Brands must not forget the context when devising strategy says India's Shankar Shinde.
India’s rural economy constitutes nearly half of her national income. Despite growing urbanisation, more than half of India's population is projected to be rural till 2050. Thus, growth and development of the rural economy and population is key to the overall growth of India.
Connectivity (infrastructure and telecom), healthcare, education and income generation are important areas. These focused development initiatives makes the rural sector an appreciating asset. It is home to highly aspirational consumers, who are likely to be the future citizens of urban centres or the smart cities. Brands and corporates should look at the rural sector as an opportunity to connect with their future city cohabitants, through purpose-led brand engagement or behaviour adoption in the same way as you look at your child’s nurturing. Returns are both short term and long term, though in different forms.
Aspiration breaks the distance barrier between the two India’s. When a child is unwell, both the rural and the urban mother have the same set of emotions and reactions. Expressions may differ based on their exposure, education and income but the aspiration levels are not different. It is all about understanding of both levels of emotion-based actions.
Every new highway is putting the rural consumers on the “super-ways” — faster mobility resulting in frequent connectivity. Every megabyte of data is diminishing the border and divide, not only between the rural and the urban but the rural and the overseas markets too. Television soaps are fueling the aspiration for expression (mind, body and relationships). The other aspect is access to goods and services, thanks to the expansion of distribution channels by various companies besides the access to credit. Rural incomes are rising and this in turn is increasing consumption.
Winds of change are clearly visible from with so much data available and the ground reality is pretty encouraging. There have been advances and the resultant benefits in these areas.
Digital Technology is making strong inroads into rural markets - under the digi village programme, the government has connected over 150,000 villages out of 647,000 with wifi. This has made rural tech start-ups attractive for funding from the likes of Mahindra, Accel and Bill Gates.
It is now beyond doubt that purpose is critical for branding and how brands perceived as meaningful, are benefiting from significantly higher share of wallet. Lifebuoy, Surf Excel, Brooke Bond Red Label are purpose driven brands. In the rural areas, they need to identify those whose opinion matters and who have the power to influence the decisions of others. Once identified, it is ideal to market through them, market with them, or let them independently market for the brand. Shaktiamma of Unilever, for example.
Brands also have to be consistent, authentic and context aware, that is, being in sync with culture and occasion specific communication.
The hero of rural marketing lies in the content — crisp and contextual content which should fit with local sensibilities and intertwined in the cultural context.
Rural aspirations are very much the same as in urban areas, it is important that we understand the mind and the mood of the rural consumer.
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