Rural Marketing Strategies: Introduction, Definitions, and Strategic Options Available to Target the Rural Market

Rural Marketing Strategies

The rural market has changed drastically in the past decade. Rural marketing today is much easier than it was for the pioneers because there has been considerable improvement in the means of transport and communication during the last decade. Markets are better connected by road and rail, and the number of trucks and buses (public and private) has increased considerably. Banks in the villages or nearby help rural dealers in cleaning their documents without much delay. Cinema, Television, and Radio now make it easier to communicate with rural consumers.

Also a decade ago, the rural market was more unstructured and was not a prioritized target location for corporate. Very few companies, mainly the agro-based ones, were concentrating in those markets. There were no innovative strategies and promotional campaigns exclusively for rural markets.

Gradually, corporates realized that there was saturation, stiff competition, and clutter in urban markets and demand was building in rural areas. Seeing the vast potential of the rural market, companies have started focusing on these unexplored, high potential areas and also making differentiated strategies for rural markets as compared to the urban markets. These strategies are known as rural marketing strategies.

A marketing strategy can serve as the foundation of a marketing plan. A marketing plan contains a set of specific actions required to successfully implement a marketing strategy. For example – “Use a low-cost product to attract rural consumers. Once the organization, via our low-cost product, has established a relationship with consumers, the organization will sell additional, higher-margin products and services that enhance the consumer’s interaction with the low-cost product or service.”

The strategy for rural marketing has to be basically different from that for the urban market because of two very important reasons. In the first place, since the urban people are concentrated, it is physically easier to contact them. On the contrary, people in villages are scattered, so the task of contacting them is several degrees more demanding and challenging. Secondly, the methods of communicating with the villagers have to be of a different order in view of their lower levels of education and the environmental differences.

Considering the environment in which the rural market operates and its associated problems and so also the experience of the manufacturing and marketers who operate in the rural markets, it is possible to evolve effective strategies for rural markets. Marketing strategies provide a framework for the adoption of marketing mix strategies for rural marketing.

Rural Marketing Strategies – Definitions

Marketing strategy is the fundamental goal of increasing sales and achieving a sustainable competitive advantage. Marketing strategy includes all basic, short-term, and long-term activities in the field of marketing that deal with the analysis of the strategic initial situation of a company and the formulation, evaluation, and selection of market-oriented strategies and therefore contribute to the goals of the company and its marketing objectives.

A marketing strategy is most effective when it is an integral component of corporate strategy, defining how the organization will successfully engage customers, prospects, and competitors in the market arena. As the customer constitutes the source of a company’s revenue, the marketing strategy is closely linked with sales. A key component of marketing strategy is often to keep marketing in line with a company’s mission statement.

“A marketing strategy is a process or model to allow a company or organization to focus limited resources on the best opportunities to increase sales and thereby achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.”

“Marketing strategy is a long-term course of action designed to optimize the allocation of the scarce resources at the disposal of a firm in delivering superior customer experiences and promote the interests of other stakeholders.”

“Marketing strategy is a method of focusing an organization’s energies and resources on a course of action which can lead to increased sales and dominance of a targeted market niche.”

In short, we can say that a strategy consists of a well-thought-out series of tactics to make a marketing plan more effective. Marketing strategies serve as the base of marketing plans designed to fill market needs and reach marketing objectives. Plans and objectives are generally tested for measurable results.

Available to Target the Rural Market Effectively (With Examples)

Given below are a wide range of strategic options that are available to target the rural market effectively. Rural marketers have to very carefully select the strategic options that are appropriate according to the market segment and the product category in order to achieve success in the rural market –

1. Segmentation of Rural Market:

The first step to developing and implementing any strategy for the rural market should include the appropriate segmentation of the rural market. Earlier there was no attempt to segment the rural market. The entire rural world was considered the same and was planned (not planned, and leftover) in a similar manner. As a result, there was a total mismatch between the aspirations of rural consumers and what marketers were thrusting on them in different regions.

50% of India’s villages are very small having a population of less than 500 with limited purchasing power and many of them do not have even a single shop. The next following categories with a population of 501 to 2000 numbering 2.5 lakh villages have around five shops. These villages may not be good enough for a favorable distribution cost-benefit equation to begin with but can be tapped later after successfully tapping the villages with a population of more than 2,000.

Therefore, the role of segmentation becomes extremely important in the rural market. Marketers has to implement market penetration efforts in phase step by step. The lower-hanging fruits need to be picked up first for revenue gains and for the learning that will come with it. These initial gains can form the basis for further expansion deeper into the rural market.

Companies, therefore, need to focus initially on villages with a population of 2,000 or more and there are 60,000 of them and also on high potential 501 to 2,000 population category villages. The larger villages are more urbanized and so are the people’s attitudes, whereas those located in the remote areas are rooted in traditional values. FMCG companies can cover 1,00,000 villages by appointing 2,000 stockists in towns of a population of 20,000 each. Stockists can conveniently distribute products to 50 locations around their town.

The important thing is that an appropriate segmentation basis needs to be applied. Different product categories have a different rural markets to cater to and these can be selected by applying different criteria of segmentation.

The organization can do the following thing to start with:

i. Focus on select markets

ii. Focus on select makes

iii. Focus on select villages.

2. Competitive Strategy:

Companies interested in entering the rural market can examine their strategy on the conceptual framework of Michael Porter’s Five Forces Model to develop a strategy.

A company operating in the rural market place can consider how the suggested five forces below; impact their operations in the rural market:

(i) Supplier:

The company not only has to make high quality products but also has to sell them cheap. This can be achieved only if the company has good suppliers who can provide good quality materials or ingredients at very low prices. Otherwise the company has to go for backward integration to achieve the economies, which determine success in the rural market.

(ii) Customer Power:

The rural consumer, due to the increased literacy, advent of television, promotional efforts, and increased contact with urban markets, has become much more knowledgeable about products and empowered than in the past. Therefore, companies must offer good quality products in order to satisfy their needs effectively.

The word of mouth factor is very crucial in rural markets; it can affect the entire operation in a magnifying manner. If a single bad experience can discourage the entire village from a brand then a single good experience can win the entire village as consumers with no additional promotional effort.

The primary customer for the organisation, the retailer has a very high bargaining power in the rural markets. To create shelf space for the products at the rural retail outlet is a big challenge as rural retailer is only stockings few brands per products category. He can live with that very comfortably as his market is not very choosy and demanding and is ready to accept whatever he offers because of lack of alternative options.

(iii) Potential Entrants:

Companies operating in the rural market must work to raise the entry barriers by being there first and building good relations with retailers so that the chances of new entrants coming in and surviving are less.

With new entrants making efforts daily to enter the rural market, the power in the hand of retailer is increasing as he has only few brands to buy and whichever organisation gives better terms, he goes with that.

And usually new entrants, especially local and regional players in order to enter a market, offer terms which are much more lucrative than the one offered by the existing players. They are in position to offer low price, better terms of credit and margin because of their lower overheads and very little or zero advertising cost.

The companies by building preference with rural consumers for their brands can counter the challenges of the new entrants. But if servicing of rural retailer by an organisation is not proper then the potential entrants can take the coveted place in case of stock out situation. This position then becomes difficult to regain, once it is lost.

(iv) Substitute Products:

Due to the high level of illiteracy, low awareness, and dependence on retailers in rural areas, counterfeiting is prevalent, and substitutes flourish. If the company does not have an adequate strategy to counter this menace then the millions spent on brand building go down the drain. Companies also have to ensure through packaging, promotion, and brand identity the education of rural consumers so that they actually get what they want.

Very different substitutes of products and brands exist in rural areas. Like nimbu paani is also a competitor to Coke along with Pepsi in the rural market. Freely available ash is also a competitor for vessel cleaning brands like Vim in the rural areas. Thus, competing with such like substitutes that do not exist in urban settings requires a special approach and a very different promotional message.

Failing to understand the threat of the substitute and just focusing on the limited brands can trap the organizations into a myopic vision of competition in the rural areas.

(v) Competitor:

The nature of competition in the rural market is very different from that of the urban one. The number of brand options available to the rural consumer is very different from the one available to urban consumers. The brands rarely compete with one another on the retailers’ shelf space but they have to be just there and then through the influence of the retailer they can find a way into the customer’s home.

Thus, the competitive strategy with regard to the rural market varies on almost all the five forces, which clearly suggests that the strategic approach required for the rural market is very different from the one adopted in the urban market.

3. Product Strategy:

Marketers have never felt a strong need to exclusively design products or even to modify the design of a product for the rural market. The urban market of India was large enough to provide returns that were either satisfactory or good enough for their survival. Because tapping the rural market was not easy it was considered as a market to focus upon, and whatever spillover effect of the urban market was coming automatically was thought as the potential of the rural market.

What are needed are product mix modifications to suit the variables of rural markets. Escorts was the first organization to position its motorcycle ‘Rajdoot’ as one that could cope with the rugged terrain of rural India ‘Jaandaar Sawari Shaandaar Sawari’. A bulb manufacturer can look at designing products that are resistant to wide voltage fluctuations that are a typical occurrence in rural India.

(i) Understanding of Value of Product:

The rural consumer has to be 120% satisfied before he pulls out money from the innerwear pocket to pay for the product. The marketing mix must deliver superior value to the rural consumer at a price point he is comfortable, with in order to be successful.

Value consciousness is a big driver for the rural market, consumers are extremely aware of the equation of price, quality, and image. Understanding this fact, Britannia came up with the concept, ‘Eat Healthy Think Better’ (swastha khao, tan man jagao). This moved Britannia, from standing for biscuits and source of quality to a brand that stood for healthy food for the health-conscious Indian consumer.

Videocon ‘washing’ a washing machine without a drier — launched specifically for rural markets at Rs. 3,000. It had 100% growth in three years from 1996-1999. The success of the model points to the willingness of villagers to switch to branded products from locally made washers.

Thus stripped-down versions of the urban products, which have the features that are as per the needs of the rural consumers without the frills and are priced low without reducing the quality are the ones that are more likely to succeed than the typical models that are successful in the urban market.

(ii) Packaging:

The size of the pack helps the rural consumers pick the product at the price they can afford. The affordability, storability, display ability, availability along usage are the reasons for rural consumers to look for small packs. On one hand, the small packs can give a higher margin per unit in comparison to larger packs but on the other hand, they can cannibalize on sale of existing products of the company thus, leading to lower overall profit.

Packaging is defined as new paradigms in rural marketing, making it one of the most important components in the marketing mix. Velvette shampoo, introduced in sachets helped develop the rural market for shampoos and ushered in the ‘sachet revolution’ throughout India in all packaged goods categories.

When brand loyalty is difficult to achieve and brand identification is a big challenge in the presence of fakes and counterfeits, innovation in packaging becomes extremely critical. Since only select people can read the name of the brand in the rural market. These innovations in the form of pack sizes and colors act as differentiators and can create demand-pull because of the excitement they create in the mind of consumers.

One organization that was marketing hair oil employed the strategy of changing the color of packaging in the different markets. In Muslim-dominated areas of Uttar Pradesh, it sold the hair oil in green packs but in Orissa, the same pack was sold in purple color, which is considered to be auspicious there. Hindustan Lever found that retailers in some of the villages were cutting its large 100 gm soap into smaller pieces to sell and it introduced small 75 gm soap.

Most of the companies have started tinkering with pack sizes and creating new price points in order to reach out to rural consumers since a significant portion of the rural population are daily wage workers, Thus, sachets and miniature packs, as in the case of shampoo sachets priced at Rs. 1 and Rs. 2 or toothpaste at Rs. 10, have become the order of the day in hinterland India and have helped improve market penetration.

Yet, driving consumption of goods in rural areas is not just about smaller packages, lowering prices and increasing volumes but also about product innovation to cater to their demands. For example, soap makers use advanced technology to coat the sides of the soap bar with plastic to prevent it from wearing out quickly.

(iii) Branding Strategy:

To build a brand in the rural market, products have to be geared to the rural in terms of price, packaging, and communication and delivered to the target audience in the language they understand using idiom-specific communication.

In packaged goods industries (FMCG), reduction of the number of brands and creating a master brands to serve many segments by product variety or brand extensions is a strategic option adopted by many players. The high cost of building many brands is significantly lowered if only few master brands have to be developed and promoted for different but related products.

(iv) Logos and Symbols:

The use of symbols like muscle man for MRF, lightning for Rin, helps the rural consumers to identify brands at the time of the purchase. If the logos or symbols are not registered very clearly in the mind of illiterate rural consumers, then it is easier for the retailer to sell a fake or counterfeit version of the brand.

As most of the rural consumers do not know English and products of most the national level companies are using the only the English language, the highlighting of logos and symbols can help the rural consumers to identify the brand during the final selection.

The sun symbolises life, the moon depicts love and stars represent destiny, with such perception and interpretations symbols become a very vital consideration for effective rural communication. Certain successful brands in the rural markets have numbers, symbols, and animals as brands e.g., 555 soap, Monkey brand toothpowder, Gemini tea (with an elephant), etc.

Logo and color are not the only factors that influence a purchase. There are other factors to be considered like the size of the logo, the shade of color, and also the significance of the combined effect. Rural markets respond in different ways to different symbols than urban consumers.

4. Pricing Strategy:

Companies should not only price their products competitively but also offer their rural prospects the maximum value for money spent. Indian companies can do this by putting in place an aggressive cost structure. Re-designing of products for the rural market should be done in a manner to maintain a low cost for the products. Refill packs are a good example in this case.

The price decision must be influenced not just by the income received but also on when it is received and how it is allocated as rural consumers either get daily wages or the farmers get major income during the harvest season.

Companies must follow the strategy of penetration pricing with the backup of a good quality product to be successful in the rural market. As ‘two for one’ deal and coupons are not very effective marketing tools, it is far better to price the product as low as possible in the first place.

FMCG companies can cut cost to maintain the price points through reducing the net weight of the products or doing away with freebies and promotions. In developing markets, the profit margin on individual units will always be low. What really counts is capital efficiency – getting the highest possible Returns on Capital Employed (ROCE).

The key is to make constant efforts to reduce capital investments by extensively outsourcing. Manufacturing, streamlining supply chains, actively managing receivables, and paying close attention to distributor’s performance. Very low capital needs, focused distribution and technology investments and very large volumes at low margins lead to very high ROCE business; creating great economic value for shareholders. The overall impact on the volumes and margins will be based not only on the industry dynamics but also on how intelligently the package is designed.

(a) Price Point:

Low unit packs were there since long; only denomination is different now. The pioneers in this category were tea and coffee marketers. Brooke Bond pack was available earlier in 5 paise, later in 10 paise, 25 paise and 50 paise and then with inflation it became Rs. 1 pack. Now it is the time of Rs. 5 pack.

The current craze for Rs. 5 positioning could be because of Coke’s success in promoting the pouch strategy. Colas helped to highlight the price point to the consumer and their medium weight really threw open the gates for other manufacturers to come and ride piggyback on the Rs. 5 price point. And what is different from the past is that large numbers of product categories are now available in small packs and it has taken the shape of megatrends.

The small packs increase user base, usage occasion and can thus explode the market. The consumer base of soft drinks increased from 16 crores in 2002 to 24 crores in 2004. A two-year period for which the Rs. 5-price point remained in force.

The Colas started it but host of other branded products are now realising the importance of being present at Rs. 5 price point. Ready availability of five rupees coin has been an advantage and many consumers are not worried as much about grammage as price. They are used to ask for Rs. 2 or Rs. 5 worth of commodity.

Some of the brands that HUL sells for Rs. 5 are Pond’s Talc, Pond’s Cold Cream, Rin, Taaza, Fair & Lovely, and Lux. The price point also helps branded FMCGs, which are battling fakes from unorganized sector. Rs. 5 price point leads to growth in the user base of brands and increased category penetration for those who have introduced such packs.

5. Communication Strategy:

Promotion mix decision is very important especially for a low involvement product category like FMCG. It is not only the cost factor, but the dependence of overall results on this decision makes the in-depth analysis very important. The right promotion tool needs to be identified and then only marketer can dream of any success in a complex rural market of India.

To communicate effectively with rural audiences, it is important to understand the aspirations, fears and hopes of the rural customers, in relation to each product category, before developing a communication package. The organization may have a national strategy but it has to act locally. They have to develop a special creative strategy aimed at homogeneous rural segments, which may be quite different from urban market communication.

A well-known brand of shampoo which entered the Rajasthan market some decades ago with a creative commercial that showed a beautiful model featuring bouncing hair, the product bombed. Post-research showed that it was considered indecent for a girl to show off her hair and the audience refused to connect with the brand.

Though rural communication is so vital in rural marketing, it is being given a step-motherly treatment by most organizations resulting in their getting inadequate results from the efforts. This clearly indicates a poor understanding of rural marketing in general and the role of rural communication, in particular, in building brands in rural India.

Though companies have total advertising annual spends amounting to Rs. 1,00,000 crores, rural advertising budgets are minuscule. The rural advertising budget of companies is generally between Rs. 6 crores and Rs. 15 crores. Though it does not seem enough Rs. 10 crores spent in rural market in the villages achieve the same ‘visibility’ as Rs. 50 crores in the towns and cities.

Thus, when it comes to promotions in rural markets, most of companies are only doing some short-term sales-oriented below-the-line activities without laying any emphasis on how the core message of the brand is communicated to the rural masses. Most of them use the same communication package, which they are already using to target urban audiences.

Doing just a van campaign, once in a blue moon, is not rural marketing in the true sense. To dub a film from one language to another using the same characters relevant to one region can have only a limited effect. For sustained results, it is important to plan an integrated campaign covering both mass media and below-the-line activities.

Integrated rural campaigns of Philip’s Consumer Electronics Division, ACC’s Suraksha Cement and Shriram Transport Finance have proved this point. It is very important to invest in developing the specific and right communication package aimed at the rural audience, if an organisation expects to build a brand, in the rural market.

Some of the promotional strategies for the rural markets, which can be adopted by different organizations, are classified here below:

(i) Education Instead of Promotion:

The basic premise for communicating a promotional message for rural market is that it has to be essentially an educational message. This education provider in interactive, interesting and entertaining format brings better results. Rural consumers’ needs not only to be told the benefits delivered by a brand convincingly but also how the benefits outweigh cost that he is going to incur.

The important thing to be considered is that the benefits that have to be projected in the rural areas should be in accordance with the needs and lifestyle of the rural consumer. If the benefits, which are highlighted in the urban areas, are presented to the rural consumers they may not produce desired results all the time.

The rural buyers who are entering the market for the first time for many product categories need to be guided with regard to usage and benefits of products also. Therefore, demonstration becomes very important in the rural market. When benefits of brands like Chik for shampoo, Colgate for toothpaste and toothpowder were demonstrated, there was creation of a huge market, which did not exist earlier altogether. If they had just relied on ten seconds commercial on the mass media then the results might not have been the same in the rural market.

(ii) Customization of the Promotional Message:

Tricky, clever, gimmicky, or even suggestive advertising does not work with the rural audience. All flicks using expensive computer graphics without human elements go over the head of rural audiences. The communication targeted at the rural audience must address the specific problems, needs, aspirations, and hopes of the rural folks.

Slice of life stories having characters that rural consumers can identify with will help create greater empathy and understanding. Using aspirational urban looking model but using simple and direct communication which is not complicated, works well with the rural audience. The anchors conducting demonstration in rural areas need to be trained to speak in the local language or dialect during the road shows so that they can connect better with the audience.

(iii) Regionalization of Advertisement:

The first step in the development of any communication package is the in-depth study of the mindset of consumers of each region and for each product category. Perceptions, traditions, and values vary from state to state and in some cases from a region to region within a state.

MRF, while marketing bullock cart tires found glaring differences between western UP and eastern UP with regard to requirement of cart tires. While bullock carts in western UP were smaller with a single buffalo, in eastern UP there were bigger vehicles pulled by two bullocks. In western UP the villagers spoke Hindustani whereas in eastern UP they spoke Bhojpuri. To develop the communication packages these facts had to be kept into consideration.

Unique promotions need to be designed as what work in north may not in the south. At times even dubbing the commercials in local linguistics may not work. Emami had Madhuri Dixit and Amitabh Bachchan as brand ambassadors but for Andhra Pradesh, it signed Chiranjeevi for the same. When Phillips was developing rural campaign for their radio for rural Tamil Nadu, they developed the punch line Enga Veetu Superstar meaning; ‘The superstar of my home’ based on Tamil superstar Rajnikant.

But when the campaign was to be developed for Andhra Pradesh punch line developed was Maa Inty Mega Star-that is, ‘megastar of my home, reflecting, Chiranjeevi, the most popular cinestar of Andhra Pradesh. Had they used the word ‘superstar’ it would have meant Late N.T. Rama Rao, the superstar of Andhra Pradesh but not the current one.

In order to build the association with the promotion, Philips used photograph of village’s own girl – to sell transistors, TV’s, so that the rural audience of a region can relate to it and perceives that the product meant for them.

The regionalization of advertising campaigns by many leading multinational companies indicates a healthy trend for the advertising business. Few clients are looking at developing special advertisements for rural markets. The success of ‘Thanda Matlab, Coca Cola’ campaign, which was aimed at the rural market, is a case in point. The marketer therefore needs to specify region, use specific media and then develop, ‘regional messages’.

(iv) Understanding Role of Mass Media:

Mass media with its known and perceived to be the efficient cost per contact is the most favorite medium to spread the promotional message. The benefit of mass media is its huge reach and the easy tracking comparison with other below-the-line promotional activities.

TV is the most preferred mass media a significant part of the budget of rural marketing companies goes to TV because no other medium has that wide a reach across the country. According to the National Readership Survey, print media reaches about 23 percent of rural consumers in India, while 36 per cent have access to TV. The reach of cinema stands at approximately 26 percent.

The mass media reaches about 57 percent of the rural population, although, the reach of television in rural India is high. Frequent power cuts restrict viewing time considerably. Two out of five Indians were unreachable by mass media.

Rural India has very high ownership of transistor radios and as these run on batteries, radio; can once again be expected to become a popular medium for reaching rural masses.

Mass media is too glamorous, interpersonal, and unreliable in contrast with the familiar performance of traditional artists whom the villager could not only see and hear but even touch. Television also does not distinguish between urban and rural. For marketers who use mass media like TV, this becomes a big challenge, as television does not distinguish between urban and rural audiences. There can be a common TV commercial for both urban and rural audiences, particularly for FMCG products provided the communication is not gimmicky or suggestive and is easy to comprehend.

(v) Outdoor Media Options:

Large numbers of outdoor media options are available with the media planner to the lake the message to the rural market. Different options can be selected based on the demographic profile of the population of a region. The available infrastructure of the post offices, weekly markets, exhibitions, public distribution system, cooperative societies, and banks could help in strengthening the existing promotional efforts. A vast network of 1.38 lakh rural post offices and 22,000 primary health centers need to be tapped imaginatively for education and information.

Some of the available outdoor media are described below:

(a) Wall Paintings – They are an effective and economical medium for advertising in rural areas. They are silent but a speech or film comes to an end, but wall painting stays as long as the weather allows it to. Retailer normally welcomes paintings of their shops, walls, and name boards, because it makes the shop look cleaner and better.

(b) Video Vans – Video van concept started with the political parties who were not getting access on Doordarshan to have contact with the rural masses. The video van is one of the very effective means of reaching out physically to rural consumers and providing them with the touch and feel of the product and the brand.

The promotion using these vans creates a lot of word-of-mouth publicity for a brand in the region which is much more effective than the promotional campaign run on any mass media. The people who have experienced the benefit themselves are likely to talk about to many people who were not present. If conducted in a proper manner then the promotional campaign can be a regular discussion at choupal for many days.

These vans although have a very good potential to deliver the intended communication and demonstration, are costly to hire and maintain. Considering the vast spread of the rural market, cost per contact can come to many times more than what the conventional mass media can achieve in the urban markets.

(vi) Unconventional Platforms to Promote Brands:

In order to communicate the message to a vast multitude of rural populations, marketers have to experiment also with unconventional media along with the traditional mass media options. Rural Market offers the opportunity to the media planner with a wide range of platforms that can be used to carry the message ‘to the target market residing in rural areas. These platforms can be used as complementary to the mass media options.

Using these media, the marketer can provide the touch and feel aspects with regard to their brands, which is very essential in rural areas where a good number of consumers are living in media dark villages. In the area of communication, corporate marketers have perhaps failed to recognize that a rural consumer may be buying a particular brand or even the product categories themselves (particularly durables) for the first time.

With hardly any key influencer within the village and few sources of information (since print and electronic media have limited reach), the rural consumer feels inhibited and ill-equipped to buy confidently.

Hence, there is a strong need to build reassurance and trust about product quality, service support, and company credentials in the minds of rural consumers. This is best done through the face-to-face below-the-line touch, feel and talk mode at habits, meals, and mandis.

This not only spreads the message amongst the audience at these platforms but it also creates word-of-mouth stories, which carry the message in the entire region. Some of the platforms available for brand promotion are presented below. The relevant platform according to the product categories can be selected for communicating with the rural audience.

(a) Mandis:

These are agricultural markets, known by different names as terminal markets/ primary or secondary wholesale market and are set up by state governments to procure agriculture produce from farmers. 7,000 in number and located in high production centers of different crops, they can serve as a good platform for product demonstration, brand building, and on-the-spot sales.

These mandis located in an agricultural area with a population of more than 10,000 on average cater to 1,36,000 people. Cash-rich farmers can be directly contacted by setting up brand stalls in mandis. Sampling and free gifts can be provided along with consumer research at these places where farmers have time and are in a joyous mood. These mandis are also good platforms for promoting high-end durables, besides agri-input products.

(b) Haats:

The country’s oldest tradition holds the key to solving the promotion problems of the corporate world. 75% of the mobile supermarkets of rural India are held once a week, 20% are organized twice a week and rests are held daily. Rural people have evolved these systems of selling and communicating which have served them well for centuries. Corporate marketers have not used these platforms effectively, so far. There are 42,000 of such habits, each catering to the daily needs of 10 to 20 villages. These haats can serve as good platform to promote brands through demonstration.

(c) Melas:

The companies need to have innovative methods of advertising and brand building in fairs or melas to reach their potential customer base. There are 25,000 melas in India (90 percent are religious and one-day affairs), the 1,000 being larger and frequented by hundreds of thousands of visitors. About 5,000 are commercial in nature and could be targeted for brand promotion.

Melas provides a platform for communicating with rural masses. Organizations have an opportunity to present brand stories and exposures can be provided at a low cost per contact with a relatively larger retention time. The marketer can use better display tools, i.e., large screens, animations, gizmos, etc.

Women folks of the rural areas are difficult to contact in the village setting and they do not visit the nearby towns often. But in males, they are present in large numbers. Thus, mela provides the organizations with an excellent opportunity to target rural women for research, brand promotion, demonstration, and trial.

Some of the widely visited melas include Kumbh Mela at Haridwar, Allahabad, Ujjain, Nasik and Sonepur Mela in Bihar. FMCG giants – like HUL, P&G, and many other companies set up branded kiosks in “Kumbh Mela” at Nasik, Maharashtra, similarly some tried “Pushkar Mela” near Ajmer, Rajasthan, where Mahindra & Mahindra set up information counter for its farm tractor, and Nestle arranged coffee and Maggie shop.

Melas work best for introducing new brands and building brands through the organization of events at the venue. Many companies congregate at the Ganges River for the Kumbh Mela festival, where about 3 crore people, mostly from rural areas, come over the span of a month. Companies provide ‘touch and feel’ demonstrations and distribute free samples. This proved to be extremely effective in advertising to the rural market.

(d) Mills:

Market Researchers conducted a study in 24 villages across Uttar Pradesh and Punjab and found that the creative use of avenues like mills, rural games, tournaments, service camps and appointment of local brand ambassadors can appreciably increase communication effectiveness in the rural areas.

It was found that more than 200 tractors visit a mill in a day during the peak season. This gives a very good opportunity to the marketer to target farmers. As they are relatively free just waiting for their turn, they would be more receptive than in other settings. Farmers in order to pass their time would keenly lend their ears and also see their demonstrations. There is a good probability of their participating in the interactive formats, which could provide useful inputs to the marketing organizations.

(e) Pilgrim Sites:

The vast potential of pilgrims’ sites to promote brands especially for rural markets has not been exploited to a great extent. Most organizations do not have a proper marketing plan for utilizing the marketing potential of such locations. Vaishno Devi, Ashtaateerathadham are a few examples of pilgrim sites visited by crores of people every year. These and other pilgrim sites, which attract lakhs of visitors, can be ideal platforms to promote the brands by integrating the brand and the promotional campaign with the occasion.

For example, one pilgrim centre, Khalgam, about 20 km from Daman (Gujarat), on average draws a crowd of 20,000 to 30,000 people every Tuesday and Saturday and 50,000 people during the month of Shrawan. There must be at least 10,000 such sites in the country each of which could be a marketer’s dream for promoting their brand, yet it would be surprising if these sites are even documented. Having religious consumers in a large number at one place is a good opportunity to promote a brand.

(f) Rural Games:

The focus of rural marketers can be on events like the Quila Raipur Olympics and the Nehru Boat Race, which are annual extravaganzas for the promotion of their brands. Nearly one lakh spectators turn up to watch the rural sports at Quila Raipur village being played out in three daylong events.

Punjab has 25 popular festivals in the year, which include sports festivals, agriculture as well as cultural festivals, in addition to religious festivals. It is here that the rural marketers need to focus their attention, as the eyeballs of the captive audience are available at these meets. The latest estimates are that in most of these festivals 50,000 visitors turn out on average.

Rural games and tournaments are hugely popular in rural areas and are attended by rural people in large numbers. These tournaments can be sponsored at a reasonable price and could be utilized as a platform to put the company’s stall for brand building and demonstration. The company’s products could also be given as prizes to increase brand awareness. These products, given as prizes would lead to a lot of word-of-mouth publicity in the rural areas as it would be the talk of many villages for a good number of days.

(g) Primary Health Centre:

The primary health centers are very good platforms to promote products that have to be sold on health and hygiene grounds. The campaign in these centers can be executed in coordination with the NGO state health departments. Medical Council or Dental Associations and even international aid agencies.

Swasthya Chetna Campaign to promote the habits of washing of hands by HUL in rural areas is a good example of this form of promotion; this would have directly or indirectly promoted the sale of Lifebuoy, its leading brand, in rural areas.

(h) Schools:

Young children are emerging as the change agent in rural areas. Organizations like HUL and Colgate are targeting the children in the schools. They are not only educating them about the product benefits but are also demonstrating the benefits offered by their brands for the health of children and the entire family.

(vii) Alternative Media for Rural Market:

In communicating with rural India today, we are dealing with two distinct audiences’ rural rich and the growing breed of educated, upwardly mobile middle class with aspirations, exposure to mass media and a lot of purchasing power almost akin to his urban counterpart.

The vast majority of illiterate masses are poor and who cannot easily reach them through mass media. Two different sets of promotional messages and promotional media will be required for these two segments.

To reach illiterate and less privileged rural masses, unconventional media (nautanki, jatra. villupattu, therukoothu), should support mass media (TV, cinema, radio). Traditional media offers excellent opportunities to tailor the message to suit rural audiences.

The rural world indulges in a sort of ritual along with his class. Stage shows, plays, puppet shows have always been popular in rural India, owing to their participatory nature.

(viii) Folk Media:

There is a good audience available for different folk media in the rural world. Marketers can effectively utilize some of these to take their message to the rural audience. Different folk media are popular in different regions; therefore the folk medium selected must be popular in the region; then only it will be able to provide the desired level of audiences.

Some of the folk media, which can be used as a promotion vehicle, are described here below:

(a) Puppetry:

In rural India, puppetry is an avenue for entertainment and creative expression, which might be ritually sacred and meaningful as a means of social communication and vehicle of social transformation.

It is an excellent way of storytelling through moving images called puppets. This medium costs very little and is very popular in Rajasthan, Orissa, and Haryana. This folklore is not only popular but has no stigma attached to it. People of all ages and genders can be targeted by incorporating the product in the narrative.

Song and Drama Division of the Government of India make wide use of puppets in its campaigns to promote various government projects. Several other organizations, government, semi-government and private, have also used puppets in support of individual schemes.

For example – the Life Insurance Corporation of India used puppets to educate rural masses about life insurance. These plays were shown to the audience in villages in U.P., Bihar and MP. The number of inquiries at local offices of LIC during the period immediately following the performance was compared with normal frequency and found to be considerably higher.

(b) Folk Theatre:

Folk theatres are mainly short and rhythmic in form. The simple tunes help in informing and educating the people in an informal and interesting manner. It has been used as an effective medium for social protest against injustice, exploitation, and oppression. Folk songs have been effectively used during revolts of Telengana and Naxalbari. The government has used this media for popularizing an improved variety of seeds, fertilizers, etc.

(c) Nautanki:

It is a folk dance-drama that is performed in Uttar Pradesh on a make-shift stage surrounded by a tent. It is a prime attraction in the village fairs amongst all age groups because of its narrative style and rustic humor. This folk media provides a captive audience and marketers can use it as a platform to promote their products as the rural audience believes that the performers are more credible than conventional media like TV or radio.

(d) Tamasha:

It involves seductive Lavni dance/drama and interactive sessions with the audience. As only males are the audience therefore products meant for males can be effectively promoted through this media. The script can be modified to incorporate the product benefits, advantages, and availability.

(e) Birha:

Starting during the freedom struggle to promote and develop the independence movement through the medium of songs, Birha is a song about the current social realities of the day and is sung at gatherings, which draw big crowds. It is a musical night organized in the state of Uttar Pradesh and is popular amongst all the sections of society. This is a very effective medium to deliver social messages and can be used for the promotion of production that is very relevant for the rural masses.

(f) Demonstration:

Companies can make use of bullock carts, vans to communicate about products to villagers.

The demonstration may be:

i. Method demonstration – On Dalda’s launch they fried pakodas on street corners to convince that people can use it for frying.

ii. Result demonstration – When LPG was introduced for cooking, to prove that it is safe, a result demonstration was used.

Product usage demonstrations can be provided to captive rural audiences, as written instruction may be illegible to the consumers who are illiterate. Reckitt and Coleman educate customers about the hygiene aspects of Dettol vis-a-vis Haldi. Rural people are sensory-driven; therefore, live demonstrations are more effective than mere advertisements. That is why sugar cooperatives in Maharashtra’s, Kolhapur district asked Hero, TVs, and Kinetic to give a competitive demonstration so that they could give orders for 400 mopeds.

(g) Targeting Opinion Leaders:

Rural consumer makes well-considered buying decision for a specified brand often after lot of consultation with the opinion leaders. But opinion leaders change with the product category. While for agri-inputs, the opinion leader group consists of progressive farmers, agri-extension workers, and village leaders, for other product categories, the opinion leader group consists of friends, well-informed relatives (particularly those working in nearby towns), educated youth, and an extent traditional village leaders. Dealers too play a major role in influencing the choice of a brand at the point of sale.

The electricians, mechanics, and technicians found in almost all villages to service and repair products could be provided with free accessories, tools and their shops could be painted with company logo and brand name. These persons considered as specialists in their field act as local brand ambassadors and could promote the products for the company as they are acting as opinion leaders for products in their field and their advice is sought by the villagers and given weightage in the purchase decision.

The following play the role of Opinion Leader in the case of the corresponding product category:

i. Successful farmer – For farm inputs

ii. Village youth who go to city – For lifestyle products

iii. School children – For personal care products

Asian paints launched its Utah range during the pre-Diwali season. Salesmen selected the opinion leaders in villages and painted the village post office, library, or the house of the pradhaan to demonstrate that paint does not peel off. Salesman organized meets at the local dealers, where village painters were invited. This approach is necessary for the context of rural marketing for both high-value consumer durable items and capital agricultural inputs.

6. Distribution Strategy:

The rural marketing problem is essentially a distribution problem. This is evident from an empirical study that though rural consumers are aware of substitutes but they are compelled to accept the product available in nearby retail outlets. Rural marketing depends on getting the distribution and pricing right. Even expensive brands such as Close-up and Marie biscuits were doing well because of deeper distribution.

HUL, ITC, Wimco, Eveready, Dabur, Nirma, Britannia, Arvind Mills are some of the select organizations that have done a great job of rural penetration and have managed to tap the rural markets successfully. But regional players have a stronger presence than national companies in rural markets because of the region-specific strategies.

There are few corporates who have started establishing separate verticals in terms of sales and marketing teams devoted to the rural market and also have started allotting special rural budgets (though proportionately very low). The emphasis for the present seems to be on distribution to ensure the availability of their brand even in smaller markets. The marketer can adopt any of the strategies given below to make their products available to the rural world.

(i) Ensuring Reach and Visibility:

The rural marketing effort of the companies can be focused at growing the pie and not just fighting amongst themselves for the existing pie. Brands rarely fight with one another in the rural market, they just have to be present at the right place, ‘Joh Dikhta hai, woh Bikta hai’ (what is seen, sells) many of the brands are building stronger rural bases without much advertising support. The thing, which is critical, is to get the Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) right, as rural retailers cannot afford to keep many different SKUs.

In such an environment, being first on the shelf in the product category and developing a privileged relationship with the retailer is a source of competitive advantage to consumer good companies. And usually, the brands that are first on the shelves become synonymous with product category and are difficult to dislodge, thereafter. For example, Maggi noodles reached the rural shelves before anyone and remains the market leader ever since. The drive down the rugged countryside sans facilities is surely torturous but pains worth bearing.

(ii) Reaching up to Mandies/Towns/Semi-Urban Centres:

Organizations can cater to rural needs for consumer durables, clothes, kitchen equipment, agri-input, and tools, by making their products available up to feeder towns, semi-urban centers or mandis.

There is a perspective that if your distribution reaches even up to the feeder markets, it automatically finds its way down to the rural market provided the brand communication reaches down the line creating the awareness and demand for the product. This approach is good for consumer durables but not for consumables.

(iii) Targeting Larger Villages:

For FMCGs distribution becomes complex. The distributor in the towns needs to have a supply network of hundred plus outlets in 50 odd locations, which cover villages up to 200 plus population. There are only 85,000 larger villages out of more than 6,38,000 villages. But they have 40 percent of the rural population and 60 percent of total consumption.

Many of the established packaged goods companies reach more than 20 lakh retail outlets using trains, trucks, bullock-drawn carts, camels, and bicycles and many companies claim to service each one of those Outlets once a week. As only a small percentage of consumables can reach the rural market automatically through the retailers and consumers coming to the town for purchases.

This pain of reaching the rural consumer is worth taking as this direct contact with the retail in the rural world enables a closer relationship with the trade, as a retailer is a critical link in the overall chain for supplying products to the rural consumer. In a study, to measure the level of influence that the rural retailer has on the rural consumers, it was found that in about 35 purchase occasions, the rural retailer was able to influence the sales to the rural consumers.

Therefore, the rural retailer needs to be targeted effectively through various strategies so that he sides with the company’s products whenever he is in a position to do so.

(iv) Understanding of Peak Seasons:

Different regions of India especially the rural parts have different peak seasons of demand. These times are associated with the festivals, harvest, and marriage seasons. The bulk of the demand for consumer durables is concentrated during these times. Organizations have to ensure that their products are available in accordance with the increased demand the rural consumers are in a shopping mood and have the same at this time. On account of their joyous mood, they are more acceptable to try new and somewhat premium brands.

As these peak seasons are at different times in different parts of India, organizations can focus their distribution energy for that time on that particular region. Sankranti during Kharif harvest or Pongal in South India. Baisakhi during the Rabi harvest and Diwali in the North, Durga Puja in the East are coming at different times in different regions. Even the marriage season, which is in winter in North India, it is in summer in the Southern part.

Missing these times for a particular region is almost equivalent to missing the year in that rural market for any product category. Quantity discounts can be offered to the rural stockists in small towns and gift schemes should be launched for the bigger shops in feeder villages. This will motivate the distributors to be more aggressive in taking these goods to the rural retailer’s shelves. The rural retailer considering the peak season could be willing to stock more brands. Even the promotional campaigns at the local and regional levels can be customized according to the theme of the festivity.

(v) Delivery Vans:

Certainly, reaching out to 33 lakh retail outlets in rural areas is an uphill task. Company delivery vans can serve two purposes; they can take the products to the customers in select rural areas and also enable the firm to establish direct contact with them and thereby providing an opportunity for promotion. However, only the bigwigs can adopt this channel.

The companies with relatively fewer resources can go in for syndicated distribution where a tie-up between non-competitive marketers can be established to facilitate distribution. In order to move products in rural areas in a cost-effective manner, the organization and distributors can make use of rural makeshift transport vehicles known in different areas.

They are very cost-effective as their acquisition cost is very low and is not a barrier. They are very rugged to handle the excessive wear and tear that happens on the rural roads. These vehicles are very popular in the rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Punjab and can be easily available to different organizations to transport their products in remote villages at a low cost. These vehicles were employed quite effectively by the rural sub-stockist of Coca-Cola to distribute soft drinks in the rural market.

(vi) Collaboration for Distribution:

Various organizations with comparatively lesser distribution reach can collaborate with organizations that already have achieved high penetration levels in rural areas.

The cost of setting up a huge retail network on one own has seen many casualties, the notable being P&G, which abandoned its plan to fight the likes of Lever in a rural segment on its own. Instead, it is aiming to piggyback on Marico Industries. Procter & Gamble had tie-ups with Godrej, Marico Industries and now it is planning one with Nirma for the distribution of Camay Soaps. Godrej Tea has tied up with Jyothi Lab to use its extensive distribution network that is not only deep but is also serviced quite frequently too.

These tie-ups are of immense benefit for both the organization as one gets an immediate reach to millions of retail outlets and the other can leverage its distribution network over a larger range of products and get better returns on existing networks. This provides them with a better return on their sales effort and can invest even more for achieving even deeper penetration.

Even the smaller non-competing organizations can collaborate with each other to develop a joint distribution infrastructure. This will reduce the cost of distribution per organization and thus can make the seemingly unviable operation financially viable. JK Dairy employed this strategy for distributing milk powder sachets. It took along three companies, which were not competing with its products for selling their products.

In the same rural market for sharing the van cost. A sachet sale of Rs. 500 per day is 77 sachets daily covered all expenses and fetched some profit on account of sharing of expenses of distribution.

(vii) Sales-Women Network:

A unique way to extend availability in the rural markets may be distributed through the saleswomen network. The women can go to different homes, when their husbands are away, establish confidence and personally sell to other ladies many FMCG products they may not be exposed to. HUL has very successfully employed this strategy through its Project Shakti and TTK group has also developed an integrated strategy to promote its Prestige brand through the network of self-employed saleswomen.

(viii) Converting Unorganised Sector Manufacturers into Distributors:

Small or tiny scale manufacturers are finding it difficult in times of intense competition from domestic and international products. They have good knowledge of the territory and have a good sales network, credibility, and relationship with the retailers and consumers. Organizations like Exide are attempting to convert these small manufacturers in the unorganized sector in Punjab and Haryana to become their dealers.

This can prove to be a good strategy as these manufacturers have the knowledge of the industry and consumer behavior and it is likely that they will be more professional and financially strong to create the distribution network in the rural areas. Not only the organization has a knowledgeable dealer but this also reduces the competition offered by that local brand.

(ix) Company’s Own Distribution Network:

Some organizations are feeling that distributors and wholesalers are in the traditional distribution channel areas. These organizations are contemplating and pilot testing their own direct distribution network in order to promote their brands directly to the retailers and consumers in the rural areas.

Rasna Enterprises was building such a network to promote its soft drink concentrate in rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Tamil Nadu. This strategy provides to an organization with valuable learning about rural marketing as they have a direct feel of the market. An organization’s own effort brings in financial strength and aggressiveness. They also get valuable information with regard to selling to the rural retailer as well as the consumer.

(x) Haats:

Along with the permanent retail outlets, haats can also be utilized to make the products available to the rural consumers as each ham generally caters to 10-50 villages, where on an average of 4,000 villagers come for shopping FMCG products and low-value durables. The absence of national and regional players from these hatts, only leads to the proliferation of fakes and counterfeits.

Thus companies need to develop specific strategies to utilize the potential of this platform. Marketing and Research Team (MART) conducted an in-depth study of 128 haats in 2002 and found that none had FMCG or durable goods marketer.

Haats could serve as both sales outlets and redistribution points as village shopkeepers also frequent them to replenish stocks. The number of sales outlets per haat on average is 300+ and the average sales per outlet is nearly Rs. 900+. The number of visitors on an average per haat is 4,500+.

There are large numbers of small traders who sell goods at these haats and move from one haat to another on an almost daily basis in a particular area or district. These small traders take the goods on credit (Kalam system) from the big traders located in smaller towns and feeder villages, in order to tap the potential of haats effectively, organizations can guide and motivate their stockists and distributors to identify and utilize these traders to take their products to the haats in the area.

Organizations can target rural consumers for clothes, cosmetics, FMCGs. kitchen equipment, and agricultural tools at these haats. Sachets of tea, and washing powder are now being introduced in the village haat by leading manufacturers to create and then meet the demand of rural consumers in small affordable packages.

(xi) Melas:

The melas (fairs) for religious/festive/trading can also be classified as commodity fairs, cattle fairs, and religious fairs. On the oasis of the periodicity, they are classified as one-day fairs, less than a week, and longer than a week fair. There are 850+ outlets per mela with average sales per mela – Rs. 1,80,00,000 and they have an annual sale of Rs. 4,500 crore. Nearly half the outlets are for manufactured goods.

As most of the meals coincide with the harvest seasons, the farmers are having cash to purchase the items from these meals. During the melas the farmers are in a happier mood and their propensity to spend is higher than normal. Melas can be used for retail sales points, sampling exercises, and demonstrations.

(xii) Pilgrim Site:

One has to search for even basic but branded items at many religious places on special days and occasions. Even if the availability is there, it is at a premium. For example, the Khalgam pilgrim center does not even serve refreshments of any kind, not even water or medical supplies for the hordes of pilgrims who walk barefoot for four hours to reach the main site.

Khalgam alone could turn out be a business opportunity of Rs. 10-20 lakh per week and this too without any advertising. With adequate marketing effort, the turnover can be huge. The strategy to tap such sites is by reaching these sites with mobile supply vans. As the demand is periodic the same mobile van can move to different sites on different days on the basis of the availability of pilgrims.

(xiii) Jobbers:

The army of mobile traders that go from house to house in rural India to sell a variety of FMCG products could be motivated, to convert some of them to sell company brands. These are high involvement, touch, feel, and demonstration channels that offer a greater possibility of convincing ill-informed rural consumers lacking the confidence to buy.

(xiv) Dealership Education:

A dealer’s ability to convince assumes significance as rural consumers are increasingly exposed lo as many brand options as the urbanites. The decision to buy consumer durables is made by the family breadwinner, who has greater awareness about consumer durables available in the nearest town. This is where the dealers come in very handy in influencing the main decision-maker.

(xv) Continuous Availability of the Brand:

Habitually rural consumers do not like change and are wary of it. Therefore, they want to stick to one particular brand. This acts as a big barrier for the new brands. But the non-availability of their favorite brand especially in the case of FMCGs creates an opportunity for the trial of the competitive bandit. It is less likely for rural consumers to move to another shop for purchasing their favorite brand, as shop loyalty in rural areas is, more important than brand loyalty. This is the result of a large number of factors like relationships, credit availability, etc.

The retailer also has immense influence and can make the consumer opt for another brand if the favorite brand of the consumer is not available. This trial may not be for just one time and the loyalty can shift to another brand if it provides a satisfying experience. In the oral culture of the rural areas, the news of satisfaction and dissatisfaction spreads very fast. There can be wider demands for the new brand as the promotion spreads through word-of-mouth publicity.

This might encourage the retailer to stock a new brand and as he has to stock only a limited number of brands, he will drop one of the brands, which he was carrying earlier. Then it becomes difficult for the once established brand to regain its previous position. Therefore, the organizations need to make sure that their brands are available on the retailer’s shelves by servicing the rural retailer on a regular basis.

(xvi) Quantity Discount for Stockists for Rural Markets:

The distributors and rural sub-stockists need to be provided with bulk discounts based on the quantities purchased by them. This will motivate them to ensure that the goods move deep into rural areas. Then they will do some aggressive efforts on their part to ensure that goods reach rural retailers.

(xviii) Gift or Coupon Promotion Schemes for Retailers in Feeder Villages:

As the stockists in feeder villages are not stocking goods in large quantities quantity discount may not be a good option for them. They can be provided with gifts or lucky coupons based promotions.

7. Hiring Strategy:

Top management’s commitment to the rural market exists in most of organizations but the lower levels that have to implement the plans in rural areas have exposure mostly to urban markets. They are not very comfortable working in a rural setting. Urban and semi-urban-based salesmen are not able to tap the full potential in the villages. Thus there is only lip service and skimming of the creamy layer in the rural areas and little at the deeper level.

The whole process of reaching out to the rural markets can be made effective if the corporate sector hires professionals from a rural management institute or university. In a similar manner, the salesman and brand promoter at the grassroots level in rural markets should be selected from the educated unemployed villagers, trained well, and then appointed as salesmen.

They can be hired on the payroll of HR outsourcing companies to avoid increasing the headcount. They can be motivated to perform better to move to the parent organizations. The town-to-villages shuttling salesmen need to be replaced by stationary ones in villages.

The following characteristics are essential requirements for a professional to effectively cater to rural needs and develop a rapport with rural retailers and consumers:

(i) Fluency in Local Language – In India, as many as 18 languages are spoken, with hundreds of dialects. If the salespersons speak the local language and dialect, then only the local population can connect with their promotional message. This makes them believe that salespeople are like them only.

(ii) Capacities to Work for Extended Hours – There are 20 lakh rural outlets spread over a very large area that would involve a lot of traveling and that too away from one’s family and house for days at large.

(iii) Adjustability with Inadequate Boarding and Lodging Facility – The salesperson has to stay in small hotels and may have to put up with the problems like mosquitoes, dirty linen, unclean toilet, and rooms.

8. Social Strategies:

Social marketing is the application of marketing principles and techniques to market and sells a social cause's idea or behavior. This developmental approach not only builds the bonding with a given brand but also develops the population on different socio-economic parameters.

This holistic approach demands that there should be all-around development of people and region and marketing should play an active role in this. Therefore, in the rural setting, it is not just going and selling the products made by an organization but is the process they also have to create the buying capacity for those products. The social developmental role thus is extremely important in rural areas where people value the relations and see these investments very positively. This approach can build validity and long-term survival of the marketing effort.

Some of the social strategy initiatives, which could be adopted by the corporate world to develop demand for their brands, are given below:

(i) Encouraging Primary Education in the Villages:

This can be a key to influencing consumers to change their habits and use a company’s products. The underlying motive is to influence people’s behavior. This could be done through a V-Sat connection, as being pilot tested by HUL in Maharashtra. HUL believes that such an educational effort to improve sanitary habits will create more awareness of hygiene and cleanliness which will, in turn, have a direct impact on the sales of its toiletries.

(ii) Partnership with NGO for Education Programs:

This would also influence consumer behavior, generate goodwill towards the company as well as create a market for the products. The educated consumers are likely to have better employment prospects and hence additional disposable incomes. They can be expected to make more rational and informed decisions. They would be more open to new ideas and can easily distinguish the difference between genuine and fake products.

(iii) Employment of Rural Youth:

The provision of employment opportunities in sales and distribution of products in rural areas to rural youth would increase the goodwill of the company is the eyes of the villagers. This would also increase their disposable income. The rural youth can be in a better position to sell the product after an adequate sales training program.

Swasthya Chetna campaigns by HUL and Amaron Battery’s corporate social responsibility initiative and such as other endeavors are making a significant contribution to overall sales and brand building in the rural areas.

9. Region Specific Strategies:

The organization needs to understand the nuances of different rural markets in different regions and avoid generalizations.

Using a van showing video featuring some dance sequences from films interspersed with the organization’s TV commercials might work for promoting products in rural Uttar Pradesh. Repeating this idea in South India might not work. As in the South, satellite channels are providing a choice of films to viewers almost every day, so the ‘target audience’ might not come to watch the song and dance sequences from an audio-visual van.

It is imperative to understand the socio-cultural milieu of a region before launching any campaign in rural areas. When a successful rural marketing strategy in one area is transplanted in other areas without modification; it can backfire.

Following examples from rural Punjab where the organization tried to implement promotional strategies, which were quite successful elsewhere, prove this fact:

(i) A tractor company organized a tractor race as a part of the rural marketing campaign for farmers in the Malwa region of Punjab. One of the tractors went out of control and the tractor turned turtle. The farmers got agitated and went after the event organizers holding them responsible for the situation.

(ii) One of the utensils cleaning Powder Company, in order to demonstrate to the devotees the effectiveness of the scrubbing powder, conceived a plan to organize a campaign in Gurudwaras. The company had to beat a hasty retreat and had to withdraw all the samples as it did not comprehend in advance that in Gurudwaras it is a practice to use ash instead of detergent in order to wash utensils and the devotees objected to the very idea of using the religious place for commercial purpose.

(iii) A shampoo manufacturer hired an agency to launch a promotional campaign in the rural areas of Punjab. The theme of the promotional scheme was that any girl who buys shampoo would get the free henna design on her hands. But, the agency officials merely escaped being beaten up in the very first village. The villagers took objection to the men holding the hands of village girls.

(iv) One of the paint manufacturing company’s officials was almost on the verge of being thrashed outside a village after the culmination of a campaign to promote the village because they painted the house of a sarpanch as part of the promotion campaign and distributed sweets (laddoos and jalebis). The other party, which took objection, was from the same village, which, contested the election against the sarpanch and had lost by just 2 votes.

These examples have clearly demonstrated the fact that conceptualizing a strategy is one thing and implementing it is totally different. Therefore, the organization has to be doubly sure and must pilot test the campaigns, which were successful in one area before extrapolating it to other regions, which are socio-culturally different.


Thus, the rural market can be exploited by ruralizing strategies, rather than treating them as inconvenient and poor extensions of the urban market. The organization must create rural-specific products and communication along with that they also need to explore new distribution models.

Brands such as Nirma and Videocon sell in the rural market because they know their market and it is needs by intuition and in addition to that, they also know how to sell it. But those engaged in the opportunistic markets will not be able to sustain for long in the rural market. Message, media, channel, and prices, i.e., all constituents of marketing, need to be tailored to meet the needs of the rural market.

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