Reaching the unreachables
Reaching the Unreachable

The 2nd largest Facebook user-base in the world (65 million active users)

The 2nd largest LinkedIn user-base in the world (15 million users)

500 million people without access to television

More mobile phones than toilets per rural household

This is the paradox that is India, where communicating with a large part of the population is a huge challenge.

In a country of 1.2 billion people, 68.83% still live in rural areas. While TV reaches 82% of the urban population, in rural, the reach falls to 46%. This coupled with the fact that electricity may not be available throughout the day or sometimes for the whole week, the effective reach falls even further.

But just like their urban counterparts, and irrespective of the media reach, the people in rural are consumers of packaged goods, consumer durables, electronics and many more categories. In fact today, as much as 40% of India’s total consumption is accounted for by rural India. Unilever believes that this rural market has the potential of adding as much as USD 1.8 trillion to India’s economy, equal to the current GDP of India. However many of these consumers have never been exposed to the mainstream advertising of the brands they use. In the absence of mass media, the biggest challenge for a marketer is to reach these rural Indian consumers and communicate with them.

Rural India is diverse, vast and fast evolving. For more than a decade now, OgilvyAction India has been reaching out to these unreachables and building connections with this ever-evolving Real Rural India. The changes in rural India have been big and visible in the last 3-4 years. Rural consumers have changed and so has the approach to Rural Marketing.

The changing face of Rural India

Agriculture is rural but rural is not about agriculture alone

While agriculture does contribute to the rural economy, contributions from industry and service sectors have gone up considerably. The rural India is no longer purely an agrarian economy at the mercy of erratic monsoons. All agriculture is rural by definition, but all rural is definitely not about only agriculture any more. Agriculture is now only about one-fourth of rural GDP, from being close to half a decade back. (Source: Credit Suisse)

Connecting with the world through mobile phones

Lower tariffs and cheaper handsets have helped build a subscriber base of more than 100 million mobile users in rural India.

In villages, though mobile phones are primarily about making and receiving calls, they have slowly also started to act as an aid in getting daily chores done, help in increasing income and act as a source of entertainment. Farmers no longer travel to a wholesale market to discover the selling price of their farm produce; they get all the information they need on their mobile phones and decide in which market to sell. This however is limited to receiving information through SMS. Currently, while most of the mobile transactions in rural India are either voice or text based, there is a huge opportunity to explore other, more evolved Value Added Services through mobiles.

Thanks to mobile repair shops, the rural youth have access to the latest Bollywood songs and videos. These shops load songs and videos on memory cards for as low as $0.18.They also have access to FM channels on the radio on their mobiles and all this is helping in increased awareness and aspirations.

Road to Progress

One of the most important changes that has impacted rural Indian lifestyle and rural economy is increased connectivity because of a better network of roads. Many states now have roads that connect their villages to nearby towns and cities. For the residents of these small villages, development of roads has meant more access to education, business, employment, health and entertainment. Today, a rural labourer has to spend 50 cents to reach a town but in turn manages to earn $2-3 a day. Roads have opened this opportunity, which did not exist previously. This in turn is bringing back more money into the villages.

More young boys and girls are going to nearby towns for higher studies. They are interacting with people from other villages and towns, and are bringing back information and awareness about new products and categories.

Access to theatres, internet cafes, VCD/DVDs is fuelling their aspirations further.

Temporary as well as permanent migration is also adding to the rural economy, as people are sending money back to their families in villages.

Rural India has more money, more awareness and more aspirations than ever before and OgilvyAction has been continuously monitoring the progress and the changing mindset of this audience.

OgilvyAction and the art of building connections with Rural India

There are more than 600,000 villages in India and they are very different from each other.

Villages in North India are still underdeveloped as compared to their Southern counterparts. Media-live villages act differently from media-dark villages. Villages near towns or highways are more prosperous and have high propensity to try products from new categories.

We understand the roles different audiences play in a village ecosystem. In this context children are not just pester-power, but act as a credible source of information for uneducated mothers, whose social circles even today are largely limited to women; neighbors and relatives. A young girl who goes to a nearby town for higher education is influencing usage in new product categories like facewash and hair conditioner. Young men are aware of the Internet and use it in towns for making train reservations or accessing their exam results. The key rural opinion leaders might not endorse a product overtly, but they surely do endorse the larger concept of health, nutrition or education if it is well integrated with the brand philosophy.

So what does this mean for us and marketers? Looking at the purchase and consumption patterns, a market that everyone thought was big, is much bigger now. With rural evolution, the task for us has also evolved.

Until a few years ago, simple awareness of the brand was the only communication priority, primarily driven by static messaging through wall paintings etc. Today, however, rural brand communication is more about behavioural change, consumption increase, frequency of use etc. This means that the way brands communicate with the rural audiences has also changed. We now look at an interactive communication module which has brand demonstrations, education, engagement and entertainment. Using technology and the digital medium has become even more important as the consumers are slowly getting used to it. This is further supported by a strong presence in rural retail through renewed distribution systems from the marketers’ end. Some marketers have a separate sales and distribution channel for rural and have even evolved a matrix to measure their success.

A few things that we look at differently now

1. Market Prioritisation

Close to 700 million people live across 600,000 different villages in the country. The most critical aspect is to understand which of the 600,000 villages to go to. For us, the entire prioritisation method has changed. Apart from media reach, we now look at parameters like prosperity indices, proximity to a town/highway, presence of educational institutions, access to financial institutions, direct distribution, etc. to arrive at the correct mix of villages to reach out to, for a specific campaign. This helps us in reaching the right profile of villages and getting optimized returns on the brand’s investment.

2. Right brands to the right market

For Unilever India, we have unique programs for every brand. To the prosperous, accessible villages, we take new and emerging categories like facewash, hair-conditioner, liquid hand wash, premium soaps (Dove) to an audience who is already using shampoo, soap and face creams; and is ready for a more evolved usage habits. This is a market development exercise for fresh categories in comparatively evolved villages. Here the task is not so much about creating awareness, but about up-grading and experiencing new categories.

In the smaller, more remote and comparatively media dark villages, creating awareness is still a primary task and product education and hands-on experience of the key message plays an important role. Here we need different type of programmes.

3. Right communication for the right audience

Rural audiences might be similar to urban in terms of aspirations and needs but their reference points and situations are very different. In media-live areas, rural audiences might be able to see the same urban communication on TV, but it does not necessarily connect emotionally, because the setting, situation, language and context of the communication is very urban and possibly irrelevant for the rural audience. (What is the sense in showing a soap commercial with a bathtub, when half the rural audience does not even have a toilet at home?)

For brands that go rural, we create specialised communication that captures the brand philosophy in a manner that is relevant yet aspirational for the rural audience. This specialised communication captures their cultural settings, their problems, their reference points and even their way of speaking. This helps in presenting the brand story far more effectively.

4. Right tools of communication

With this evolving audience, one can no longer use the age-old flipchart with illustrated stories. We now use portable DVD screens or large TV screens for communication. We bring alive the experience of watching television, in media dark villages where no media exists. For the media-dark rural audience this is their first exposure to digital screens and a far richer and memorable experience. For us logistically, this means standardisation of content delivery and lower dependence on the communicators’ ability to deliver brand messages.

5. Using Mobiles for reach, communication and entertainment

While mobile phones are now omnipresent in rural India, the wide spectrum of mobile phone formats and the absence of one single compatible multimedia file-format make it difficult to push content to these phones.

The audience is very comfortable with mobile phones, but the main use is still for making and receiving calls. The process of sending messages, interacting with IVRS etc, is still alien to them. There is another aspect to this. Most of the rural consumers are one pre-paid connections. They are apprehensive that their account balance will be debited if they punch in wrong codes, and hence they stay away for any interactive response systems. All of the above makes it difficult for marketers to effectively connect through mobile phones.

We looked at a few things that typify mobile phone usage in rural India. One of them is the concept of ‘missed call’. People in India give a missed call to the other person so that the other person can call them back. This helps them save money, since the other person is making the call and paying for it.

We are currently using this ‘missed call’ concept for many of our brands where we popularize a number and encourage rural consumers to give a missed call on that number. When a consumer gives a missed call, he gets a call in return. This call is actually branded content in the form of a joke or a jingle that captures the brand message and delivers the same in an entertaining manner. For a Unilever detergent brand, we got more than 5 million missed calls and have engaged with more than 700,000 rural consumers.

6. Internet through mobile phones

While the internet penetration in rural India is growing, mobile penetration is growing much faster. In fact, internet access through mobile (51.63%) has overtaken internet access through desktops (48.37%). The scenario is not very different in rural. Rural youth has started downloading songs and films on to their mobiles and are comfortable with the concept of internet-on-mobile.

For Vodafone, we are currently carrying out a program where we teach school-going teenagers the importance and benefits of internet through mobile phones. These teenagers currently have access to their parents’ mobiles and soon will buy one for themselves, when they get out of the village for further education or jobs. We currently run a program that teaches them the concept of ICE (Information, Communication and Entertainment) through Internet on Mobiles. These school students, who do not have access to libraries, computer training and sometimes entertainment, see this as a big value-add. Cyber cafés will take time to penetrate rural India, but rural youth will access the Internet through their mobiles sooner.

Way forward

OgilvyAction India has connected with more than 30 million rural audience across 200,000 villages out of the 600,000 villages in India for a host of clients across categories.

Thanks to roads, the urban-rural connection is becoming stronger and the urban-rural divide becoming less defined. It is only a matter of time when there will be no major difference between the urban and rural audience except for their locations. For OgilvyAction India, this would only mean new challenges and new opportunities to connect with the newly connected rural India.

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