The first ever FCCI Brand Summit, held in Delhi on August 5, 2010, witnessed the participation of media stalwarts, who debated over the ‘Challenges before an Integrated India: Bridging the Rural-Urban Divide’. The power-packed house spoke about the potential of ‘brands’ and the role ‘brands’ could play in the space of an integrated yet a rather disparate country.
Creating a uniform buying public
The session titled ‘Would the aspirations of a disparate India ever be met through brands?’ had Vikram Sakhuja, CEO, GroupM, South Asia; Uday Shankar, CEO, Star India; and Suhel Seth, Managing Partner, Couselage India as its panellists. The session was moderated by Shruti Verma Singh, Consulting Editor and Anchor, NDTV.
The discussion began with the idea that a brand is always supposed to deliver something more than just the commodity. The concept of brands is a western concept and the main idea behind it is to create a uniform buying public. ‘Disparity’ is not only an economic factor in India – which is a very disparate society – disparity in the market comes in the way a brand is perceived, in the rural and urban sectors, from the value one attaches to a brand; the disparity of tastes. Brands should ideally bridge the gap, and the ones that do not, don’t really want to, for they possibly do not see a market in those regions.
Uday Shankar noted that services like telecom and television had been successful in bridging the gap to a great extent. Telecom brands like Airtel has gone from selling Blackberry phones to professionals in the urban market to creating extremely cheap SIM cards for the rural sectors. “You cannot build lazy brands or static brands and expect it to give value to you over the next several years... brands have to constantly evolve and expand and build a portfolio of sorts for itself,” he stressed.
While this was not easy, it was possible as Shankar pointed out that the key aspirations of consumers were the most common, and those were the touch points that the marketer needed to recognise to create the over-arching, all pervading connect which ultimately created a ‘brand’. “The marketer must bridge the gap by detecting the vacuum (made by aspirations) and seize the opportunity. Marketers have to respect those away from their core market,” he added.
‘We must invest in and not milk the rural sectors’
Suhel Seth took the debate further by pointing out that one of the biggest mistakes marketers did was to ‘talk down’ at rural consumers. It was wrong to think that the rural customer understood nothing. “All consumers across social-economic platforms want value for money,” he said, while reiterating what Sam Balsara had said at an earlier session, “The marketer has looked at rural area as a distribution destination and not as a market creation exercise. The tragedy is if you look at rural India as a fishing pond, you will make mistakes. But if you look at it as a dam, which will breach water, create fertility and allow people a sustainable life, then you will make the right decision.”
We must ‘invest in’ and not ‘milk’ the rural sectors and replace avarice with aspiration. In 99 per cent of the cases, one believes that the single biggest obstacle is reaching a person, saying that it must be remembered that there is a greater social crux and more dynamism in a rural market as compared to the urban counterpart. There is constant migration and a constant revaluation of aspirations at the rural level. India is a country of the lowest common denominator. The fact that the gap between the markets exists is because most advertisers have no clue about how to bridge the gap. Brands are all about benefits, and we evaluate the brand against social risks, against self esteem risks and against performance risks that is what creates a brand from a commodity.
The 15 consumer needs
Vikram Sakhuja spoke about the 15 consumer needs (an idea that had remained with him from the AdAsia event that he had attended in 2002 in Jaipur) that a marketer needed to recognise and focus on, which include self esteem, self indulgence, love and belonging, leadership, health, respect, freedom, harmony and security aspects for the consumer, among others. The idea was to make a larger connect at a very basic level. “If marketers want to do an inclusive agenda on some of the need areas, which are more marked, then we definitely have the aspirations narrowed down, thus making it easier to cover in a marketing agenda, Sakhuja added.
He stressed on a ‘combination’ concept that would help bring together the two ends of the consumer spectrum. The ‘munnabhaisation’ of brands, as he called it, would be the coveted bridge in all the disparity – the one that combines growth of a brand and values. “Brands are a huge influence in our lives and we have witnessed instances where brands have replaced customs, but some things that are intrinsic to the consumer that will never change. Thus, it becomes all the more necessary to connect to the rural areas one by one,” he maintained.
Balsara added in the discussion that clients got the advertising agency that they ‘deserve’. Thus, it was on the marketers to get their focus right and tap into the best and most sensitive touch points of disparity before they can ideally gave the advertising agency the brief to create a potential brand.
The discussion ended on an optimistic note. The fact that there were campaigns by brands like Lifebuoy, Tata Tea, Samsung, and Airtel, among others, that successfully reached out to both the markets pointed to the fact that the yawning gap between the rural and urban markets could eventually be bridged. Aspirations of this widely diverse country could be tapped by marketers, but the process was still at a very nascent stage. Only when the key aspirations are recognised can more commodities metamorphose into brands.
India can be divided into haves and have nots: Sam Balsara
Meanwhile, the first plenary session on ‘How will brands ever address the widening economic disparities of these two Indias?’ had HM Nerurkar, Managing Director, Tata Steel Ltd; and Sam Balsara, Chairman & MD, Madison Communications as speakers. The session was moderated by Anjana Menon, Executive Editor, NDTV Profit.
Making his observation, Nerurkar said, “What the household purchasing power in urban India is now, the same will be the purchasing power in rural India by 2017.”
He further said, “All of us need to work towards corporate social responsibility and one has to do it in a sustained manner. Blaming the Government won’t help, you have to come forward and work. It is time now for small companies to come forward. They need to harness aspirations and diminish the disparities. If Bharat is healthy, India will be vibrant.”
Balsara spoke about how India was divided into two types of consumers – the haves and have nots. He noted, “Urban India has more haves, while there are more have nots in rural India. Marketers have to divide their rural and urban campaigns.”