Rules of engagement for rural marketing in India

Rural markets have always presented marketers with their own set of challenges. With urban and suburban markets getting increasingly saturated more and more marketers in India are looking towards the rural markets.  Renewed interest, increasing internet and mobile communication penetration and increasing awareness among the rural populace make rural markets a sought after destination for marketers.
After looking at instances of success and failure in rural marketing endeavors in India, here are 5 rules of engagement that I believe have worked and will continue to work in the Indian rural market…
Value for money is “the” factor that can make your break a company’s foray in to the rural market.  INR 1 shampoo sachets, INR 2 biscuit packets, INR 5 coconut oil bottles and the like are great buys in rural areas simply because they offer great value for the price that customers pay.
Pricing your product sensibly, keeping it affordable is the key to widening one’s customer base in rural India.
Affordable, all-in-one packs are flying off the shelves of retail outlets in India.  HUL’s Bharat Packs with toothpaste, shampoo, powder and soap has found takers simply because it is a great combination of related products and very convenient for use at home and on the road.  
Generating awareness about products on offer in rural India is a different ball game altogether.  If you think a televised advertising campaign is all that is needed, think again.  There’s nothing like a live demonstration to win customer confidence.
A case in point is HUL’s promotional campaign wherein company representatives were on the streets washing vessels with Vim bar.  A great way of involving people in the endeavor and more importantly letting them see the results for themselves!
Making your product accessible to the rural buyer continues to be a pertinent issue.  Once again it is HUL’s mobile vans which have become a case study for students and teachers of marketing in India that comes to mind.
A great way to capitalize on the weekly market day by reaching the village on that day, mobile vans are a great investment and using them continues to be a good distribution strategy even today.  Contrary to common belief a number of villages are still without motor able roads and mobile vans are the only way you can reach people in these villages.
Getting people to accept your product depends on the content of your advertisements.  In villages, milk is a popular health drink and tea is a just a sweet brew that people serve to visitors.  The Brooke Bond Sehatmand campaign pushed all the right buttons when it set out to project its tea as a refreshing health drink.
Using opinion leaders like Panchayat members and local doctors is another way of gaining acceptance of the rural folk.  The tendency to bank on such opinion leaders and hold them in high esteem in still very much rooted in the rural consumer psyche and it should be used to your advantage if your product is very new.    
Joining hands with the rural folk, partnering with them is a sure shot way of guaranteeing success in the rural market.  Project Shakti which rolled out in 2001 works with SHG’s (Self Help Groups) to educate rural women and also to make them partners in the company network; Selling products of INR 10,000-15,000/- gives them an income of INR 700-1,000/-.
Loans are also extended to women under the Shakti Vani Project thereby solving the problem of finance, a major deterrent in enterprise development among rural women.  
Players in the rural market would do well to understand that these markets differ from urban markets in structure, composition, buying behavior and forces of influence.  Engaging customers in the rural market becomes more challenging on account of illiteracy, the tendency to look up to opinion leaders and a more determined search for value for money.  Follow these 5 Rules of Engagement to meet with success in rural markets.

[The article has been contributed by Mariam Noronha.She is a teacher with over eight years of experience. She has taught a wide range of Management related subjects and has authored and presented papers at national and international seminars and conferences. An avid reader, researcher, writer and blogger; she has authored numerous articles in the fiction, web writing and travel writing genre.  ]

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