majority of Indian population resides in the villages, and therefore, advertising for products in rural hinterlands is something that brands cannot ignore. Advertising in rural areas has its own significance, which is extremely important for corporates and FMCG companies in order to target the masses and expand their reach. For every advertiser, knowing the methods by which he can fetch a large consumer base is very crucial. OOH has completely transformed the way we see marketing campaigns. It has taken advertisements to another level, and helps capture the attention of customers across geographies. Being one of the most promising mediums of advertising, OOH is also extensively used in rural areas, where other mediums cannot be employed as efficiently.
On the growth of marketing in rural areas, Peter Jacob, Director – Strategy, Go Rural India Pvt. Ltd, says, “The hinterlands in India have more than 6, 50,000 towns with a population of 850 million. The telecommunication expansion in the last decade has been extraordinary and the data and information access is similar to that in any other part of the country. The rising income in horticulture has prompted buying power adding to a better way of life compared to what was before. This has driven increment in the market size of rural areas. Rural shoppers are additionally looking for high quality products and price is not such a big concern.”
Echoing Jacob’s views, Biswabaran Chakrabarti, President, Rural Marketing Association of India (RMAI), says, “It will be an extremely difficult task to put a value tag to rural marketing segment. But 70% population of the country contributing to about 50% of buying is a huge pie of consumption. Delivering them the right product at the right place and at the right price lies in the hands of rural marketers.”
Need For Rural Marketing
The urban market is getting congested with the entry of new brands every week. In such a scenario, it is impossible to survive without creativity, and proper branding methods are required to take your brand to the next level. With rural marketing in place, the dual purpose of business and generating awareness amongst the local population is fulfilled. Today brands are actively engaged in marketing campaigns, specially crafted to suit the needs of the consumer and provide them with adequate options to choose from.
Rural marketing has empowered local people and improved their quality of living. There are unlimited businesses opportunities in rural areas. Untapped and underutilized resources can be utilized at optimum level and that can further accelerate overall economic growth. Rural marketing in India is sometimes mistaken by people who think rural marketing is all only about agricultural marketing. Rural marketing is the carrier of business activities from urban sectors to the rural regions as well as the marketing of various products manufactured by the non-agricultural workers from rural to urban areas.
Some years back, rural market was not considered lucrative enough by corporates. Agro based companies were the only organisations that came up with some inventive strategies to work in this sector. Major corporates soon realised the saturation and growing level of competition in the urban space along with emerging demand in the rural sector. They came up with some techniques and methods to garner sales for their products and services:
- Use of Regional Languages: For marketing in rural areas, it is very essential to converse and promote your services in the local language. It helps in better communication with the native population and aids in better understanding of their needs.
- Well-Targeted Campaigns: With advanced developments in technology, companies today are in a commanding position to explain their products and services in a more effective manner to their consumers. However, the perceived image of the service is different from what the company actually wants it to be. Customers today are more aware of the branding of the product as compared to its utility. If the price of the product justifies the efficacy of the item, customers are ready to pay the premium for it.
- Relevant Products: Keeping in mind the needs and necessities of all the rural population, companies are developing products that would cater to all their specific needs.
- Nationalism: Many MNCs today are connecting with individuals by creating a feeling of patriotism towards their company and services. This is being seen as a very effective tool to create immense following in rural areas.
Jacob is of the view, “Rural consumers are more conscious on what they choose to buy. Influencers play a big role and therefore referral marketing establishes Trust Points. Brands need to establish that connect with the consumers and demonstrate the quality of the product. Therefore, direct brand engagement plays a vital role.”
“Brands also need to directly converse with the rural consumer. This is important to cement the brand loyalty and establish familiarity. Sampling of a new product or brand is critical to gain quality trust. ‘Sales on Wheels’ activity with offers provides this impetus. Establishing the emotional connect, for example, during the last festive season at Ganesh Chathurthi, brands thronged various Ganesh Mandaps with their presence. This year with the restrictions, it was not possible. We at Go Rural came up with an innovation where we offered Eco Friendly Seed Clay Ganesha nicely packed with client branding. We managed to clock large sales where many clients spent their advertising budget in connecting with their customers directly, encouraging them to celebrate Ganesh Chathurthi at home.”
Another new trend in rural marketing is the use of eco-friendly media. The ban on flex in certain southern states has also given a push to this. Chakrabarti says, “If any substance is found to be eco-hazardous and not approved by controlling authorities, we should not support it. Flex has been a widely used cost effective material for branding. There are many alternative surfaces available to do rural advertising and brandings. Wall painting has been a traditional and popular media for a very long time in rural. Tin board is also an option for signage.”
Ways of Rural Marketing:
Rural marketing has witnessed changes in advertising at a rapid pace. Here are some of the methods through which promotional activities in rural markets take place:
Haats are the markets that are organised on a weekly basis in rural areas. These cater to daily needs of people and act as a spot of social interaction. These are one of the best places for brands to lure people with their services and products.
Melas are an integral part of India’s festive culture. They too help marketers to promote their products, test their new launches and get a feedback, while also giving them the exposure they need to expand their reach and connect with their target audience. For example, Kumbh Mela that was organised in 2019 served as a perfect platform for cultural and marketing activities.
Roadshows have been the most prominent form of advertising methods in rural market. They involve use of hoardings and banners on vehicles for marketing purposes. Apart from advertising activities, roadshows are full of engaging events and act as a place for social gatherings.
Inflatable balloons are used in rural areas for various purposes. From brand promotion to awareness programmes, inflatables are the most viable option for such kind of initiatives as they are economical and offer excellent reach and visibility to all the localities of a small town.
Wall Paintings and Wall Stickers
One of the most durable forms of outdoor advertising, wall paintings are noticeable in most of the villages because of their feasibility and efficiency in creating an impact on the native population. Be it for a campaign on educating people or for any sort of marketing strategy, they are amongst the most viable options available.
Shop Shutter Painting
This extremely economical form of branding is widely used in rural areas and small towns. Shop shutters are painted to show company name and logo, and sometimes even new launches.
Impact of Covid-19 on Rural Marketing
Pradeep Kashyap, known as ‘Father of Rural Marketing’, stated at a virtual event recently that the rural economy will recover from the pandemic impact, faster than other sectors. He also said that rural demand for FMCG will be more than the urban market.
Better communication channels, good connectivity with reliable transport facility and easy access to banking infrastructure has boosted the demand for consumer products in rural areas. Companies too understand this fact and are changing their business models to target rural customers.
Jacob says, “We are all in the midst of an unprecedented time and, all industries and businesses have been severely impacted due to the pandemic. However, we are seeing recoveries in the rural sector at a faster pace than in the urban markets, especially in post lockdown period. Even during the lockdown period, before the start of Kharif Season, the brands were eager to venture into the rural market, but were restrained due to safety concerns. We are today seeing the rural advertising picking up faster than where we left at pre covid period. Of course, the brands are very cautious and consumer safety takes precedence across all advertising mediums.”
“Traditional roadshows with safety precautions have started to gain traction. With social distancing being a must, physical engagements are limited. This has led to innovation in the design and execution of various campaigns. We at Go Rural are working on designs that are unique and innovative and bring out a differentiated communication, rising above the clutter. Advertising mediums such as Building Wraps, Visual Signages and Merchandise are also seeing their spaces expanding.”
“Working out of the normal into the new normal, agencies like us have to innovate and differentiate to offer more value for the brands. For example, with the help of self-help groups and the weaving communities in Telangana, we have come out with pure cotton masks which carry client branding and these are distributed to their TG to promote safety. Hand sanitiser stands have become very common at various touch points and brands are uniquely designing them and placing them at strategic touch points,” he adds.
The good news is that the rural sector has been more resilient than the urban sector given the situation we are in today. The agri sector – seeds, fertilisers, pesticide brands – are doing well and are reaching the pre covid levels of business. FMCG brands are also investing in the rural market and they are seeing a strong potential compared to urban markets. New range of products in hygiene and immunity are witnessing growth. Similarly, in the automobile segment, though they lost a couple of months of pre-season sales due to lockdown where production and logistics were severely affected, today tractors and two wheelers are witnessing good growth compared to the previous year. Banking Sector is also enhancing its presence. With a temporary pause in the revenues, in order to recoup the losses, funds are the need of the hour. The Banks are also aggressively marketing to give them access to finance.
“In the lockdown period entertainment consumption has increased substantially high in the rural areas. The data consumption has shot the roof giving rise to telecom companies managing to increase their ARPUs. This has also led to increase in demand for electronic goods such as mobile phones, televisions etc. OTG Channels have also increased their subscription base,” says Jacob.
The brands operating in the above sectors are not leaving any stone unturned in establishing their presence through various advertising mediums.
Digital Boom in Rural Market
The traditional ATL such as outdoor, TV, print and cable TV still play a vital role in establishing brand awareness. But today, digital marketing has become important element in the media plan for almost all the brands operating in the rural. Digital marketing has also expanded its horizons in the rural market. With increase in smartphone penetration and Internet access, more videos and content are being developed for consumption by the rural customer. ROI based campaigns are on the rise.
Chakrabarti says, “Digital may be termed a latest trend, though a small pie. Consumers are showing interest in learning about new products via social media platforms. Given the smart phone penetration and increased digital consumption, there is a trend setting in. We anticipate rural marketers will leverage it to ensure last mile reach. The only rider would be marketers curating a differentiated planning for rural, keeping in mind the consumption habits and levels of digital experience. We still have many experience deficit areas. We do feel that digital alone would not be a solution; an integrated strategy alongside conventional practices would make you win. We call it a ‘Phygital’ approach.”
Jacob says, “Infrastructure has been substantially improved giving rise to local employment and easy access to major towns. With the huge penetration of telecommunication in the rural India, going forward we will certainly see the trend that follows urban India. The rural consumers will steadily, over time, embrace online purchases. Already we have seen Amazon and Flipkart establishing partnerships with stores in creating online purchase access for the nearby villagers.”
“Digital has a huge promise in rural areas. The wider reach of media and telecommunication services has provided information in influencing their purchase decisions as well. Digital offers end to end solutions. People in the rural are becoming more and more tech-savvy. Technology has changed a lot of traditional options. In the traditional vehicle campaigns, we are seeing technology and online presence becoming a hygiene factor. For example, farmer engagement now involves technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR),” adds Jacob.
Digital Marketing presence has also increased with the rural consumer spending more time on their smart phones. Social Media has also deeply penetrated in the rural market and we are seeing Facebook Ads, YouTube taking chunk away from of the traditional advertising business.
“We at Go Rural have also established a digital arm where short videos are being created and promoted in various social channels of our clients. We also do ROI based performance marketing for some of our clients.”
“The rural marketplace has been evolving at a constant pace over the last few years and is now overtaking the urban market. ‘Go rural’ is the marketer’s new slogan. Indian marketers as well as multinationals, such as Colgate-Palmolive, Godrej and Hindustan Lever have focused on rural markets. Thus, looking at the future endeavours, which rural markets has to offer to the marketers, it can be said that the future is very promising for those who can understand the dynamics of rural markets,” concludes Jacob.
Commenting on support given by RMAI to rural marketing segment, Chakrabarti says, “There are many rural marketing agencies as members of our association. They in turn are in touch with many more agencies, big or small, and therefore there is a spiralling effect of knowledge sharing. We conduct symposia, round tables, award events on rural case studies, which are all on the foundation of a knowledge platform. This has a very positive impact on rural marketing agencies. We do look forward to enabling government policies that give fillip to rural economy, which in turn will translate into overall growth of various industry sectors & business for rural agencies alike.”