10 Key Lessons in Rural Marketing: Tauseef Khan, Gramophone

Guest Column: Tauseef Khan, CEO & Co-Founder of Agri start-up Gramophone, says brands across categories are increasingly realizing the huge potential of marketing to rural regions

e4m by Tauseef Khan
Updated: Apr 4, 2020 9:40 AM
Tauseef Khan

‘The soul of India lives in its villages.’ This quote by Mahatma Gandhi, which was given before India’s Independence, stands true till date as a large part of India’s population still resides in rural areas. They have been classified as Tier 2, 3 and beyond audiences.

As per a United Nations report published in 2019, 69% of India’s population resides in rural areas, which constitutes to more than 700 million people comprising farmers, housewives, SME’s, government servants and youth.

The region drives consumption across multiple product categories as the audiences are aspirational and open to newer experiences. As per a Nielsen statistic, rural India contributes to nearly 36% of FMCG spends and has been growing at 3-5% points faster than urban. Brands across all categories are now realizing the huge potential of the region.

However, it is not easy to crack the marketing code to this region. Brands/advertising agencies find it extremely difficult to create a rendition of their urban-centric communication suitable to the rural market. They have to unlearn a lot of urban-centric fundamentals and adapt to this market.

The cultural nuances, the lifecycle of the customer, media consumption patterns, education, income size, and experiences of the audiences in this region are different from that of an urban centre.

For instance, the travel time for a professional in cities could range from 40 mins to 1.5 hours, while that in a rural area is 15 – 20 mins. Several brands in metro cities have used the commute time to connect with its audiences but in rural regions, this is not possible. Until a few years ago, a Bollywood movie released first in urban centres and then, after a few days sometimes weeks, released in rural areas. This might sound unrealistic but was a harsh reality.

I am not saying that no brand has been able to crack the rural marketing code. Fevicol, a brand name that became synonymous for adhesives, has leveraged insights from the rural region for its communication.

Here are a few key points that I believe every brand manager should keep in mind before crafting communication to market to this audience.

Identify the Right price point Several brands have failed in rural areas because they were unable to determine the right price point for their products. The concept of luring the consumer with discounts will not work. The product must add value. A brand manager needs to remember that rural areas are extremely price-sensitive regions.

Presence of a challenger brand

Every regional market in India has a challenger brand. It has a strong distribution network, good top of the mind recall, legacy, and is selling at the right price point. Now, when a big brand enters this market, it faces stiff competition from this challenger brand as the latter commands a strong control in that zone. A brand manager from the large brand has to adapt his global/national learnings to regional learnings.

The right mix of advertising strategy

Ad inventory across mediums is cheaper in rural areas than in urban centres. A brand manager entering this market should plan his spend. He should be able to clearly differentiate between how much of his budget goes in ATL, BTL and digital.

Print and television generate a good recall, but BTL and outdoor generates a high top of the mind recall. The format for BTL can be larger than life image, a roadshow, or an association with an experiential event. The advertiser immediately gets noticed. For instance, a national level truck brand partnered with a Kabaddi team in Haryana region which gave them a huge fillip in the region.

Creative copy in native languages

When in Rome, be like the Romans. The advertising should be in the native language of the region. For example. if you are communicating to the farmers in Punjab via a billboard/print ad, or a leaflet, the advertiser should create a copy in the Punjabi language and not in English or Hindi. They should use phrases and words that are common to that region. It immediately builds a connect with the audiences. For years, brands trying to enter rural markets have made this mistake.

India is an extremely diverse country and every 100 km, the dialect changes. Hence it is extremely important for a brand to communicate in the native language of the region where it is planning to enter.

Secondly, the creative copy might seem just like a catchline which may/may not have a rhyme but together with a strong image, it generates a high recall for the brand. The copy should be crisp, simple and self-explanatory.

Cultural sensitivity

People are extremely sensitive about their beliefs, caste, community and religion. Hence, every brand should be extremely careful about the cultural nuances of the region that it is planning to create a communication for. Their communication should not be poking fun their gods, practices, beliefs, castes, or communities. This can lead to massive boycotts and the long-term destruction of brand equity.

Digital revolution

Today, audiences across this region is seeking their news from traditional as well as the digital medium. They are present across different platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook to discover news and developments. Many of these mediums are easily available on his feature phone or entry-level smartphone.

Many of them also use community desktops to seek information on newer farming techniques, weather report, seed prices, quality of soil, pesticides and other farming-related information. He is also able to get that information via WhatsApp groups, village meets, peers, or community centres.

Mobile is the medium for entertainment

Entry level smartphones have become a huge hit in rural areas. Now, phones have become the new medium for entertainment for audiences, especially on the back of cheap data prices. People are spending a lot of time on their phones in rural areas creating a high attention span. They are creating TikTok video, watching YouTube videos, and exploring images and videos on Facebook. On the back of regional and sports content, several OTT platforms are beginning have also gained a lot of traction in the region. A brand looking to target this audience can use these new-age platforms in a judicious manner to connect with them.

Celebrities cut across demographies

It has been proven time and again that celebrities, especially big film stars, cut across the demography of rural areas. People worship them as gods and emulate their style. These celebrities influence the lifestyle of these audiences and if leveraged well, they bring a lot of value to the brand.

Jargons will not work

The messaging has to be simple and free from jargons as they do not work effectively in rural areas. For instance, a shoe brand communicating the technology with which it is created may not work for the audiences in that region. Instead, it should focus on comfort and durability.

Word of mouth travels fast

The phenomenon of word-of-mouth is more impactful in rural regions when compared to urban centres. The news about a handset brand with poor after-sales service, or a QSR with bad quality food spreads extremely fast and takes away a lot of loyal customers in this region. On the other hand, the news about a good gesture or quick and timely delivery also spreads fast bringing new customers to sample the service.

(The author Tauseef Khan is CEO & Co-Founder of Gramophone, an Agri startup pioneering the digital agronomy – using data to guide farmer in selecting the right agricultural input for maximum yield). 

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com.

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