Companies seeking to increase focus on brand-building in rural India have to ideate different strategies than those of urban areas
Companies targeting rural markets can no more be complacent by just focusing on logistics and distribution for reaching out to the last mile consumer. Rural markets are fast evolving, which points towards the need to create and maintain a brand’s visibility, awareness and recall. Though market leader companies across sectors have taken concentrated efforts to build strong brands in rural areas; many companies do not consider rural marketing as a specialized subject or rural market as a separate market segment which has its own peculiarities. At the same time there are companies which do not even consider rural market as their potential market. Hence there is limited competition in rural areas as compared to that in urban areas. So, the rural consumer has a limited choice set consisting of few national and regional brands. However, with increased penetration of computers, internet, television and education coupled with deeper distribution, consumer’s choice set will widen further. Also the consumer knows which brand will satisfy his specific needs.
So, companies now need to increasingly focus on brand building in rural areas. But the methodology has to be different from what is practiced in urban areas. This is because a rural consumer’s ability to understand a brand’s communication is different from that of an urbanite owing to differing levels of literacy and media exposure.
Following are some of the brand-building efforts a company can undertake in rural areas:
a) Regionalize the product or the brand
Sometimes there could be a need to differentiate a brand according to regional disparities. The differentiation may not necessarily be in terms of product content. It could be in terms of packaging, communication or positioning of the brand. This can be possible when the consumption habits of rural consumers differ widely from region to region. The brand has to be made relevant by understanding local needs. Even offering the same product in rural areas with a different brand name could be adopted as a strategy, if the economies of scale permit. Eg: Samsung launched “Guru” branded mobile phones specifically targeting rural markets. Bajaj Electricals planned a campaign called ‘mera gaon, mera desh’ to launch rural-specific brands under the Bajaj umbrella to tap the most price-sensitive segment in the country — the rural mass. Their existing products would be customized to suit the rural needs. Even offering tailor made products will help tap latent rural demand. Eg: Arvind Mills had introduced a “Ready to Stitch” kit of jeans in rural areas. This included a trouser length denim cloth, zippers, buttons, instruction kit, etc. The idea was to convert non-users of jeans into users at a budget price point.
b) Lead certain propositions
At times it is difficult to pass on an innovation over an existing product to the rural consumer unlike his urban counterpart Eg: germ control formula or increased calcium content in a toothpaste. In such cases a company should lead certain propositions before a competitor does. This may involve additional costs in giving free samples, organizing consumer awareness campaigns, etc. to educate the consumer about larger benefits of the product. Eg: during one of the Kumbh Mela when a person was served his first roti it carried a stamped branded message saying “Lifebuoy Se Haath Dhoye Kya?” The words were heat stamped onto the baked roti, without the use of ink, to ensure it was completely edible. This prompted the visitor to use Lifebuoy hand-wash which was placed near the wash basins. The idea behind the whole campaign of HUL was not only to inculcate the habit of washing hands before any meal but also to upgrade a person to a hand-wash which is an innovation over soap. Lakhs of visitors were thus introduced to the hand-wash category.
Watch the video : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_2tQekUDy8
Similarly, Dettol’s Kumbh Mela campaign ‘Kam Paani Mein Zyada Suraksha’ aimed at raising awareness among pilgrims about hygienic practices related to hand-washing. As part of the campaign, the brand distributed Dettol hand sanitizers and deployed volunteers at strategic locations such as food centers, health centers, bathing areas, eateries, hospitals and bus stations to raise awareness about proper hygienic practices. Even in this case the proposition was to make consumers adopt the innovation of hand-sanitizer, especially at places where water was not available to wash hands or was unhygienic.
Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nakjYbCmvYQ
In certain cases when an existing brand has become a generic brand due to its longer existence, it is perceived as superior in quality over other brands. Eg: Colgate has become a generic brand for toothpaste category. Hence other brands will have to educate consumers about the additional benefits their brand offers over those of Colgate. Eg: HUL’s Close-Up fresh breath offers 12 hours of fresh breadth.
c) Educate consumers when needed
If any product is new for rural markets, there is a need to educate the audience about the functional value and benefits of the product. Eg: The functional value of a water purifier needs to be demonstrated by filtering unfiltered water in front of the audience.
c) Provide functionality and not frills
The rural consumer is rational and understands his / her needs. Hence product functionality and not frills will lead to a buying decision. Frills can be added later once the product is established. Eg: LG had launched a basic Value for Money (VFM) and no frills TV for the price sensitive rural masses.
To sum it up marketers will have to adopt innovative and unconventional ideas to introduce, promote and build their brands in rural areas.
Prof. Vishal Desai
Indira School of Business Studies, Pune